I took a short trip to Haiti this weekend to visit friends on the island. I can’t believe it’s been ten years since I moved to Haiti to teach- ten years since I moved overseas! So I hopped on an American Airlines jet and went to visit Monica and Andy, my second family.
M&A have turned their lovely home into an 8 room bed and breakfast, which is just beautiful. I got to sleep in the same room I often slept in, so it really felt like home. They’ve made some awesome additions to the place, but the vista of the bay of Port au Prince is still as beautiful as ever (PaP always looks better from a distance). We spent the first day and night up in Pacot and in Petionville, having lunch at Papaye and seeing how Petionville has and has not changed since the earthquake and with more development coming to Haiti. After a lovely dinner- with plenty of wine, of course-, we were all tired and ready for bed.
On Saturday morning we went to the municipal airport and took a 30 minute flight to Cap Haitian, flying over the Citadel on the way. We landed, and half an hour later we were at the beach house, changing into our suits. The property is just beautiful, with sandy beaches, an old French fort dating back to the late 1700’s, and a lovely high deck that shows off a great panorama.
We swam, jet skied, and drank lots of rosé wine. Too much of all three! It was fun to ride the jet ski and go by Norm’s Place, where I stayed years ago, and Labadee, the port for Royal Carribbean, and spend a few hours at a tiny island, just playing in the warm ocean.We hunted sea glass and visited with some daughters of their workers who were having their First Communion.
On Monday morning it was time to fly back to the capital. I was pretty much ready to leave the beach, as I was sunburnt and tired. We went shopping in town, to pick up some Barbancourt rum and spicy peanut butter, and after a final lunch of my favorite Haitian dish- sauce poids and rice– I headed back to home. My other home.
Last night I dreamed I was running and kept feeling these little pinches on my body. I woke up in a pool of sweat and my hair drenched, and there were three mosquitoes inside my mosquito net feasting on me. It’s so amazingly, freakishly, disgustingly hot here right now. I’m averaging three showers a day and I’m still always hot.
We all arrived back in Haiti for the fall semester; me, Tom and Sue, and Christy. Pia, our newest international teacher, arrived, and they put her up at the Hotel Montana for the night (a good place to transition from the luxury of the US to the reality of Haiti). We got a half day off as the whole country took off for the Haiti-Brazil soccer game. Tom got a ticket to the game; the rest of us opted to watch it on the big screen at the Petionville Club so we could eat there and swim. It was a fun game to watch and although Haiti lost, there was a tremendous amount of support and welcoming for both teams. Haiti is so into soccer, and it was a really nice gesture on Brazil’s part to put this event into motion.
To welcome our newest housemate, we went down to the Oloffson Hotel to see RAM (anyone who read The Comedians by Graham Greene, that is the hotel in the book). RAM is this really kicking Haitian band- featuring guitars, bongos, drums, and singing. They’ve opened for Jimmy Buffett in the past. Plus they have these three Haitian women dancers who do all the Haitian folklore dancing. It was also an ass-kicking 90 degrees inside the place. It was quite a workout and we were super sweaty when we got home at 2:30 am. But it was really fun and I’m glad we finally got to go.
We have a much larger student body at Union School this year; we dropped our tuition to try to bring in more kids. I’m happy with my class load this year; I am teaching 8th English and 8th US History, and 9th English and 9th World History. Since I taught three of those last year, I am hoping this year will be a little easier on me. Although I have to admit, just getting through August was a challenge. I’d go to the gym and it would feel like I was going to pass out because it was so hot (imagine 24 Hour Fitness with no a/c). Just when you get a good rhythm going, WHAM! The electricity cuts off and you go flying off the front end of the treadmill. It’s actually quite funny to watch, but not so funny when it happens to you.
In the weeks after Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne hit, things got pretty bad in Port-Au-Prince. There was a lot of protesting and rioting, and looting in the port area. Customs was closed for a month straight, so we didn’t get any of the textbooks we ordered. Earlier in the month several policemen were beheaded, and their funerals were last week. Aside from the police, it’s estimated that up to 50 or 60 people have died in shootings and protests downtown.
As rumors swirled of targeting Americans to kidnap or kill, we canceled the hash two weeks ago and had a barbecue at our house instead. The Marines and other groups felt like it wasn’t safe to have a large international group of runners cruising around town. The embassy and some other personnel have curfews. As teachers, we aren’t restricted by our jobs. So we had a barbecue and about 15 people came over and we all had a good time.
Several of us managed to get together to watch some of the US Presidential debates. Some Haitians are for Bush because they see him as the one responsible for getting Aristide out, but others blame him because he didn’t do it sooner. Some say if Kerry is elected he will bring Aristide back (because Kerry is a Democrat and so was Clinton, who reinstated Aristide the first time). This past week Kerry addressed a group of Haitians in Florida and spoke in French, and said he had a plan for Haiti, but he didn’t quite state what that plan is. It is said that the demonstrations going on downtown have been financed by Aristide and the Lavalas party, in an attempt to influence the American elections in November.
The situation in Port-Au-Prince got worse and school was cancelled for four days. We’re not really sure at this point if we’ll have to make up those days, but the general consensus is that we will miss more before the end of the year. The UN and several embassies ordered the departure of all non-essential personnel, meaning wives and children, and we have lost five students so far.
The past week has been uneventful but many people still have a curfew. We couldn’t have a hash again on Saturday so we had a pool party and bbq at some embassy people’s house. I went out late last night to Barak, a night club in Petionville, and when I walked in there was about 200 Brazilian and Chilean UN guys, and about 7 women. I was literally the only American girl there. Oh, Haiti. Such fun.
Five more days of work and then we have a long weekend off for All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days. And of course, my birthday! I can’t believe I’ll be 29!
We finished the last week of school and had a MONSTER party at our house. We invited over 50 Hashers and other international friends, plus the entire staff of the school. Luckily we international teachers have a HUGE house and a great front yard and balcony. Some of our friends will be here when we come back in August, some will have moved on. Everyone had a great time and we finally kicked the last few people out at 4:30 am and went to bed. We had a very odd mix, ranging from people our age from around the world, to our bosses from work, and even some of our students’ parents that we are good friends with! The Marines showed up around midnight and brought their enormous sound system with them. Super fun.
The next week we spent packing up our classrooms and getting signed out at school. We discussed the possibility of us all moving out of our house and into some apartments, but when we went and looked at them we all said no. Our house is pretty cool, with the exception of not having a pool and having to live with four other teachers. But the apartments, while we would each have our own, were just not in a good area and not very nice. Besides, after our party, everyone knows where our house is now and we won’t have to give directions next time. Giving directions in Haiti is super hard because not every street actually has a name.
On Thursday most of the city shut down for a holiday. Did you know that June 10 is God’s Birthday? I kid you not. It’s celebrated all over Haiti and some other Latin American countries. The banks and stores and restaurants were closed. There were processions out in front of the churches and chalk drawings and flowers on the streets. How can God have a birthday? We all really questioned our Haitian friends on this one but they all looked at us like we were crazy for not knowing about God’s birthday.
We all headed out to Wahoo Beach Resort and stayed there for the weekend. I took a Scuba Diver Certification course at Wahoo Bay Resort. That kept me busy Saturday and Sunday, and Tom, Sue, and Maluschka all left Sunday evening and I stayed out at the beach on Monday and Tuesday and finished my class. They have this amazing coral reef out there called Îles des Arcadin- and it’s only 6-10 feet underwater. It’s beautiful. Good place for snorkelers too.
I’ve been getting a lot of emails about the flooding here- we’re fine in our area of the country. We’ve had rain, normal per the rainy season, but not as bad as in the fall. In the fall we really had a lot of debris washed down from the mountains and I remember there was a huge wall that piled up in front of our school that one day actually had a dead dog in it. That was gross. This spring hasn’t had as much stuff washed down. But it’s been very bad in the south part of Haiti and the part that is near the Dominican Republic. They are thinking the death toll is up to 2,000 and they haven’t counted all the bodies. I saw on the news the other day that they are spraying chemicals from helicopters to counteract the decomposing bodies. Gross. The road was washed out so there is no way to get in or out of that area except by air. I guess they will have to rebuild the road soon. In addition, we’ve had a couple of small earthquakes in the area. I don’t know how bad they were in surrounding areas, but they didn’t seem to cause any damage in the capital. I felt the first one at school; we thought at first it was kids running across the third floor. But it turned out to be a minor quake.
On Saturday our boys basketball team played in the National Finals. It was in downtown Port-Au-Prince (pretty scary area) and it was televised on national tv. Our boys came in second place and got a trophy. The Prime Minister’s wife was there and handed out the trophies. We had a good turnout, several teachers and parents and other students came to the game (with the requisite number of bodyguards and security, of course). The only bad thing was that it was amazingly hot. This had to be the hottest weekend I’ve had in Haiti so far. We thought we were just going to die sitting at that game. I was really glad I brought my hat and wore sunscreen (spf 30).
The political situation seems to be improving lately. In the past couple of weeks they’ve indicted and arrested some big time ex-leaders. Aristide has left Jamaica and gone to South Africa, but the opposition party there is questioning why South Africa is granting him asylum and who is paying for it. In fact, there is a pool going around the city right now about when he will be indicted and arrested. You can pick a date for twenty five gourdes– just be smart and don’t sign your last name. We’ve also been getting more electricity lately. We all noticed that we had city power going on at various times throughout the weekend, and I heard it switch over this morning. The fan in my bedroom sounds different when we’re on city power. Everyone at work says “Oh, isn’t it great, they’re giving us more power”, but as Sue pointed out, they don’t really give us power. We actually pay the same bill every month, whether we have electricity or not. Can you imagine in the United States if TXU sent you out a bill every month whether they were supplying your house or not? And here, of course, there’s only one company, and you keep paying every month in the hopes that you’ll get five, six, ten hours a month to help out with your diesel generator and your inverter batteries. It’s so bizarre.