Haiti – Days 13 & 14

Posted by Ted on Mar 18, 2010 in Causes, Travel

The last two days have been about saying goodbye – to Jacmel, to SIDR, to Haiti.

Instead of working onsite yesterday, I walked around Jacmel. I went to the market with Bill, bustling with activity which had been utterly quiet on Sunday. The cobbled streets were lined with vendors, and between them people, moto-taxis, and trucks jostled for position. Then I set off on my own, catching a ride with ‘Black’, a gentleman who I kept running into for a week, who took me to an artist gallery that he represents. I saw a painting I liked, but not for $80. I then walked through Zone 2, the hardest hit of the city. I saw more destruction than I’d seen anywhere else, but was heartened by the number of crews I saw who were working to clear rubble. I met an artist named Isidor whose workshop collapsed, his art still under the collapsed roof. I met four sisters who are living in tents in the street, looking for work. I took their names and numbers to give to SIDR. I ended up at the river, and walked along it to the bay. Along the way I passed a backhoe ambling along like some big yellow giraffe, both out of place and yet joining the dogs, goats, and cattle also roaming the shoreline. I took my sandals off when I got to the beach and walked through the surf. Turning inland again, I passed the grade school that we’d worked on when I first arrived. Feeling I had said goodbye to Jacmel, I hopped on a moto-taxi back to camp.

A few of the guys decided that a trip to the beach would be a proper send-off, so we took a tap-tap up to the party beach. It was much less crowded than Sunday which was kind of nice. I frolicked in the waves and then watched the guys play in a soccer match. An orange sun set behind palm trees, and then I joined the guys in the water again before we left the beach in darkness, a crescent moon replacing the sun.

This morning started earlier than usual so that I could pack up. For the first time ever, I leave with less than I arrived with – my tent, sleeping pad, and sandals being further donations to SIDR. As it rains tonight, I am comforted to know that Cherilus, my friend and camp cook, now has his own home away from home. Both items cost about $100, and would have gone right into storage when I got home. Now I now that they will be used every night, providing a home to someone who busts his ass cooking in the morning, and shoveling rubble in the afternoon.

Then my ride arrived – a white SUV, marked U.N. Police. I caught a lift with Laura who was heading back to Canada to see a friend who had a stroke and is in a coma. Our driver was a Columbian officer, and we listened to Tito Puente as we twisted thru the lush hills between Jacmel and Leogane. When we finally arrived at the Minustah base in P-au-P, I felt like an interloper, surrounded by military personnel from Chile, Uruguay, Japan, Yemen, and India. I finally took my leave of Laura and the U.N., and hopped on a moto-taxi to my hotel, Auberge du Quebec in Carrefour, a district farther away from the airport than I’d like. The trip was interesting tho, as we wound through traffic for half an hour, a motorcycle being the perfect vehicle for negotiating past trucks and over rough roads.

Finally at the hotel, my culture shock continued as I was surrounded by more blancas than I’d seen in two weeks. Suddenly I felt very removed from the Haiti that I’d come to know. It was too clean, the bar has color-cycling LED lights, and the security guards have shotguns. I took a shower, a dip in the pool, and enjoyed the quiet luxury of reading a book while sipping Barbancourt and Coke. I had an early dinner of tender Lamby, and then decided to leave my comfortable hotel and walk the streets. Ostensibly I was scoping out where to try to catch my morning transport, but really it was to get back to something more familiar. I didn’t have far to walk until I was once again among street vendors, colorful tap-taps, and streets overrun with trash and overflowing water.

An old grey-haired man approached me who spoke very good English and asked me where I was from. We struck up a conversation, and Mathieu told me he was an artist who also used to be a boxer and a timeshare salesman. His sister died in the earthquake. He took me to see some of his family, and I got to meet his albino neice, as well as a cousin living next door, living under a tarp anchored to a wall. We walked back down the street towards my hotel, and when he asked for money, I gave him a couple of American dollars. Whether it had all been a beggars ploy I don’t know, but it was a small sum in life’s grand scheme, and worth the experience.

Now back at the poolside cabana bar, I listen to a pouring rain. Soon I will go to bed on a real mattress, underneath a celing fan, and I won’t need earplugs to block the sound of dogs, goats, and roosters. I look forward to continuing my long trip home tomorrow, ever closer to the waiting arms of my one true love.

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Haiti – Day 3 & 4

Posted by Ted on Mar 8, 2010 in Causes, Travel

Arriving on Friday night couldn’t have been better timing. SIDR only works Mon-Fri, and takes both weekend days as R&R. I hadn’t planned it – Thursday was the first day I could travel after getting my shots – but I’m very glad for the gentle landing.

Yesterday started with a visit from the Salvation Army volunteers that Laura had met a couple of days earlier, lured to our camp by the call of real coffee. Then it was time to hit the beach. Laura, Bill, and I hopped a tap-tap heading east and got off at Timoulage. We parked ourselves under a palm tree and jumped in the water. Not as warm as Costa Rica, but it was joyous. A couple of hours were spent alternating between swimming and relaxing on the sun-drenched beach being accosted by wandering vendors, as is true on beaches just about everywhere, just with different goods being sold. In Haiti, there are carved gourds, straw hats, sea shells, wood carvings, tshirts, and fruit. The nearby restaurant owner brought us icy cold glass bottles of REAL Coca-Cola, with SUGAR. After awhile, we obliged the man by going in and ordering lunch in their thatched-roof seaside eatery, sharing the establishment with two different groups of the Croix Rouge, one Italian, the other Swiss. Service was slower than you can imagine. We had a local delicacy, ‘Lamby’, which is conch chopped up and fried in butter – chewy but very tasty. We were befriended by a scrawny dog, wanting company more than scraps. After we finally got our change, he followed us back to our spot beneath the tree and hung out with us until our ride came to take us home.

The moto-taxi driver took me back first, and asked I wanted to steer. Of course I said yes, and greatly enjoyed riding back to camp towards the setting sun, with the Caribbean on my left, and rolling green hills to my right. It was quite different than any motorcycle I’ve used, with a kickstart, no clutch, and soft squishy barely-adequate brakes. Sans helmet, wearing a short-sleeved shirt, swimming trunks, and sandals, I violated all my ingrained senses of proper riding gear, but that’s the norm just about everywhere except the U.S. and Europe. The rest of the evening was relaxing back at camp, and then early to bed for the day ahead.

Today was in stark contrast. Up before 7a, I donned jeans, a lightweight white shirt, and the same Doc Martens that I’ve been wearing for 20 years. Breakfast was corn flakes with diluted condensed milk, a piece of bread with La Vache Qui Rit, and coffee. We loaded a tap-tap with wheelbarrows, shovels, and pickaxes, and then hopped on and headed into town to the school that they’d been demolishing the previous week.

I tried my hand at breaking a collapsed roof with a sledgehammer and was summarily laughed at by the Haitians when I could barely wield it with my weak arms. So I took the easier task of shoveling debris into a wheelbarrow and wheeling it across the street to the pile of rubble that inched further into the middle of the intersection as the day wore on. I took a break by grabbing a pickaxe and broke down a couple square feet of the side of a staircase. While not the most graceful, I fared better than I did with the sledge.

Shortly before lunch, I moved on to dismantling the now-hanging rebar from the roof. Using a pair of pliers, I untwisted the rusty wires holding them together, thankful for my recent tetanus shot. It turns out that the long-forgotten skills from making chainmail returned rather quickly.

Lunch was beans and rice, and chicken in a green sauce. As I sat at a dusty desk in one of the classrooms still standing, I looked up at the history lesson on the chalkboard. Written across the top was ‘Mardi 12 Janvier 2010’, which reminded me of the famous Hiroshima watch, marking the moment of catastrophe. On the desk next to me was an abandoned physics workbook which I took as a souvenir.

Apr├Ęs-dejeuner was more of the same, albeit at a bit slower pace. Towards the end of the day I got out my camera to take pictures of our handiwork, much to the excitement of my Haitian co-demolishers, all of whom wanted their pictures taken while weilding implements of destruction. The tap-tap arrived at 4p to take us all back to camp, where we relaxed until dinner was ready – spaghetti with Jamaican curry powder, actually quite good. Afterwards I took advantage of being a white volunteer and went to the U.N. compound next door for a shower, and retreated to my tent to enjoy being truly clean for the first time since Thursday. It won’t last.

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