April 2004- Spring in Haiti

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April 30
Sleeping in Haiti is alot like sleeping at summer camp. At night it is hot but usually with a breeze. It is noisy. There is always a dog barking, which then sets off every other dog in the neighborhood, and roosters crowing. I thought roosters only crowed at dawn, but apparently they crow all night. Sometimes our generator or our neighbor’s generator is going,which is quite loud, but at least drowns out the sound of the dogs and roosters, and the occasional goat. If you’re really lucky you might get some city power at night (the provisional government is promising us six hours a day now….) but when the city power is on it makes our fans and other appliances hum, because the wattage is different (during the day you can tell when the city power is on because the lights are dimmer. But at least you can use the hair dryer and toaster oven then). At night sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, because the power has gone off and the fans are off. You have to get up and go to the back yard and turn on the Delco, or just try to get back to sleep. We actually have air conditioner units in our bedrooms but our generator is not strong enough to run them. So we’ve lived here for 8 months and never used the a/c. Sleeping under my mosquito net always reminds me of a bride’s veil. Occasionally I try to tie it up in a knot and sleep without it, but the mosquitos always win.

In the morning, especially if there’s been rain at night, you can smell the morning like I remember from camp. It’s a nice, green, earthy smell. Haiti, in fact, smells best at six in the morning. But even at six, the streets are full of people walking to work, the tap-taps are running, and even the heavy trucks are heading down from the hills, full of gravel that has been mined fromt the mountains above us. The deforestation and strip-mining of the land here is devastating, and there’s constantly a need for more building materials. Almost no houses are made of lumber here; the wood supply ran out on Haiti decades ago (only 1% of the forests remain here) and even if there was trees, you can’t build a house with them that will last, because of the rot. The cement buildings are part of what makes Port-Au-Prince so ugly. The nicer buildings and churches are made of stone, which looks a little nicer. The concrete buildings are gray, plain, unpainted. Many of them are unfinished, lacking a roof or one wall.

The President left two months ago and we are all awaiting these fabulous changes we hear so much about. The people want electricity, trash pick up, the police and teachers in the provinces to be paid. They want the roads to be fixed. Even the ones in Petionville are getting very bad; the roads aren’t made properly and must be repaved every year or so. I had to go down to Port-Au-Prince to the Embassy last week for the Foreign Service Exam and I was amazed, as usual, at how dirty and crowded the city is. I’m so glad Union School and my house are up the mountain. I would have hated Haiti if I had to live in Port-Au-Prince. When Union School was first built, it was in PaP. Later it was moved into the ’suburbs’.

Most of our friends are back in town, with a few exceptions, and we have resumed our Ladies’ Night outings on Wednesdays and some parties and clubbings on the weekend. Last week we had a bachelorette party and then co-ed party for our friend Meredith, who is getting married this weekend in Washington DC. There’s a party tonight for some of the Canadian troops who are leaving Haiti this weekend for good. Saturday is Haitian Labor Day, a big holiday for the Haitians. We are planning a hash at the Petionville Club, our first hash since the January one hosted by Erika and I. Everyone is looking forward to that and baptizing some of our newer members.

We have been spending time barbecuing everything in sight on our awesome new grill, and have spent some Sundays at Monica and Andy’s house in town. They went on vacation over the Easter break to Tuscany and spent two lovely weeks in a house there with Andy’s whole family. It sounds like an awesome vacation, I read their son Drew’s journal he kept while he was gone and it sounds like everyone really enjoyed it. I can’t wait until I get to travel around Europe.

Oh my goodness, I have fallen in love this weekend! I went snorkeling for the first time at Ille la Vache and absolutely loved it. It was so amazing. Who knew there was so much to look at on the bottom of the sea? The colors of the coral and all the fish were amazing. I could have stayed out there all day.

We had a fantastic time at Ille la Vache. It was the most perfect vacation. It was one of those experiences that totally reaffirms my love for Haiti. There are parts of it that are just unspeakably beautiful. I am so glad I am getting a chance to see these places in my lifetime. It also makes me really look forward to wherever I go to next.

We left on Friday and drove to the national airport, where we sat and waited for our flight that was two hours late. But at last we were in the air, and then in just short half hour, we were on the ground in Les Cayes, a city I had never been to. The plane we took over there was the smallest I’ve ever been on, it sat eight people and the pilot. Really small! We got a boat to take us over to Port Morgan on the island of La Vache, and were amazed at the hotel we stayed at. Tom and Sue had the room next to mine, and our friends Jeff and Denise went as well. Also there that weekend was a group of International Red Cross workers, a few of whom I had met out at Dolce Vita recently. We arrived at lunchtime and immediately sat down to try some of the best fish I’ve had in recent months. After lunch we walked around a bit, swam in the ocean and talked to the guy in the dive shop. We met a couple, Steve and Linda, and their sixteen year old son, who have been boating around the world for the last twelve years. We sat and talked with them for quite a while, enjoying their stories of their adventures. After enjoying the view, and laying in our chaise lounge chairs on our front porch we ate dinner and then sat in our chairs again and drank a bottle of wine we had brought with us.

On Saturday we took a short hike to another beach, led by some local guides, and sat in the most beautiful sandy beach I have ever seen. The thing that made it so beautiful was that aside from about four tiki huts, there was absolutely nothing there. On the whole beach was just the five of us, and then about four of the Red Cross people showed up. That’s it. It was a beach just as beautiful as Turks and Caicos, but with absolutely nothing there to spoil it. We swam in the water for hours and laid on the sand. I went for a little hike and found a small cave and checked it out. Finally it was time to head in, as the sun was quite intense and we all had sunburns. We had an amazing lunch of quiche and salad, and then took naps. That night we all gathered for dinner, and were invited to a party on a nearby island. A bunch of the Red Cross people were going, and Brian, the dive instructor, said he’d take us over on a boat. So we said what the hell, might as well go, and we all piled into this tiny canoe from Jamaica, and boated over to another island. You really know you’re in Haiti when you have fifteen people in a canoe, and a guy riding up on the bow with a flashlight in his hand for a light (at least we had a motor).

It took us about 40 minutes to boat over to the island, and I chatted with Mark and Onah, two Red Cross guys from Belgium. Finally we made it to this island and we show up at this huge tent that is made of palm branches woven together and bed sheets and who knows what else. It was like this big Bedouin celebration. There was no electricity on the whole island except this one tent, powered by a generator. From inside we could hear a dj playing compas music, and so we paid our 25 gourdes admission price and headed in and danced for the next two hours. They were selling Prestige beer and lakay (homemade) rum and it was quite an interesting night. Apparently they have this party every year on the night before Easter.

On Sunday Tom and Sue and I took a kayak out and rowed over to a point where we were told there was alot of good coral. Tom and I kayaked and Sue towed along the back in our green air mattress that always goes on beach vacations with us. We snorkeled around for more than two hours and I was enchanted. Tom and Sue kayaked back and I swam, which was a good idea until about halfway across the harbor when I got really tired. But I made it across and snorkeled the whole way. I managed to pull myself out of the water, exhausted, ate some lunch, and we all went to take naps. At lunch, the amazing chef, Alan, invited us to another island party for that night. We said sure, let’s go. Alan is from Spain and he told us the whole story of how we wound up being a chef in Haiti. A very adventurous person.

So that night Denise, Jeff, Tom and Sue and I, along with a couple of the Red Cross people, and Alan and a couple Haitians piled into the same canoe and headed over to another island. Unfortunately the weather was a little rougher, and we couldn’t sail all the way around to the far side of the island so we had to beach the canoe and walk the rest of the way. The Haitians lit a big palm tree branch on fire and led us over to the party. Instead of a dj, they had some live compas musicians singing, playing guitar, bongoes, drums, etc. Everyone was dancing and drinking warm Prestige (disgusting, I was extremely glad I brought my flask, thanks again to Kris Kiker). I climbed a tree and sat on a branch about six feet off the ground and had an excellent view of the “stage”. There was alot of singing, dancing, some “Haitian smoke”, if you know what I mean, and we had a pretty good time. Of course we were the only blancs there, as we had been the night before. But everyone loved coming over and talking to us and asking us questions. I don’t know if the party was for Easter or what, but we were glad we went to a true island party, out in the middle of nowhere. We left sometime after midnight and made it back to the hotel. What a great weekend!

Author: deahh

World traveler, teacher, friend, lover.

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