Nov. 8, 2012

I guess the nearest I can come in Creole or something French that the average man/woman-on-the-street in Haiti would understand to mean “I am a global nomad” is “Je suis voyager.” Neither the concept and nor the reality of a gypsy is known here (or so I was told). Ilona said that if I, a white person, tell any poor Haitian (over half the population) that I have no home, they won’t believe me. All whites are rich to them.

The Haitian flag depicts cannons and guns, a palm tree in a drum (like a parade drum with decorations on it), 2 anchors, and a bunch of other things I can’t identify on the small version I have here. It says, ” L’Union fait La Force.” In unity is strength. And, oh boy, is this country united! “Haitian” means blacks and black means “Haitian.” Only blacks are considered true Haitians by about 96% of the population (is that an exaggeration?).

The original Haitians are from Guinea (and Burkina Faso and Senegal). West coast of Africa.

Beyond my house on Jacquet Toto, amist the garbage (which stinks because it’s both food and trash) on the street, there’s a busy dry cleaning business. Steam is pouring out of a vent onto anyone passing on the sidewalk.

Written on a wall near my house: “Life is like a dictionary. Define yourself.” In English.

Friday Ilona (who does construction NGO work mostly outside of PaP) is going to drive Nicholas and I half way up to the far north west coast of Haiti. We will make our way the rest of the 8-hour (total) trip on tap-taps. We’ll be camping on a beach that is (according to Ilona) one of the most unspoiled natural environments on this (Haitian) side of Hispanola. Apparently, the natural environment here has been compromised, to the point where little natural growth remains. Even where we are going, she says much of the land is desert, but, unlike the far southwest of Haiti, there is living coral and fish in the ocean.

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Late this afternoon, when all the street stalls were closing up, Nicholas took me out to find a little local market, near our house. I had been looking for it according to his directions., but it wasn’t there. I did find a beautiful green, wild yard behind a gate and a bunch of boys gathered at a gate and leaning into someone’s patio to see a soccer game on TV.

I went home and got more directions from Nicholas:go down the alley past the school that is right next to our house. I did that. (I hadn’t known it was a school next door, though I had heard a man repeating things over and over, and a bunch of kids [just boys?] reciting things, but, rather than a school, I envisioned a local man who, informally but regularly, came into the neighborhood to teach the kids.

I walked down the alleyway. It is like something in the Middle East that I’ve only seen in movies or on TV. Winding, narrow, and on each side, bordered by the high walls of cement houses, some with a short curving staircase and one with a balcony where a few men sat in the dusk. I went on a little way, saying “Bonsoir” to everyone I saw, and then I turned back, awed and surprised again by the exoticism of this surprising place. THIS is the alley that’s right under my window!

I came back home, again, and Nicholas kindly accompanied me back down the alleyway, going farther than I had gone before, until we came to a slight drop in the pathway which led into a new neighborhood where a dozen or so youths were gathered. “Bonsoir! We are lost. Ha ha.” I called to the group, and we turned back, with Nicholas trying to remember the route to the market. We found it just a little past our house but in the other direction (to the left out our gate), and a vaguely-friendly woman who was filling water jugs for some teenaged girls sold us a dozen eggs (6 for me, 6 for Nicholas) for 80 Goudes.

It’s evening, and the church people next door are singing again. It’s an every day thing with them. Astonishing. Does the high unemployment rate raise the level of church attendance?

My head has been turned around by Haiti. Last night, at the Hotel Ebo Lele, with its photos of white people (former guests, now dead?) on the walls, and its Haitian murals and art, and its feeling of ghosts wandering the gracious, sprawling, open, outdoor balconies, I got a sense of a strange new ambiance that I’ve never experienced. It’s a Haitian thing (as every place has its own unique, strange power and beauty), and I can’t even describe it. I just know I sensed something different. It was a combination of the formal luxury and decadence of the hotel with a tropical letting-go and not-giving a damn. New angles and a new physics of perspective.

Hotel Ebo Lele is a place frequented by wealthy whites and staffed by Haitians skilled in placating them. Haitian pride is strong and hard to ignore, so the staff must serve without offending the whites: a tricky endeavor acted out by proud, clever, professional service-industry people all over the world.

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