Emotions are my medium. When my feelings are too controlled by other people and my environment, I need to retreat to my own private space with a view and a door I can lock. At times like this, which are frequent for an introvert like me, I just need to be alone and not relate to anyone.
Earlier this week I took a trip up north to Cap-Haitien. It was a gruelling but also wonderful (the mountains of Haiti) ten-hour trip in a car, tap-taps, and a bus. In Cap, Nico, Pia and I stayed with a wonderful Couchsurfer at his little second floor apartment overlooking a busy little street (narrow; pedestrians and moto bikes–“motos”–only). Out back was a busy, dirt alleyway.
Our host, who is a teacher of classics, is an unhappy man, as he told us. His marriage is not satisfactory and, like most Haitians, he is unable to leave the country. The latter condition would feel like imprisonment to me.
I was overcome not only by my friend’s depression, but also by the seemingly endless preaching and repetitive singing (the same song over and over again every day) coming from the church next door (which means pressed right up against our building). This monotonous brain-washing went on for hours everyday, starting at about six in the morning, ending about three hours later, and resuming in the evening.
I got sick from some “boullion” (actually a delicious, thick meat and potatoes soup), and my muscles started to ache. My back hurt, and I got a headache. I had to get out of there, and right now! Pia and Nico wanted to go camping (they are tourists), so I came home alone yesterday: tap-tap to Cap’s bus station (5 goud), bus to Port-au-Prince (7 hours, 750 goud), and bus to Petion-ville (15 goud). From there I walked home, came in here to my nice, light, uplifting room, locked the door and didn’t talk to anyone. Oh, except for that nasty old lady with a stall on the street outside our house. She was mean to me once before, but I thought I’d give her one more try.
“Combien pour deu?” I asked, pointing at the oranges. “Dix,” she said (ten goud). “Cinq,” said I. “Non!” I indicated the street, saying I could get two oranges for ten goud down there. “Go away! Get out of here!” she raved at me. Obviously, not a fan of white (“blond”) women like me . I had my radio on and my earphone in, and I had suddenly (my trek back here alone?) acquired a new boldness, confidence, and sufficient swagger to anger many people.
I’ve lived my long life wisely (with a few notable exceptions). I’ve learned to assert myself; I have developed self-discipline; and I have become skilled in using my willpower. I am now an unequivocally stubborn bitch, a cunt to be reckoned with, and a ho who can walk down the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with the best of them. And get some respect. I am no longer afraid to show my very tough, strong side. People here recognize inner strength right away.
And so, after 8 hours on the road (and still feeling like shit), I made my way here to a place of my own. I feel good this morning.
Here are my observations during the trip to Cap-Haitien:
People here are full-speed ahead all the time. No stopping when driving, just keep going. Peaceful people, very rarely mean or hateful.
Poor people in cities up pre-dawn, doing street stuff: sweeping, chatting, drinking coffee… Finally washed my hair with Pia’s shampoo. Cool architecture in downtown Cap: French influence obvious in long, thin double doors. Very much like New Orleans architecture. Heavy bucket on head of woman selling coffee as she walks down the street. People sitting in their doorways hand her their cups and she fills them; they pass her some coins.
Children play on rooftop across the street; easy 20′ fall to the street below (no barrier). Beach is packed with trash; it washes into the ocean from the drains that
run through the town. People throw lots of trash into these deep gutters.
Man walks down our street, talking into a loud speaker and carrying a fan. Is he trying to sell it? People (mostly women) walk with big, wide plastic basins on their heads and call out their wares. Chickens and the ubiquitous free-running and thing-but-healthy dogs. Water pipes gush or drip water into the gutters. The buildings are both fancy and plain, always cement (in the mountains one sees the occasional wooden building) and always in a state of pitiful decay (unlike the beautiful decadent decay of New Orleans buildings).
Motos harsh beeping always heard on our street: “Can’t stop! You must move out of the way!” they seem to say. Little schoolgirls have colored ties and bows in their hair. Many schoolkids walk alongside mountain roads while tap-taps and buses roar past them at high speeds. Very dangerous. And the mountain people hate it and yelled at our tap-tap often as we made our way to Cap.
People here are very black-skinned (not brown). They have retained their African-ness in so many things, from the music to the Kreyol to ways of walking and relating to others. Little intermarriage with people of other races; oppressed culture; slave revolt; poverty; earthquake three years ago: all contributions to the isolation of Haitian society.
I have seen very few whites (almost none) among the street people in Haiti. Everyone stares at us. People walk slowly and with grace; women walk with haughty pride and arrogance. Physically beautiful people. Kind, gentle people; mainly non-violent (although they will yell at each other in anger).
Purple is color of one of the voudoo gods. More voudoo in PaP than Cap? I think so; Joel said a voudoo place was two hours away from Cap. Cap-Haitien is absolutely packed with evangelical churches; Port-au-Prince is bad enough, but Cap has more churches and is much more conservative.
Round cloths on people’s heads support the head-baggage; in the countryside I saw three young men with head supports made of dried leaves wound round and round and sometimes tied under their chins.
Definite tribes of dogs in Haiti. Groups of them bond together and bark at night, often angry at something or someone. People never baby the dogs or even talk to them; they are wild, free and part of this culture. I believe the people here identify with these scrawny, long-suffering, resourceful, enduring creatures. They are respected; I saw one dog sprawled out, sleeping, on a busy, narrow sidewalk in downtown Cap. People just walked around him.
Nighttime in downtown Cap: two boys online sitting on a side street in downtown Cap; they had found an open internet connection. Bags of water (sachet dlo) 3 for 5 goud. Lots of birds in countryside; few in cities. A couple of pigeons. United Nations Plaza downtown Cap: a peaceful crowd gathers there every night. Alcohol sold in small plastic cups: vodka or whiskey or something with flavor of your choice added.
Met Jerry, Joel’s friend (are they lovers?). His field is economics, but the only job he could find here is teaching math and English. Clothes washed by hand in basins in cities; hung on lines in alleys or on rooftops. In countryside and mountains, clothes washed in creeks and rivers: some hung on lines or bushes and many laid flat on the ground to dry (and even on the side of–but actually ON– the asphalt at the side of the road). Some big items (like bedspreads are washed while spread out on the ground).
“Yes Boss” is the name of a perfume here. The tap water is dirty and has an unusual smell, both in Cap and PaP. Drinking it is unthinkable. We were in a very crowded tap-tap Monday going to Cap: one stop to stretch (way up in the mountains) in the four or five hours with about 16 people crammed into the back of the little Toyota.
Is the concept of “the good life” different here? They are poor, but would the majority of Haitians want the life we have in the US? I don’t think so. I am learning things here, like how to live more naturally, according to my own spontaneous impulses and not following some script or dogma of how-it-should-be. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath all my life, waiting for something and trying to live up to a media image of perfection.
No fake smiles here in Haiti, at least not among the majority of people (the poor). The poor, as everywhere (I think), are a unified group. Poverty is a natural force of unity. The middle class, again as everywhere, are striving to get above others. I understand this; poverty can be depressing and grinds you down. Ideally, the upper classes of wealthy people around the world and in Haiti are helping their society (“nobless oblige”). Often, the rich only help themselves–to everyone else’s stuff! They are the ones to be pitied the most for this lack of compassion.