Nov. 16, 2012 (2)

Tremendous vitality here in Haiti. Most people, though poor, seem genuinely happy. I think their country’s exceptionally difficult history plus the people’s own optimistic, religious bent plus their extreme energy, enthusiasm and ability to bond together has just made them very strong and able to endure things other people would find almost impossible.

 

Our Cap host’s kitchen (where his wife worked every day, preparing food) is a tiny dark room with no windows, no fridge, no running water (none in bathroom either). She has a two-burner hot plate and, for cooking with charcoal (which is the main fuel all over Haiti and is sold everywhere), two square containers set into an area that looks like a sink.

The bathroom is a shower stall and toilet (no toilet seat). No sink. Water is hauled up in buckets from the alleyway spigot below. A big trash barrel-like container is filled with water to last for a few days. Washing is done with smaller plastic basins while standing in the shower stall. There is no curtain or door to the shower stall. The bathroom itself has only a thin, lacy, white curtain over the door (which is right next to the apartment’s front door). No toilet paper is used or perhaps occasionally only (there was one half-roll high up on a shelf); we bought our own.

People fighting in the alley: one neighbor is shoveling a pile of mud and rocks away from his side of the street and the woman across the alley is mad at him. I am not sure why she doesn’t want him to move the mud.

Men often grab or touch their dicks.Men in the countryside pee everywhere and anywhere, and after I saw a young woman peeing discreetly (skirts cover much) right beside the road, I gave up my inhibitions, and on the bus trip home to PaP yesterday, I went outside and peed next to the men by the roadside.

In a small but busy town along the route up to Cap, a young man made his way across the street on his hands and butt; his legs were useless. Cars and trucks all stopped and waited patiently.

Motos have extensions on the back and can carry 4 people and their luggage. I saw a man pulling a wheelbarrow behind a moto. Many rice fields in the mountains. Huge roaches in Cap house; none in my PaP guesthouse. Everyone seems to know everyone in their neighborhood.

Public service message on Tele Zenith, Cap’s main TV station: how to cross the street. Red light means stop, green light means go. Yeah, that’s where they are at. And is it so bad? Think Kardashians. Or “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” True social horrors.

If you love someone, set them free. I love the U2 and Mary J. Blige version of the song “One.” Some song lyrics I heard on the long bus trip south: “Don’t worry. It’s so easy to have fun” and “Show me how you feel.”  “You know, Baby, you’re my girl. Let it be known to the whole wide world.”

The noise level in much of Haitian society is way more than most Americans are used to. The tolerant Haitians (which is most of the poor people) will put up with several minutes of loud pounding from the apartment below at 4 am because they know it’s their neighbor preparing food to sell on the street. After the pounding come the yummy smells and crackling sounds of frying food. Then, a neighbor down the street starts her pounding. Job segregation by gender, in the home and outside, is de rigeur.

Looking at PaP from a distance, you see a huge cloud of pollution from car exhaust and the charcoal used for cooking. Much ugliness, mediocrity and hopelessness amidst the joy and creativity here.

Song “International Love.” Some couchsurfers try to profit financially from Couchsurfing. My landlord, Natacha, offered me a not very attractive couch in Hinche where her relatives live. “You have to bring a tent if you want any privacy,” she wrote to me. As I inquired further, Natacha introduced the offer of a room in her guest house for a reasonable amount ($250 a month) to an American and an indecently huge amount to the average Haitian. I am not complaining because I am grateful to have such a wonderful place to stay here. Still…

After eleven days in Haiti, I began to wake up and recover from culture shock. My mental imbalance was so intense that I couldn’t even see straight and the shock set in right away; there was no pretending it was “just like home.” There was no gradual accomodation; it was sink or swim.

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Glass is recycled here; nothing else is. Trash-pickers go through and salvage anything useful. Having little excitement in one’s life, having few choices, and having little or no education may benefit the dumb evangelical preachers here who gather in parishioners by the dozens. I guess what’s good for one person isn’t good for another, and that’s the best way to look at it.

On bus trips, people occasional pop up with a long sales pitch for whatever they are selling, usually toothpaste and some medicines. A young gal who has been cooking at the house for a few days (apparently for Wilson and Audelio) — and is probably Wilson’s lover — brought me a silver tray of food this afternoon: rice with a little bowl of delicious spicy, tomato sauce flavored with a few small pieces of fish and fish bones and onions. And a bowl of beans that were mostly thick bean soup with fewer beans than I’m used to. It was all the better for it and seasoned perfectly. Stick-to-your-ribs Soul Food, made with love.

I was getting bitter and cynical so this kindness from a very young woman (18?) was especially appreciated. The freedom of the poor: they are contented in a way that the ever-striving middle class is not. Haitian men play dominoes (and another board game that looks like checkers or chess) outside on the sidewalks and balconies. Home-made boards and pieces.

My host, Joel (a native Haitian), and I got real Haitian street food in Cap-Haitian: it’s called “Divi ak sauce piva” in Kreyol, which means rice, plantains, potatoes, and chicken with some gravy. Delicious. I’m always snapping and bopping when I hear good music, but the people here don’t do that; they live to the beat of the music. Unselfconscious, loud, beautiful voices of individual children singing rise up to my room from the alleyway below.

Those evangelical bastards next door have been suspiciously quiet all day, as if validating my return to home-base yesterday from the outrageously noisy Cap neighborhood where I was staying.

The electricity has, as usual, been off all afternoon; Wilson turned our generator on at 7 pm. The power is off at least half of every day. Someone said it goes off because the poor people (remember 52% of the population live on $1 [US] a day) don’t pay their electric bills. Right. Let’s turn this around: the responsibility of the rich people of Haiti (who have generators for power outages) is to subsidize (i.e., help) the poor; it is the wealthy folks who are not paying their part (100%) of this nation’s electric bill. They have dropped the ball.

Sometimes I ask myself: “How simply can I live?” At other times, I, want a change, and the question becomes: “What would be fun to do?”

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Darkness does not mean danger here. Even when power’s off and there are no street lights, it is very safe. I don’t know about the tent city; and, as a single, white woman, I wouldn’t go out alone at night, and if I went out with a group, I wouldn’t carry anything I wouldn’t want to lose in a mugging.

The “crazy woman” down the street always talks loudly to me, and everyone in the street in that section listens and watches. Today she genuflected to me as I passed; it was because I was wearing a purple blouse, a voodoo god’s color. I genuflected back and crossed myself. I said, “Messi, Madame,” as I always do, and the observers laughed and talked among themselves. Note to self: don’t wear purple around here everyday. Many voodooiennes here.

Many Romany people have settled down. That’s not the true Gypsy or nomadic way. The English Gypsies and the Irish Travellers are theorized by some people (eg. Judith Okley in The Traveler Gypsies and Michael Stewart in The Time For the Gypsies) to be racially related to the people of their own countries (and not to the Rom). These people have dropped out of the proletariat and taken to a life on the road. I am probably related to the famous English-Gypsy Boswell family, and I am definitely a true American Gypsy according to Okley’s and Stewart’s definition of the word. Like the English and Irish, the US has its share of people who have dropped out and taken to perpetual traveling. I think most of these people travel within the US, but some people, like me, travel internationally.

Mild traveler’s diarrhea today. A teenaged girl came up to me on the street and planted a kiss squarely on my cheek. I kissed her back. Many banana trees on my journey up through central Haiti to the north. Coconuts. Corn. People ride horses and (unusually small horses); both animals are often carrying huge loads of stuff. Freshly-killed goats in basins at the roadside; the meat is gone, and they have been cleaned; the skins will be used for things like chair seats and leather goods.

Dangerous wild things in Haiti seem to be limited to the tarantula (not deadly). The unrelieved cinderblock-grey of 99% of the houses is not as bad as it sounds. The houses are very open to the outdoors, and that alone makes the construction interesting and varied. Living with just the basics leaves space and time for peace and love and laughter… and perpetual work, if you can find it. It would be hard to raise a family in Haiti; maybe they have their ways, and it’s easier than I think.

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Haiti’s infant mortality rate (for children under one-year old) is 52.47 for every 1,000 live births. For comparison,  here are some figures from the United Nations (averages for the years 1990 to 2010) on infant deaths:

Afghanistan (the worst) 144 per 1,000 live births;

then almost all of the African countries (this is at the very bottom of the list of all the nations of the world);

Guatemala 38; Australia 5.01; Chile 8.90; China 24.63; Nepal 55.32; Thailand 15.38; Mongolia 44.76; Russia 16.53;

Mexico 21; USA 7.01; Dominican Republic (Haiti’s neighbor) 35.42; Algeria 30.38; Israel 5.09; Ireland 5.22;  Canada 5.30; France 4.18; Yemen 65.56;

and the first three: Singapore 2.60; Iceland 2.89; Japan 3.14 (followed by several Scandinavian countries).

Haiti’s figures for 2011 were slightly higher than they are now due to the earthquake’s effects.

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I do not travel in the tourist sense; I don’t want to see everything around me (landmarks, ruins, beaches, etc.). Rather, I am living my regular, usual life on the road. It’s my world, lived in various places around the planet.

I certainly understand the aggressive pursuit of money by the poor around the world. My dad took that route as did my ex-husband; both men were raised poor and with many family troubles (besides money, like alcoholism). The desire for respect and security is very strong in some people who were raised without those things. I see it in my own children; I was raised with all the perks, and I choose another path when I left Hank (the ex). It sounded like there was a party going on in the street every night in Cap, and it was a very small street (not even cars went on it). I finally figured out that the sounds carried through the open houses and from neighborhood to neighborhood.

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Enter My World Productions

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