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.

1 comment:

  1. Diana...this is so funny. This is when Ryan and I went to Haiti AND we met Patrick at the US Embassy. My husband chatted with him for a longtime (as you know the wait can be quite long there). You and I might have been on the same flight and at the airport at the same time. How funny is that? Wish I would have know at the time. :)