Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Part 2: Haiti Chronicles

Leaving my world behind

It's all surreal.

Nothing is my normal.

I've climbed (vaulted, scaled!) into the back seat of a massive Toyota Land Cruiser with seven other people.  Our driver, Fennel,  maneuvers expertly yet quickly (don't look) through the dusty, crowded streets of Port au Prince, heading north toward the mountain village of Desab, our home for the next week.  Multiple ropes restrain a pyramid of luggage piled high on top. Just like in the movies. The old movies.

It's market day, but nothing I'm used to. The streets vibrate with people. Lots of them. Crowds of them. For miles and miles, they mill about, selling/buying toiletries, corn meal (mais moulin), fruits, vegetables, sugar cane (wheelbarrows full), sodas, clothing, candy, car parts, chickens, goats and scads of shoes. They sell from storefront shanties, or just tables set up on sidewalks. Some squat, sorting cow peas or cleaning rice. Others tote their wares on top of their heads. Chickens scratch and scatter.

Colorful taxis (called Tap Taps)  stuffed with Haitians compete for road space with us as do motorcycles (also a form of taxi). Are there five people on that bike? Yep. And four on the next.

They zig and zag down the road, as do we, passing large trucks, SUVs and motorbikes on wide roads and narrow ones. It doesn't matter. Traffic laws, apparently, are suggestions.

I close my eyes. A lot. To keep out the dust, avoid panic and to reset my brain because nothing is normal. Knitted into the all this activity is unbelievable poverty. And destruction. This daily hubbub  co-exists with rubble and debris from a massive earthquake four years ago that killed 300,000 people and toppled the capital city's infrastructure. 

Despite dire conditions, life percolates. And we rumble along, mere passersby, as we head into the countryside  zipping and of course, zagging. No vehicle is too big or too fast for us to  pass. I see to my right many layers of  mountains, all wearing their winter browns, and to my left, the sparkling blue  Caribbean.

We pass through smaller towns in smaller, but similar market modes. People swarm everywhere.

Then we turn right. Into a storybook world.Onto a dirt and stone pathway, heavily gutted by rainwater and framed at first by banana, plantain and mango trees, then thirsty scrub brush. It leads up and up and up, seven miles into the mountains. Where people ride donkeys or walk, many barefoot, toting their wares to sell and those they buy piled high on their heads. We're the only car, so they step aside, as do the dozens of goats, chickens, cows and donkeys that scatter as we rumble up and up. Some chickens have broods swarming around their feet. A baby goat follows her mother, getting out of our way.

This is an impossible road that passes through a cultural divide.  No running water. No electricity. 

Then we stop. We are here.

Part III: First-day impressions of Desab

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