Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day Seven in Haiti - Traveling to Jacmel (1/11/10)

Since we had done most of our packing the night before, we were able to sleep for a bit longer before heading to breakfast and checking out of the Oloffson. Our bill was a bit higher than we had anticipated (but then again, we had only planned to stay one night and have one meal there… ). Still, we can’t complain because we needed the rest and enjoyed the atmosphere, company, and internet! While we were eating our breakfast, Adam met up with Eric, a graduate student from Columbia University finishing up his Master’s thesis, who he had met the night before. He also met Daniel Morel, a well-known Haitian photographer that has shot for Newsweek, the Associated Press, and several other major media sources. Adam was able to toss around some ideas that he had for a future photography project in Haiti and got some feedback.

Erick was going to pick us up, drive us to the bank in Petionville, then take us to the bus station. About an hour and a half after our original meeting time, another member of the church pulled up in Erick’s car to pick us up. Erick had been held up at work, but was able to make arrangements for someone else to take us on our errands (and now we feel horrible because we can’t remember his name!). It took about 20 minutes to drive up to Petionville, which is not as impressive as what I was imagining it would be. True, the roads were nicer and there were actually stores in buildings rather than on the streets, but I think I was expecting Boca Raton or something.

There are only two banks in Port-au-Prince where we could do a cash advance from our bank in the States, so that’s why we had to go up to Petionville. When we arrived at Scotiabank, it felt like we had entered a bank in the States. It had modern architecture and lighting, catchy advertisements for personal loans, and plenty of bank officers that tried to look busy while everyone else waited in line for one of the three tellers. We were in line for about half an hour when Adam realized we would probably need his passport for the transaction. We were third in line at that point, so Adam ran out to the car while I held our place in line. After five minutes, he came back empty-handed. We shove our passports in secret compartments in our backpacks, but they can be hard to get to with everything else in the pack. I was so worried that we had left his passport in our hotel room, but decided to check one more time, just in case. Luckily, it was there…just way at the bottom. Still, Adam and I were both too happy to care!

Finally it was our turn! We had a couple transactions – a cash advance, exchanging US dollars to Haitian gourdes, and exchanging smaller Haitian bills for larger ones. We had to pay a couple fees to make the cash advance (and we’re pretty sure we would have enough to get by anyway), but we decided we’d rather be safe than stranded. The entire transaction took another 30 minutes, but it gave us plenty of time to talk with our teller. She was highly impressed with Adam’s Creole for never having been to Haiti before. Soon, she was asking him about his mission and the beliefs of our church (Legliz Jezikri Pou Sen Denye Jou Yo or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). We told her to look out for the young guys with white shirts and black nametags riding around on bicycles – and she said she had seen them before! We’ve seen the missionaries at church since we’ve been here, but we’re still hoping we run into them on the street. It brightens our day!

Finally we were able to make it over to the bus station. It was a lot later than we had expected, so we were starting to get hungry. Still, we don’t really feel comfortable buying most of the food off the street and the bus stations are full of people selling things! After trying to fit our bags on two smaller buses, we had to bite the bullet and load our stuff onto the dreaded school bus. This time, we weren’t so lucky with our seats. We were near the very back and we were separated. They were only seating people two to a seat (rather than three), so we felt a little better about our upcoming journey. However, it wasn’t too much longer before they started shoving in more and more people. Adam ended up in between a woman and a grown man and I was between a pretty big young man and a dad and his six-year old son. Across the “aisle” (which doesn’t exist when you sit six across), there was a man with a chicken tied to his seat.

By the time we got moving, we were both pretty done with bus rides. This one only cost $2.50 each and was supposed to be about 2-3 hours, but our excitement about experiencing the real Haiti has quickly faded. The seat cushions aren’t actually attached to the seat, so I spent half the ride sitting on a metal bar with the cushion under my thighs. Adam had it even worse – his seat broke halfway through, so he sat with one arm on the window (to keep from crushing the woman next to him), one foot flat on the ground, and the other pitched forward, twisted on the hump of the wheel. Add to that the exhaust, fumes, and dust that were coming into the bus and you have two very unhappy campers. Both of us were trying hard to fight the urge to throw up (we learned this all later as we swapped stories of how we would have done it – Adam would have used his handkerchief and I would use used the emergency exit window). It took everything in me NOT to throw up the last 30 minutes, especially when the little boy right next to me did. Twice. I realize this probably isn’t pleasant to read, but that was our bus ride. Never again (okay, we may have to this Saturday, but hopefully we can arrange other transportation).

There are no taxis in Jacmel, but everyone gets around on mototaxis (motorcycles). Because of our bags, we had to each get on one to take us to the school, which is right by our hotel. After the three scariest minutes of my life (driving is crazy in Haiti, but even more so when you are on the back of a motorcycle!), the guys dropped us off in front of a brightly colored locked building. It was not Pazapa. It was not our hotel. Adam had seen our hotel on the way there (and pointed it out to them), so we got back on the motorcycles and they drove us back to where the school actually was (about one block from the bus station….grr). They claimed they had taken us to where Pazapa used to be, but we feel like it was just an excuse to get more money. We paid them double what we had wanted, but frankly, we just wanted to be done and go to our hotel. We checked into Guy’s Guesthouse and were pleasantly surprised with our room. Yes, it’s small, but it’s clean and has an actual shower (we had expected a bucket and a hose). They also have electricity (we had been told to bring flashlights because they don’t have a generator), just no internet. Oh well. We will survive. Correction: Karen just took the first “shower” and she wanted me to revise our description of the shower. Karen says, “I’m discovering that the water coming out of the sink is actually warmer than what’s coming out of the shower so I think I’ll just use a washcloth and the sink water for my body and the “shower head” to wash my hair.” Maybe a bucket shower wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all?

We decided to eat dinner and then go to bed because we are tired. It gets dark fairly early here, so we were glad to find out that the Guesthouse has a restaurant, so we didn’t need to leave. I ordered an omelet and Adam ordered lobster with butter and garlic (it was only $12! What a deal!). We had to get some more passion fruit juice and tried grapefruit juice mixed with milk – an immediate hit (the grapefruit here is much more sweet than the kind at home). As we were waiting for our food, we took the time to plan out some of the objectives we want to accomplish with our time at Pazapa. I’m hoping to interview the director of the school tomorrow, then the teachers, students, and family members later in the week. I’m so excited to see a school that is so in tune with what should be happening with special education, especially in a country where education doesn’t really seem widely available.

We’re finally going to bed now but the church next to us is in full worship mode right now. Lots of yelling and loud singing. Maybe it’s just because it’s been a long day, but I’m getting kinda tired of how everything in Haiti has to be so loud! The cars, buses, music, churches, babies, you name it, they’re all very loud.

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