Monday, April 30, 2012

Too many languages, too few brain cells

Mondays are Mondays, and even more so in Haiti. Today is complete insanity, starting at about seven a.m. and ending at eight p.m.

One of my clients has a Visa appointment scheduled for this morning. Last night, we tried every method known to man trying to get the money needed down here. No go. And now, amazingly, despite multiple precautions, some of the documentation we need for the case is not here. Sonia and I assemble what we have, and make plans for me to stay and do the appointment over again if necessary.

Haiti's power plant
A second client, who has had one of the rockiest roads I've seen in a while, still didn't get the appointment for which we have been begging for a very, very long time. She is here in Haiti and physically goes to the Consulate to beg. We get lucky and she ends up with a very kind and empathetic member of their staff, with whom I've often worked over the years. Some of these cases drive us all insane. Everything that possibly could go wrong for this family, did go wrong.

I elect to ride along with Margarette on her rounds today. I always learn something when I do, and it's good to be seen at the various government offices. We're scrambling frantically to try to deposit our last dossiers before the temporary shut down at IBESR. Two more kids are in today, and we're going to try for another two this week. Margarette visits: Tribunal de Paix of Petionville, a copy shop, IBESR, Parquet court, and IBESR again. All in insanely heavy traffic. It's insanely hot and dirty and sooty, and we have no air conditioning. My phone rings nonstop regarding four separate cases. Some of the calls are actually for Margarette, not for me, but it doesn't matter since we're in the car together anyway.

At one point we stop so that she can buy a new car charger for her Blackberry. Because I am in the car, the vendor names a ridiculous price. I apologize, and Margarette says it's not for the blan. I ask the vendor if it would be better if I got out of the car and went across the street while they haggle. His eyebrows hit his hairline. It's always fun to speak Kreyol in my skin.

We've missed lunch again, so Margarette buys us roast corn on the street. I love this stuff. It keeps you full for a long time. Back through the unbelievable traffic we go, all the way to Petionville. We stop at Giant Mart. Margarette buys food for the guest house. It's amazingly like any big city grocery store in the US, except that the products come from a lot more different places. I take another two phone calls, one from a friend just to chat, one from a friend to arrange a meeting at the airport before we both fly out on Wednesday. Never a dull moment!

The guest house is full tonight! We have a Haitian birth family, three adoptive families, and an interpreter staying with us. One of the families is from Argentina, and I'm driven wild with frustration. I can understand every word they say in Spanish, but I can't speak at all! When I try to speak Kreyol comes out. It's like digging around a closet full of clothes in the dark. You know you have everything you need in there, and you'd recognize each item if you could see it, but you can't find a darn thing! One of the other adoptive parents staying here speaks Spanish, so he's translating for me. He's leaving in the morning, so tomorrow might be interesting. At least I'll understand them. I just won't be able to explain a darn thing. I really can't understand how truly multi-lingual people do it.  As Franck tells me, my brain must be diminishing as I get older.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Keeping the cat in the bag

Nothing much today.  Caught up on emails and transcribed all my meeting notes.  I can't make any of them public until they are reviewed and approved by the government agency with which I met.  So annoying.  I hate withholding information.  But if we don't respect the government's rights to review anything we make public, they won't (and shouldn't) share with us.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Building new families

Abandoned no longer: Wisnel and Elina have a family!
A relatively slow day. I go to BRESMA to distribute the gifts and albums I've brought down with me. Of course, this creates complete and utter pandemonium. I'll have to come back another day to see how the new kids actually behave.

I do get to do some of the best part of my job. I get to tell two sibling sets about their new families and go through photo albums with them. The older pair absolutely, completely, unmistakeably get it. They know exactly what adoption will mean, as best they can at this age, and they are thrilled. Leaping up and down, shrieking with joy, showing off their albums to everyone. I'm not really surprised. I knew Wisnel and Elina were pretty special the day I met them.

Sharing photo albums with friends
The younger sibling pair doesn't really understand, but it's fun to see how much they have blossomed since my last visit. Steeven is running everywhere and is much more outgoing, Guervenson is becoming a big boy!

I was here on Monday (I think),and there is noticeable progress on the construction. Margarette's target date to move the kids to their new house is June. We just might make it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

IBESR meeting

Whew. I lived. Didn't mess anything serious up. It did help to appear with an old friend when I met with Mme. Villedrouin. I feel that our meeting was productive and educational, both ways. Mme. Villedrouin is temporarily closing IBESR to new dossiers for the purpose of finishing those they already have, including DISPENSATIONS. She hopes to have all of those cases Dispensed by the time they begin accepting new dossiers after the 31st of July.

She strikes me as a very intelligent and motivated woman, who is passionate about child welfare. Just what we so desperately needed in this position. We spoke mostly in Kreyol, as she's not confident of her English, and my friend did some translating from English to French for some of the more compliated concepts we needed to discuss. I would not have had so successful a meeting without his help. Well, technically, I wouldn't have had any meeting at all without his help. I am deeply grateful.

Life is good at Au Bonheur
After that meeting, I go to Au Bonheur. I was so flustered and anxious this morning that I didn't bring along the items I have for kids here, so I'll probably end up making another trip. But I get some good photos of 'my' kids, and spending time here is always a treat. Sonia arrives, and we chat for a while.

Next, I move on to meet with Dr. Bernard in his office downtown. We discuss Hague issues and my IBESR meeting, and work on an action plan to protect Haiti from premature ratification. I will do all I can, and I have to learn to live with the fact that that's all I can do.

On the way home I have a barrage of phone calls, including one from Mike Noah and Mansour, who just finished their meeting with Mme. Villedrouin too. We compare notes. Teamwork is good, and Joint Council makes so much of our work possible.

It's four o' clock when I get back to the guest house. I have not eaten all day, and I am very tired. Time to answer emails, and to write up this account and them my notes about my various meetings for my various supervisors, colleagues, etc.

Saint Michael likes to describe my Haiti trips as 'Caribbean vacations'. If he doesn't watch it, I'm going to send him in my place next time!!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

US Government meeting

We had hoped to accomplish three meetings today. Hah. But the most important one happened. Mike Noah and Mansour Masse of Holt International and I met up at the Embassy for an appointment with Officer Hichem Kefi, the new Field Office Director of USCIS for Haiti. I asked Officer Kefi to invite someone from the Adoptions Unit to join them when my email requests were unanswered. I am stunned to find the Consul General herself attending our meeting. Sometimes I get a bit overawed by the people I end up meeting with. I didn't ask for this. It was just handed to me to do, and nobody else wanted the job.

This is not an ABI meeting. I'm here in my capacity as Co-Chair of the Joint Council of International Children's Services Haiti Caucus to ask questions for the group, and my colleagues Mike and Mansour are of course very welcome as fellow Joint Council members and very active participants in Haitian adoption issues. We explore a number of general issues facing intercountry adoptions in Haiti and how we can cooperate more effectively. As usual, the DOS and USCIS staff are very helpful. I've been working with some of the local staff for close to a decade now, and we've seen quite a bit together. It's also very good to hear firsthand what we need to do to assist USCIS & DOS in their critical mission as the last layer of protection against ilegal and unethical adoptions. The importance of their ability to perform thorough inspecitons of every case cannot be overestimated.

Officer Kefi payed a surprise visit to BRESMA on Monday. It was nice to hear what he thought of our house. I think he was a bit surprised, actually. Most people have something different in mind when they hear the word orphanage, with fewer toys and less dancing involved. USCIS will report any abuses they see to IBESR, and I'm grateful for that too. I have a feeling that we've just gotten our third excellent Director in a row.

Consul General Colombia Barrosse is highly focused on providing excellent customer service, as was her predecessor, Donald Moore, and has several policies which will soon be in place which will make appointments for adoption Visas much easier and more pleasant. She also took our concerns about issues with the security guards failing to admit American Citizens very seriously, and will address them. I almost feel sorry for the guards. Almost.

Mike and Mansour and I were hoping to meet up with another program director who is also down here in Haiti, but it doesn't work out. So the three of us go to lunch and discuss various adoption and aid related topics. We're very lucky here in Haiti. Everyone knows we're all on the same team, and we do things cooperatively, both on the United States and Haitian side. I'm told this is not the case in some other countries. I can't imagine dealing with the difficulties we face here in Haiti and not working as a group, helping each other whenever possible. It's quite hard enough down here without any infighting taking place.

I come home exhausted again, but there's more good news. Nacha, our exceptionally clever and well-connected almost-attorney has managed to secure an IBESR exit packet for my adoptive family who is just about to leave, even though we don't have their Visa yet. Even IBESR feels terrible for this family, and has given them an extremely rare exception to policy. This means that the very second they are holding their daughter's Visa, they are free to go. Hallelujah, Bondye bon!

Tomorrow is my meeting with IBESR. This is the third IBESR Director I've met, but I'm still very anxious. So much rides on my NOT messing this up.... I've been having anxiety dreams about the meeting, in a messy tangle of English, Kreyol, and Spanish, that I have no idea what I'll end up saying when I finally meet the woman. May God keep His arm around my shoulders and his hand over my mouth!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back to the Capital: the calm before the meetings

Tortug' Air plane
Travel day. We're lucky. It's not pouring until after we land. The traffic is so terrible in the Capital that Margarette and I must wait a very long time for Franck to reach us, and the ride home takes an eternity. We are both very tired, and each tells the other that she is going to take a nap. However, I end up checking emails (102 in my absence) and guess who is responding to the new ones I send out? Perhaps my partner and I get along so well because we are both workaholics...

I have an adoptive father arrive in the evening, and one of my other families who is finally, finally about to leave Haiti after having been here for six months stops by. Everyone chats away, the parent at the beginning of the process and those who are, God be praised, almost finished.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jeremie again: a rose by any other name is still worth $90 U.S.

A much slower day. Of course, anything would be!

We go to a medical appointment in Jeremie for Margarette, riding mototaxis at a sedate pace through the cobbled streets. The clinic we go to is obviously well funded and well staffed, although there are a tremendous number of patients to be seen. While we wait and wait for Margarette's turn in a shaded gazebo, the mayor of Jeremie stops by. He's having back pain. Of couse, Grandpa knows him too, as does Margarette. It's good to have friends.

While we're here, Margarette gets an idea and calls a co-director of a small orphanage where we are processing cases for two pre-identified children. Their adoptive parents are here in Jeremie, and she arranges a delightful surprise meeting, along with free lunch. What's not to love?

Mackendy is Haitian American, which I figure out after he suffers through some of my lousy Kreyol. He drives us to the orphanage/school complex his father manages. My clients come down the the pastor's house from the orphanage and greet Margarette with pleasure. The looks on their faces when I introduce myself are marvelous. Complete shock! Such fun. We enjoy a fabulous feast, courtesy of the pastor. This is the first time I've ever tried fried green tomatoes. I don't like tomatoes, but they're delicious like this! Much of the produce we are eating was locally grown.

Rose garden
Outside, there is a rose garden. Margarette loves gardening, and she mentions that rose bushes sell for $90 U.S. in Port-au-Prince. I see an opportunity for a substantial micro-enterprise here, propgating and raising plants! I wonder if Japanese maples will grow in Haiti? I wonder if I could get starting stock into the country? I wonder if I can find a horticulturist to join us on our Castaches trip? I imagine the answer is yes to all of the above.

We walk to the orphanage, just across the road. I noticed this building on the way home yesterday. It's very attractive and freshly painted. Inside, we are inspected the the thirty-nine children who live here. They appear to be about age eight and up. All are in school during the day, and they appear to be overall well nourished. I see only one child with discolored hair, and everyone's skin looks good. One of the two children I am placing has elbows larger than her upper arm, normally an indicator of severe malnutrition, but as everyone else looks well fed and I note a few other anomalies, I take some photos of her to send to a professional. I suspect this little girl has some sort of genetic condition. If we can identify what it is, we can make sure that we meet her needs.

It's such a treat to get to spend some time with one of my families, especially one that is already so involved in Haiti! Finally, Mackendy drives us home. We have to hope it doesn't pour anymore tomorrow, because Tortug' Air is a fair weather airline. It's pouring, we're grounded. And I MUST be at the U.S. Embassy at nine o' clock sharp on the 26th.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Castaches: mototaxis and moulets

Haiti biker babes: Margarette and I prepare to ride to Castaches
It's raining this morning. This means that it's reasonably cool as I sit on the porch in my nightgown typing this. Unfortunately, it also means that it might be completely impossible to get to Castaches today unless the folks at the UN complex let me borrow their helicopter. Margarette doesn't ride (horses) and you can't take a motorcycle on a slippery, muddy dirt track. Or at least, not with me on it, you can't. The road we want to build to Castaches is not just a luxury. Nobody from up there is going much of anywhere today, unless it's very close by.

Last night Claudette, the young President of the Castaches Women's Assoication, came by for a chat. She filled me in on all the details of what they want to do. These women have their act together, even down to the committee of eight who will evaluate microloan applicants and make the decisions regarding who will get a chance, and who will not. Now all they need is for me to find them the money to get started.

Castaches is an agricultural area. Most of the women will start with either crops that they plant or with livestock, and they will visit the various small vilabes on their market days to sell their products. In those villages, they can buy items in short supply elsewhere – matches, dry goods, etc. - and then sell those in the next location. The economy here is very small scale. Margarette and Claudette and I also discuss that some people really aren't suitable to be business owners, and they'll need to work for others eventually.

We have an offer from a Canadian woman in the area who is buying and exporting beautiful woven placemats to teach a few of our women how to make them so that they too can sell them for export through her program. Of course we'll have to pay some tuition. Nothing of value is truly free.

Across the street from me, a teenage girl is setting up a stand to sell little packets of crackers and cookies. I hope she won't be there all week. She ought to be in school. On the other hand, for Haiti, she's not unfortunate. Her stand is right inside her family's little compound, where everyone has a roof, decent clothing, and seems to be in good physical health.

Ugh. The moto taxi guys are here, which means I have to go put on decent clothing. What I'm wearing is fine for everyone else, but I'm attracting more attention because I'm different. Poor Saint Michael.

Night of April 23rd:

We're back from Castaches. First a quick comment on traveling by motorcycle: WOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! What a rush!!!!

The ride up was long, and I started out with little faith in this small, noisy machine's ability to stay upright. This was ridiculous for two reasons: first, I've seen dozens of these in the street, most of them carrying people far larger than I am. Secondly, my son has one and I've ridden it with him. But still...

The drivers are four guys chosen by one of them, who is a friend of Mr. Saint Fleur. About two minutes in on Jeremie's cobbled streets, I realize that this is FUN. So by the time we leave the paving, and eventually what anyone might describe as a real road behind, and are – I guess you can't call it 'four wheeling' when you only have two wheels – I am pretty comfortable. Mentally. Every time we go down a hill I have to hold my weight back with my arms, as there is nothing to brace your legs against in front and I keep sliding forward.

The ride is long. It is much farther than I had thought it would be. Our speed is impaired by the rain. Margarette tells me that every time she comes here, it rains. I should bring her home with me. We could use a little moisture in the Dakotas. We ride through mud and puddles, which splash us less than I would have expected. My driver has it easy when the tires do slip, because I'm not very heavy. I'm not about to put my feet down as he does to help right or brace us. I have no idea when he's going to start up again, and I don't need to break a leg here.

Glorious GREEN
The scenery is astonishing – green, verdant jungle. Everything, everywhere, is varying shades of emerald or deep rich burgundy, scarlet or even canary yellow. Not all jungle plants are green. I recognize some of my house plant's larger cousins, including many Poinsetta trees towering twenty feet into the air.

We pass an endless stream of people. Children headed for school,wearing uniforms, children who don't go to school playing or attending roadside stands, vendors both male and female headed for various markets with their sale goods on their heads or loaded onto small horses, mules, or burros. Endless humanity! Haiti is a very crowded, populous country, even as we go farther and farther from Jeremie and modern conveniences.

We stop breifly at a Catholic complex with a church and a school and an abbey. Margarette and her father speak with the priest. We'll coordinate with their organization when we are able to work on the road. Even further into the mountains, we pass through a street market with permanent stalls made of sticks and palm fronds. There are a lot of vendors there, and it would appear they don't see blan very often. Everyone, everyone is staring as I pass quickly through.

I see a lot of poverty here in the Castaches area, of course, but it's nothing like the desert of Cabaret. Most families seem to have enough money for a small cement house in a garden with a living fences. I see shoes on almost everyone, although a lot of people are carrying them because of the mud. I see almost no children suffering with kwashiorkor. In fact, now that I think of it, it is in Port-au-Prince itself that I have seen the worst starvation, malnutrition, filth and poverty. And so many of the people there came from smaller places like this, somehow deluded that they would find a better life in the Capital.

The aquaduct
We stop to examine the aquaduct project. I've seen photos, but it's hard to understand without seeing it. In the process of building the school, the Foundation needed water. And the easiest way to get it was to pipe it in from a local spring. So now, Castaches has a cap over the spring to protect it and keep it clean, and a cistern for storage and pressure. Twice a week, bleach is added in both places, just in case. There are two public fountains with faucets for the community to use, dispensing free, potable water. There is no cholera in Castaches!

And right nearby, the school! I've seen photos too, but actually seeing it here, with its 150 students, so amazingly far from anything else, is almost unbelievable.

School in Castaches
Margarette jumps right into her project – checking the actual attendance against the logs that she has, and getting information for the French sponsors of all the children. Everyone gets their picture taken and she records a very brief summary of their academic progress. There are several mothers gathered on the verandah, talking and waiting.

I take a walking tour with Mr. Saint Fleur. Margarette's not much of a one for hiking, but 'Grandpa' and I are a lot alike. We're country people, and we like to walk. He shows me a fallen down Catholic church behind the school, and talks about how they'd like to repair it. We walk down a steep gully, cross a stream, and on the other side we pass through a cemetery. He tells me his parents, Margarette's grandparents, are buried here. Now I understand how it was possible to build this project out here. He's a local! In a place like this, it's impossible to get community buy-in if they don't understand and trust you. But everyone here knows Grandpa. I mean, everyone. We have to stop and chat with every person we pass, and we pass a lot of people.

Grandpa knew about this location, where the nearest school was so far away that children physically couldn't walk to it until they were old enough that they might feel shamed by their own illiteracy, or have given up on education.

He shows me the first building site they were interested in. From what I understand, it belonged to his family and he wanted to give it to the community for the school. But on this far side of the stream, it is truly inaccessible to motorized transport. They abandoned this site, and bought about two acres of flat, cleared land at the end of all roads.

As we walk it begins to rain again, and then to pour. We stop at the house of an old man to shelter in his covered porch. He puts out chairs for us, as in Haiti you never keep a guest standing. Grandpa and I tell him that if it doesn't stop pouring eventually, we may have to spend the night. He and Grandpa know each other, of course. Finally he loans us a large umbrella and we start back to the school. It's very wet and extremely slippery, and I worry about Margarette's father, who must be in his seventies. Luckily the problem solves itself. He takes my arm, telling me to be careful, and I'm able to go first and carefully to be sure he does not fall.

When we return to the school, Margarette tells me we might be spending the night up here. Before I started working in Haiti, the idea of being stranded in a strange place with nothing more than the clothes on my back and my digital camera would have sent me into a tizzy. But now, my only worry is that somebody has a mattress or pad of some sort I could sleep on. I'm getting too old and arthritic to sleep on a bench or a table like a real Haitian can. She says if we can get down the mountain tonight, we won't be able to come back up tomorrow. Here and now is my one chance to document what the people of Castches want and need.

Women's group of Castaches
A fairly large number of women have gathered now. They are curious about the sponsorship photos and about me too. I take photos, and with Margarette's help, interview a few of them. There is much discontent until I go outside and explain that it's my job to look for seed money for their association, and the women who are getting their photos taken are no more likely to get the loans than those who are not. I just need a few real faces and real stories to tell to the world, so that everyone can see how worthy they are of a chance to support their children. One woman, obviously a community leader, translates what I say into better and more culturally relevant Kreyol, including the plan to draw the names of women who are qualified in a lottery to decide who gets money first, and who must wait for her chance. They understand, and the scowls of those I didn't interview disappear. I explain that I'd like to return with a mission group to help with the road or any other project their community needs, and they agree to show my visitors Haitian hospitality.

During all of this, Margarette has sent our motorcycle drivers and their machines away. I'm not clear on what is going on, but whatever happens, happens. It takes type-A people like me a long time to get broken into this concept, but when God makes an omelet, He has to break some eggs. It's taken years for me to get properly broke in, and I still struggle with it sometimes.

School lets out at 1:00 sharp, and it's pouring rain. We used to be able to provide a free lunch, but the pay rates for teachers went up and used our food budget. We now have three cooks and nothing for them to serve. Margarette is going to ask the French to send more. One or two free meals, like we provide in Port-au-Prince at the school in Delmas 31, would be a huge help to these families.

The children and their mothers cram under the shelter of the balcony, waiting for a break in the deluge. A few small boys run out into the rain and start for home. Many of the girls take off their uniform blouses, and some change their shoes for cheap sandals to protect their good clothing. These kids have seen blan recently. The French, who made this school possible, were here just a month ago, so I'm mildly interesting, but not that thrilling.

My preferred way to travel
Finally the rain slows, and we finish up business. There are a tiny horse and a mule on the lawn of the school. Margarette asks me to give her my camera so she can take a picture of me on the horse. I give her my camera and approach the tiny pony, but his eyes roll back in his head and two grown men can't hold him still enough for me to get anywhere near him. Apparently he did not see the French when they visited. I've never seen the like, but this horse is terrified of white people! I approach the mule instead, who doesn’t seem to care what I look like. I have trouble figuring out how to get on with the unfamiliar tack, and the handler seems to take this for ignorance. He wants to lead me like a kid on a pony. I don't have any of the nouns I need, but I manage to explain that I want to steer by myself, and he fashions reins out of the rope bridle. I wave goodbye and cheerfully ride my mule off towards the sunset, which is apparently incredibly funny. Of course I turn around before I reach the gate, but when I look back, Margarette is being helped onto the little horse, who is not afraid of her at all. We really are riding out, at least to where the road gets a bit better. I am delighted!

Trail riding through the jungle – what a treat! Even if I do have to use a stick to make my mount keep going, and I'm pretty sure I can walk faster than he can. I ride up ahead of the man leading Margarette on her pony. It's beautiful, peaceful and lovely in the light rain. Eventually, a barefooted young man catches up to me and tries to start leading my mule. I tell him I prefer to ride by myself, and he manages to accept that I know how to do so.

Actually, I'm a terrible athlete and a clumsy person, but I've been riding since I was four years old and I used to train horses for a living. I'm more comfortable mounted than I ever will be on my own two feet. Or at least, I would be on a more athletic mount. The young man settles for following along and pushing my slow and lazy mule along when he gets to be too slow. But eventually he drops back out of sight. I don't think about why until later.

I ride alone through the same little market we passed on the way up, and there I am reminded that I am not, and never will be, Haitian. Apparently the sight of a white woman riding a mule is the funniest thing ever, ever, ever! There are about 150 people at this market, and every single one of them is looking at me and laughing. Literally. All. Of. Them. Most are also pointing, just in case someone misses the joke. I'm actually blushing as I laugh too. I don't get the joke, but it is surely me. This mule didn't startle when I opened the umbrella from my big pannier basket, but the roar of laughter confuses and spooks, him, and he stops dead. Right in the middle of the market. For a moment I'm too stunned and embarrassed to think, but before I can get the umbrella closed to whack him with it, my motorcycle driver appears and leads me off, taking the reins as if I haven't been riding all the way down here. Interestingly enough, this is much less funny than my riding by myself, and the roar of laughter subsides. I really, really don't get it. But I make him give me the reins back, because where I come from the sight of a grown woman being led on horseback is definitely worth laughing at.

We were supposed to get back on the bikes here, but it's still so slick that my driver tells me that if I don't mind, he'd just as soon I rode the mule down a bit father where it will be drier. I tell him I'd just as soon ride the mule all the way back to Jeremie, but at his pace I'll miss my appointment on the 26th if I do. I head on down the trail, my driver slipping and sliding behind us, until we reach the point where he has us stop and wait for the others. Finally they join us, all on motorcycles again.

We take a different route home alongside a river through an incredibly green, lush and lovely valley. It is absolutely breathtaking. I make my driver stop to let me take pictures, even though he thinks I'm crazy, but I try to explain I want to show the Americans how beautiful his region is. He becomes more cooperative. It's still raining, and we are wet, wet, wet. I have my camera in a baggie in my pocket. On the flat valley floor, I learn that you can ride a motorcycle through about six inches of standing water. I also learn that it's easy to go to bed before eight o' clock, even in a strange house over the noise of the neighbors chattering away, after a full day's adventure.

What a rush. Wow.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

To Jeremie: small planes and large tarantulas

Jeremie, the City of Poets
Whatever you expect on a trip to Haiti, is not what is going to happen. You'd think I'd have figured that out by now.

I carefully planned my travel so that I'd spend the requisite overnight in Denver, where I have family nearby and can save the agency a hundred bucks or so. So naturally, my plane from Denver to Miami the next morning was so late that I missed my connection and ended up staying the night in Miami anyway. At least it was on American's dollar and not ABI's. And perhaps it was not an accident, as it turned out that there was another passenger on the flight who had missed the same connection, and he turned out to be the Haiti coordinator for another agency.

I helped the agency founders on their first visit to Haiti, and it is a real treat to meet Patrick. He lived here for a while before the earthquake with his wife, and he understands how things are. He laughs when I point out that neither one of us is wearing a watch. In Haiti, things happen when they happen.

Patrick puts it more eloquently than I, describing Haiti as an 'event based society'. In other words, today might be the day you go to the Embassy. It doesn't much matter when you get there, and you don't try to schedule doing something else on the same day, either afterward or at the same time. Multitasking is a completely American concept, one that most Haitians find repugnant or ridiculous. He's right on.

To illustrate, Margarette admits in the morning when she arrives at the guest house to pick me up that she has made a serious error. This is very, very rare for her. I forget everything that is not in my computer (or at least my notebook, down here) and she has an amazing memory. But this morning she announces that she thought our tickets to fly to Jeremie were for today, but they were dated for yesterday. Yikes. Luckily, the young woman at the gate doesn't look at the date either. No problem what day the tickets are for, so long as we have some.

The French Adoptive Parents' Association helped build and sponor a school for the community of Castaches, a village in the mountains above Jeremie. This will be my first visit to the school. It's looking to be a great adventure thus far.

The small plane carrying us has 22 seats and substatially fewer functioning seatbelts. Forget the pre-flight safety lecture. This is like a Greyhound bus flying a few hundred feet above the ocean. As we wait for everyone to board, Margarettte spotts a tarantula the size of my whole hand on the tarmac. I had never seen a tarantula outside of a zoo before, nor had I wanted to. Even at the zoo. Margarette tells me that she has lots of them in the garden of her new house, and I request that she never invite me to visit there.

Aerial view of Jeremie
Haiti slides by my window as we travel west, verdant and peaceful. None of the human misery below can be seen from the air on the coast, once we clear the capital itself. Glorious. The ride is quite short; about forty-five minutes, and we land on a dirt airstrip in a field where a lone decrepit building is labeled as the airport. The signage is helpful. I would never have guessed.

We ride a small van belonging to Tortug' Air through the old city. It is beautiful in a sort of decaying, decadent way. Many of the wooden buildings are brilliantly painted, and the narrow streets are paved with cobbles or bricks. With a cleanup and economic improvement, I could definitely see Jeremie becoming a tourist town. The brilliant Caribbean sea is a constant back drop. I hope I'll have time to look inside the very large Cathedral in the center of the old town.

Jeremie airport
It is so much quieter than frenetic, dirty Port-au-Prince here! Must less traffic, unbarred gates, many house walls with no razor wire to enforce them. My work often leaves me wondering if it is Haiti or really just the big city that leaves me so exhausted. If he were here, my driver Franck would probably vote for my schedule being the issue. I think my habit of often making three or even four stops per day stuns him. That's just not how we do things here!

Margarette and I will stay at the house of her parents. It's a rental about fifteen minutes away from the town proper. The house is built in traditional Haitian style. It is cement, of course, with a central passage. All of the three bedrooms are on one side, the bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and a small salon make up the other. Of course I'm sitting out on the porch to write this. It's cooler, and it gives the neighbors something interesting to look at. I'm noticing the children here are much less fascinated by me than the adults. Maybe the kids are used to seeing aid workers and MINUSTAH personnel, and only adults realize it is odd to see a blan sitting on the porch of a private, middle class house.

Today will be primarily a day of rest, but tomorrow will be all action. I was unable to talk Margarette into riding up into the mountains my way (on horseback) so I guess we'll go the other way – by moto taxi. I hope my guy can drive well and isn't too befuddled by a crazy white woman going up into the mountains to pay attention to the road. Well, a little adventure builds character.

It is Sunday, and people walk through the streets visiting eachother. Singing and the sound of someone playing the flute drifts over the walls. It is very peaceful here, if a bit warmer than my comfort zone. Once again I find myself without proper luggage. I have left all of my usual Haiti clothes – lightweight dresses and sandals – back in Port-au-Prince. I have brought long pants and closed shoes for the mountains, where we are not at the moment. It's hot. I am grateful it is not August.

I wonder if every day is like this for many of the people here. True, today is Sunday, but with this much unemployment, many people are home every day. They have mastered the art of passing time and living in the moment. It's an art most Americans and Europeans have long forgotten, myself included. I think I”ll spend some time watching this chicken who is visiting our yard and see if I can remember.