Thursday, January 30, 2014

24 hours in Desab

Part 3: Haiti Chronicles

What follows are vignettes from my first 24 hours in Desab, a Haitian village reaching for the stars in the mountains of Haiti. I visited  with the non-profit Stone by Stone:

  • People walk up into the mountains, well past the top of the village,  toting 10-gallon plastic buckets. They return much later (I never timed them)  with the buckets full of water (a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds) perched on a sturdy cloth ring atop their heads. And they are barefoot. And the terrain is rocky, bristly with brush. Their only water source is a spring high in the mountains.
  • A child, no more than 8, leaps onto the back end of a donkey, grabs rope reigns and entices the donkey to dance in circles, like a rodeo cowboy. Seconds later, a second smaller child leaps onto the donkey's neck. They get the donkey to dance again, then it's back to work,  They ride over to two large plastic buckets, lean over and grab them, then trot up the hillside to fetch water for their families.
  •  A very pregnant goat grazes  at the upper edge of the small village square. Throughout the day, I see dozens of goats, some with kids, some dragging long ropes, other wearing wooden harnesses designed to prevent them from going deep into the brush. Villagers know their goats. No need for fences. The animal forage freely for their food.

  • Many donkeys outfitted with wooden homemade saddles serve as cargo carts for families toting bread and vegetables to and from market, which is about seventies down the mountain. The saddles resemble those I see in pictures of early Mexican conquistadors. The one pictured above was parked outside church on Sunday  morning.

  • A young man gallops into the village on donkey back,  coming to a stop at the bakery, a rectangular building with what looks like a pizza oven inside. The rider slides a small package out from under the donkey's bridle (salt, soda, yeast?)  and hands it to a baker. The bakers make bread every day, sometimes late into the night, often early in the morning. The bakery is one of the few places to work in the village.  Mostly, there are no jobs.
  • A tarantula hangs out in the weeds near the concrete latrine. A couple of rats live down in the hole. The latrine is for aid workers. (Our culture.)  Villagers potty discretely in the bush. (Their culture.) The  smelly structure sits just feet away from the preschool. 
  • Everyone dresses up for church. Everyone. Even the children.
  • In church,  lots of children sit quietly and listen (or act like it), for all four hours of it (an unusually long service, I'm told.). If they act up, they meet evil stares from adults. All adults. The village raises its children. And children are to behave in church. Outside, they play, sing, laugh and devill each other. Inside, they sit quietly and listen.
  • Still at church,  a little girl, about 5, gets doozy after three hours. So mom (grandmom? aunt?) lays a  blanket on the floor, then gently arranges the now sleeping child on the blanket (pictured).
  • Lots of singing and swaying in church. Three little boys in the back create their own acoustic section banging rhythmically on two metal chairs. Despite this environment of very strict behavior, nobody hushes the trio. It was just that good.

  • I count 30 concrete steps  curving downhill to the bathroom from the Big House. Which means I hike 30 concrete steps up to get back, sometimes sharif the steps with foraging animals. Plus I cover a short stony trail to a piece of broken pavement before climbing two more steps into the house. Hazardous (for me) at night. 
  • A starving puppy (most dogs and people here are hungry) shrinks from people because they taunt him. I see a man, about 25, throw stones at (in the direction of?) his own dog to stop her barking. She isn't hit. And she quiets down. 
  • Dust. I've never seen so much dust.
Part 4: Our first meal

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