Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day Four in Haiti - The long road back to Port-au-Prince (1/8/10)

This is probably the first vacation where we have been waking up earlier than we normally do during the semester! After being spoiled by our 7 AM alarm yesterday, we were back to the grind this morning at 4:15 AM. We quickly packed up our laundry, shoved everything in our packs and then went out to the veranda to wait for Michel to pick us up. He was going to pick us up at 5 AM, so we started getting a little worried since our bus started loading at 5, would leave at 6, and we had prepaid for our specific seats. I wandered around the hotel grounds while Adam called his cell phone. I discovered that the front gate was padlocked, while Adam learned that Michel had a flat tire, but was on his way. We were able to find an employee to unlock the front gate for us (he then locked us out of the hotel grounds…now that’s faith that Michel was going to come soon!). Right before Michel came by, there were two men walking up the path – one was singing a spiritual and the other was preaching very, very loudly and passionately. All of this was happening at 5:30 in the morning with no one else in sight. I definitely got a kick out of that.

After Michel picked us up, he stopped by a friend’s store to pick up our breakfast – bread, cheese, and tropical juice. We made it safely to the bus station, found our bus (named “Noah’s Ark, which makes the joke from yesterday even better), and Michel helped smash our bags into the inside luggage rack. He stopped by again to bring us bananas and hard-boiled eggs and to let us know that he had told the driver to look out for us. We were sad to see him go, but are glad we have his contact information for future visits.

After leaving us on the bus, a man came and, like always, was asking people for some money. He obviously noticed the two blan that were sitting at the front of the bus and started talking to us, first in Creole, then in French, and finally in English. He was telling his life story and was asking for some money to help him and his family. I tried to ignore him but he kept talking to us. He finally gave up and started talking to some other people further back but I overheard him saying something to the effect of, “You see those white people up there at the front of the bus, they’re cheap. They’re tighter with their money than Haitians.” He used the word chich, which translates to “cheap” but is more offensive than just calling someone cheap. We continued our wait as we ate our breakfast and the man came back to the front of the bus and kept telling the people around us that we were chich. It was about that time that I got frustrated and broke my silence. I told him, in Creole, that I wanted to speak with him about what he’d been saying. I explained that I didn’t have any problem with him calling us cheap or any other bad things, but I didn’t appreciate that he was singling us out because we were white. I asked him if every Haitian on the bus had given him money and he said only a few people gave him some small change. I asked him why he wasn’t calling everyone else chich as well and he agreed by yelling, “They’re all cheap!” which got a few laughs from the people that were listening to our conversation. I explained that just because we had white skin did not mean that we were rich or that we had a lot of money to just hand out to people. I illustrated my point by reminding him that we were traveling back to Port-au-Prince on the bus, not a private taxi or an airplane like people with money. That also got some nods from other people who were agreeing with me. He finally left. In reality, yes, I do have more money and resources than the vast majority of Haitians, but far too many Haitians see the White Man as the answer to all of their problems. Since to most Haitians we look more like Lincoln, Hamilton, and Jackson on the $5, $10, and $20 bills, they think we should be handing out “our portraits” like it was a senior picture or something. This little exchange really shows how frustrating it is to constantly be begged for money. I would love to give back to the wonderful people of Haiti, but not just the ones that beg for money on the streets. I would love to determine the root of the problems, not just throw money at the symptoms. I’m stepping off my soapbox and handing the laptop back to Karen now.

Our tickets said that we would leave promptly at 6 AM. We’ve discovered the word “promptly” can be quite flexible – we finally started to leave around 7 AM. After driving down the block, we stopped. We’re still not completely sure why. Some more people got on, some people got off, some got back on, there was some shouting, lots of confusion, etc. Adam and I just chilled at the front, patiently waiting. After about 15 minutes, we finally headed out. We had been told that the reserved bus was nicer than the one we had taken to Cap Haitien, but in our experience it wasn’t really. One of the hardest parts of the trip was the huge backboard that was dividing our seat from the front of the bus. Adam had exactly enough space to sit with his knees smashed into the board. After all of yesterday’s walking, we were pretty concerned about how his knees would hold up during the trip back. On top of the confined space, this driver blasted music the entire way. I have been to rock concerts that were the same volume, but this was coming out of a speaker directly across from us in a school bus. After enduring it for a few songs, we got smart and put our headphones in to soften the blow. We could still hear the music loudly, but it didn’t feel as damaging as without any protection at all. And the music! Man, this Haitian loved his Enrique Iglesias and Celine Dion! We had a hard time not laughing when “My Heart Will Go On,” “Bailamos,” and “Hero” came on a couple times. But, we would take that over the hard-core rap they blasted every now and then.

To be honest, there’s not much to say about this bus ride. It was longer than the first, more uncomfortable, and we also had car trouble at least every hour. Every single time the bus slowed down, we tried to prepare ourselves for another 20-minute stop where 10 men would look at the engine and hit parts with tools or fill valves with liquid. I honestly have no idea how in the world that clunker made it the entire trip – I for sure thought we would be stranded, have to hike home, hitchhike, or try to get someone to pick us up. The benefit to these breaks was that we could stand up and stretch for a little bit. However, we often didn’t have time to get out and walk around, so we could just stand at our seat and try to get comfortable. As a result of the longest bus ride ever (as well as our 14 km hike and all day bus ride before), my legs now look like I have elephantitus! I’ve never been a fan of cankles, so I really hope that they don’t become a normal occurrence this early in my pregnancy. I’ve had my shoes off and my feet elevated for a few hours now and they still aren’t back to normal! Adam too is suffering from swollen ankles, but not to the same extent as me.

About 35 minutes before we arrived in Port-au-Prince, we got a hold of Erick, a Church member from the Centrale Ward. He had originally thought we were coming tomorrow, but he was still able to pick us up. When we arrived at the station there were a lot of taxi drivers offering their services and we were very excited to turn them down. After waiting about ten minutes, Erick called to let us know he was still a few minutes away (we had borrowed a girl’s phone to call him and she was kind enough to hand it back to us when he called back). Right after we hung up with Erick, the bus driver started driving away with us on it! He explained he was just moving it a little bit, but it turned into a couple of blocks! We were clearly worried that we would miss Erick, but the driver let us call him and we finally got to meet our knight in shining armor! As soon as we saw him, we were so relieved and happy. He and Adam had a good time getting to know each other and discussing our plans while I happily elevated my feet in the backseat.

Before Erick to us to our hotel, he stopped by the meetinghouse in Port-au-Prince (which is about eight blocks from our hotel). It was the best thing we have seen all week! The grounds were open and well-manicured (not typical in Port-au-Prince) and instead of the typical basketball court, there was a soccer field with lots of local kids playing on it. We met some other members of the ward that were at the church and Adam enjoyed making connections with them (the Church is the same in Haiti! As soon as you meet someone, you immediately start figuring out who you know in common). Erick then gave us a tour of the building. It was very simple, but was beautiful. Tile floors with gorgeous Haitian wood. As we walked past the classrooms, we peered in one and saw two missionaries teaching a lesson. Keep in mind that since 2005, only native Haitians are able to serve missions in Haiti. When that policy first happened, there were only 73 missionaries. Now, there are 122 full-time, volunteer missionaries serving in their home country of Haiti! It was so amazing to see. We ended our tour by walking into the chapel. It was so peaceful and beautiful – complete opposite from the city that surrounded it. We cannot WAIT to attend church in Haiti!

After the best tour ever, Erick dropped us off at our hotel (Hotel Oloffson). It’s a pretty historic, happening spot! It’s this huge, sprawling, Victorian mansion that has been around for a long time. Each room has the names of people who have stayed there. We didn’t recognize anyone from our room, but down the hall there are rooms that Ann-Margaret, John Barrymore, and Alvin Ailey stayed in while they were here. There’s even a name plaque for Bryant Freeman, an emeritus professor of Haitian Studies at KU! He compiled the Haitian-English dictionary that Adam relied on as a missionary (and that we are hauling around with us on this trip – it’s pretty thick AND a hard-back). Adam met with him for a couple hours before our trip and he highly recommended this hotel as the place to meet the Who’s Who in Haiti. So far we haven’t met too many people, but mainly because we’ve been pretty antisocial. After the past few days, our bodies definitely need time to rest, so after we grabbed dinner (which included some amazing fresh limeades!), we decided to get to bed early. We saw at least eight other Americans staying here and it was definitely weird to hear their accents during dinner. We’ve become so accustomed to being surrounded by Creole that it was quite the shock for both of us! We’re hoping to talk with them during breakfast to learn why each one of them is in Haiti. Everyone seems to have their own unique reason for coming here!

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