Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"it's Haiti"

My newest catch phrase is “it’s Haiti” this is my explanation for anything and everything that goes wrong.  Many of you have heard me say it when Skype intermittently shuts down, or as a response to your inquiry as to what that strange and deafeningly loud sound is in the background. It’s often the answer I give when people ask how much I’ve accomplished in a day. But nothing has been as much of an “it’s Haiti” day then today.
Today was the first day trying out my new translator. First I should explain that my translators nickname as I found out on the way back is “Sex” yep, Sex, that is just one inkling of what a character he is. Additionally me being trusting (no not gullible, trusting) I believed him when he said he was good at driving a moto. In his defense he is quite good, although that is by Haitian standards. Also in his defense he rented a crap motorbike and so we were bound to have some issues. Mom and Dad please stop reading here.
The day started with a five minute endeavor to get the thing started. I should have seen the foreshadowing in that but like I said I’m trusting. We did get it started and yes it did stall a few times but usually it would start back up again within ten to twenty tries. However getting it started wasn’t the only problem. Balancing also seemed to be a bit of a challenge, as was navigating the hundreds of potholes (if you can call them that, some made ponds in the middle of the road). Add to that Haitian traffic and already you have a heart stopper. We weaved in and out of oncoming traffic, narrowly missing trucks that where literally barreling towards us. Seriously I’ve never clenched my thighs so hard for fear of my knees getting clipped by either trucks coming towards us or trucks that we were passing. Sex AKA Daniel, kept telling me to “hold him tighter” which I was reluctant to do, at which he laughed and said he thought I was being shy because of my boyfriend (yes I told him I had a boyfriend) to which I agreed. However after the first five near death experiences I began to be more comfortable clutching to him for sweet, dear, life (no I wasn’t wearing a helmet…).  Throughout the ride he found me endlessly entertaining, declaring that I “really was a girl” (something I have entirely no problem being). He would vacillate between laughing at me, swearing at the moto, and waving and yelling at people we passed that he knew (which is EVERYONE in the city of port-au-prince).
I don’t mind his popularity, in fact it’s actually quite nice because it opens up a lot of doors for me and has facilitated a pretty genuine peek into local Haitian culture thus far. But the fact of the matter, is that when he waves and shouts at people, he simultaneously looks back at whoever he’s yelling at and is therefore not looking at the road ahead of us. Add to that the fact that he inadvertently swerves in the direction of his wave and the inevitability of this then causing us to hit a pothole head on giving my bum a couple seconds of free throw.
Then we ran out of gas.
Thankfully his popularity secured us some gas that was sold out of a dirty old cooking oil container from an equally dirty street vendor. Although it still cost us 4 times the amount then what it’s sold at the gas station, but hey “it’s Haiti”. We then proceeded to precariously make our way to the camp only to find that the people I was meeting were running an hour late.
Yesterday I had been quite excited that a random person had called me. He was from Canaan 1 and had gotten my number from a local psychologist (yes I’m getting famous too) he wanted me to come and meet him so that I could do work with his camp as well. Seeing as Canaan 1 is right beside Canaan 2 I thought it would be nice to walk there. However because my first meeting was delayed by an hour our stroll ended up being situated right under the midday sun.
Two MOUNTAINS later we finally made it to a quick five minute introduction between me and the director. We had to rush back so that I could be in time for my Creole lesson, although looking back I laugh at my naivety.
The Haitians, bless their soul are for the most part very helpful people. So on our way back when we got lost the first time there were some very kind people that willingly walked us towards the “correct” direction. Thank goodness when I travel my sense of direction is at it’s best so it only took me an hour to realize that we had gone quite awry. Enter the second batch of “helpful” Haitians. This time it only took me 30 min to spot that again we were quite a bit off our target destination. Being “clever” as Daniel calls me, I decided to not to follow anymore Haitians and finally, with me leading the way, made it back to Canaan 2. The hike was actually quite nice and Daniel (who is amongst other things also a famous rapper) played a bunch of songs on his phone and gave me a mini introduction to Haitian hip hop so that often our steps were light and accentuated with raising-the-roof motions. We miraculously arrived at Canaan 2 with enough time for me to get to my Creole lesson, but not enough time for me to lead a group. That was until someone pointed out that the tire was flat on the moto.
It only took a couple of minutes for the repair guy to get the tire off. This led to the discovery that the hole was not a new one and had been previously repaired by simply tying, with string, the segment of the tire into a bunch, so that the hole resembled a deflated balloon. It did take them an hour to try and melt some rubber over the hole to seal it and then give up and resort to returning the tire to it’s previous condition albeit with more air. This then gave us a limited amount of time for us to go home before I assumed the flat tire would return. That added pressure (pun intended) to the fact that the moto wouldn’t start. At first I was laughing at the site of Daniel on the bike and two guys pushing it running as fast as they could. But after another two hours the joke got a little old even for me. Then Daniel disappeared for about and hour, my phone died, his ran out of minutes, and I had long given up my hope of making my appointment and instead was trying to stay optimistic about getting home before dark. Finally after what felt like hours and hours Daniel and co got the bike started again. The tire was still functioning but we were both all to aware of the perils of stopping lest the bike would never start again. Off we went on our journey home, which was again filled with the chaotic-too-horrific-for-a-videogame way home. Seriously there was a point in which a truck (which never would have passed aircare in a million years) blew out this giant billow of totally black smoke so that there was definitely a few seconds were we couldn’t see anything and other cars therefore could not see us coming. But we managed to get through. Eventually when I stop feeling the need to clutch on for dear life I will take a video of it from my perspective. Really it’s beyond words.
And then we hit a dog.
Now, now people it is only a dog, there are thousands of people starving and dying of cholera here – but I did look back to see it safely stumble to the side of the road.
Needless to say I made it home, and Daniel has just called me to let me know that he made it home too and that he misses me. Really what more can I say then hey, “it’s Haiti”.
P.S. election results got delayed so all’s well here, I’m also heading to the DR for a couple of weeks tomorrow so I don’t think I’ll be updating this thing… xoxo

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