From now on, I’m going to just write a running commentary and document stuff as it happens.
And no one said, “What’s happening, White Dude?” I just put that as the title of this edition.
Nov. 8, Thursday
Last evening, a woman down the street (Jacquet Toto) spoke to me in rapid French for a few minutes. She seemed inspired. A young woman from this woman’s house said to me, “She’s a crazy woman.” But I kept listening. It was my birthday, and the “crazy woman” mentioned family a few times (in Kreyol, of course). I took it to be a message for me. I thanked her, “Messi, Madame,” blessed myself with the sign of the cross, and walked on.
Some mornings the school next door broadcasts a man speaking in dogmatic-sounding French, yelling stuff. I don’t know what he’s saying, but it’s the only annoying sound so far to come in my window. He’s like a fanatical, brain-washing agitator, and I hate him. It’s a recording with the crowd in the background screaming support!
At the end of his rant, this madman was frothing at the mouth (or so it sounded), and the crowd was in a frenzy. One of my female neighbors was totally into it and was yelling with the crowd. These are poor, uneducated people. I really can’t relate to some aspects of their life, like this response to an obvious nut (to me), but they love him. For all I know, he’s Haiti’s president. Thank god I have earplugs and a computer.
Now my neighbor is singing along with someone on the broadcast.
Now the madman is back on, and my neighbor is applauding him as he rants.
My computer only gets radio music now and then. The signal comes and goes. No consistency. No Pandora here. Not even YouTube.
One of my housemates, the young German, Pia, told me sometimes the school next door is replaced by a church. So that’s probably what all the ranting and raving was. Pia laughed because her window, though higher than mine, is also facing this daily raucous ruckus. And, on the other side of the house, directly next to the kitchen (which is on the other side of my room) is the mission church with them singing and preaching every day! Ha ha.
I must reassess my opinion of the dogs around here. I now realize that, while sometimes people do mistreat them, I think these forbearing, slow-moving, persevering animals are tolerated with a mixture of indifference and amusement. They are not starving: though very thin, they eat street scraps (of which there are many). The poor people here (the 52% who live on $1 USD a day or less) may even identify with these struggling, proud, tough canines; yeah, I bet they do. Their totem animal, a symbol of their plight and their triumph over it.
I am thoroughly frustrated by the lack of connection to local radio stations’ Kompa music. Ah, well, it’s Haiti, for fucks sake. What did I expect?
Damn culture shock has got a hold of me. I don’t feel alone thanks to all of you out there. This computer is a real life-line, and I won’t let anyone else use it.
Took a trip today with 3 of my housemates (French and Germans). We took a tap-tap (little Toyota truck with cab in back). Including the driver and 2 people up in the cab and a baby in back, there were 16 of us in the tap-tap on the way home (15 getting there). It costs 7 goud* or $1 USD = 40 goud down where I live in Delmas. (I think in Kreole, they just say “goud.”)
We three whites went up the road to Petion-ville (where people live who are either very rich or moderately rich or even just medium rich, I would guess), only about 15 minutes away. Really righteous local Kompa music was playing on the radio on the way up.
We went to the bank where I used my ATM card and also went into the bank and got some USD changed into goud. I left my debit card in the machine, and a woman came into the bank and returned it to me. Nice. I would be in seriously deep do do without it.
Then to the GIANT supermarket, which is heavily guarded and like a fortress. The richer black and whites shop there. Outside, a group of school boys in uniforms mobbed me and took pictures of themselves with me. I tried to get two men selling bunches of herbs (one was eucalyptus, which the man says is good against mosquitoes) to pose for a picture; I offered them 5 goud each. Not enough. They were too proud to do it. (One of the men demanded 100 Goudes to have his picture taken.)
GIANT was the only place where I saw any other whites today or even brown-skinned people; the thousands of people on the street and in the bank, without exception, as far as I saw, were black.
It took us about fifteen minutes to walk back down the streets to where the tap-taps gather by the National gas station. Incredibly crowded streets teemed with thousands of people who were, like us, continuously on the brink of disaster; collision with a motor vehicle was a definite possibility at all times. Masses of poor people jammed the sidewalks themselves; everyday they come down to the city from the countryside to sell their beautiful produce (which we couldn’t buy because “one look at us and they charge twice” [or actually about six times more]).
Dodging the ubiquitous, impatient swarm of nearly demolished cars, trucks and motorbikes driven by insane (yet otherwise serious and considerate) Haitians, Pia, Nicholas, Sebastian and I struggled along amidst all the others, most of whom are undoubtedly in more precarious, daily living situations than us, and many of whom wove gracefully through the chaos with big, full baskets or plastic containers on their heads or pushing heavy wheelbarrows. For drama, danger and the whiff of adventure, it was a tour magnifique. “That’s French,” as Gomez says to Morticia in The Addams Family movie.