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Day 5: Saint-Marc

March 3, 2011

To start, just a couple of things to add to yesterday’s post.  So much happened that it was difficult to remember everything at the end of my day.  All the sun and a very long walk to reach a couple of installation sights had me pretty tired.

I got to try a couple of new things foodwise.  On arrival in the Artibonite we were offered boiled manioc root.  It is comparable to potatoes, similar in taste and texture.  It’s not particularly tasty, rather bland, but it is filling.  We also had sugarcane fresh from the fields.  It’s very fibrous.  You just chew it until the sweetness is gone and then spit it out — kind of like gum.

I also witnessed a vodou (voodoo) ceremony.  Lots of drumming, chanting and swaying.  Bright colourful clothing.  A lot of people here still practice it in some form, combine it with Christianity in some way. Although it is incompatible with Christianity, I don’t quite understand some Christians’ fear of it.  It only has power if one gives it power by believing in it.  Besides, didn’t I read somewhere, “Greater is He that is within you than he that is in the world”?

People from abroad living here talk about “the Haiti experience.”  I discussed with Leslie trying to convey what that is to my readers.  It is not easy to do.  But I will continue to try.

But I’m wondering if anyone is reading any of this.  I have received little comment.  If you click on “About Me” just below the title banner you will be taken to another page.  At the bottom of that page there is space for comments.  I’d hate to think I was doing this for no one but myself.

Went to Saint-Marc today with Leslie and Olivia to do a little shopping.   As we traveled Leslie gave me more of the low-down about driving in Haiti.  There are no speed limits.  Your horn has a language of its own:  there are commonly accepted signals to warn other drivers that you are about to pass, that they are hogging too much of the road, etc.  Some drivers flash their lights to alert oncoming drivers to give them more room.  I wrote yesterday that driving here is akin to a combination of rally driving on an obstacle course and roller derby.  I want to add “playing chicken” to the list.

A small pile of brush on the road is a “Haitian pylon,” a warning that someone is broken down on the road ahead.  Repairs are made wherever the vehicle died.  Again today we saw men changing out the rear axle of a large truck.  If the vehicle is deemed beyond repair it is stripped of anything of value to the owner and abandoned.  Derelict vehicles are a common sight.  Vans and buses are sometime converted into small business premises just where they stopped.

Saint-Marc has a smell of its own, a mix of diesel fumes, food cooking, sweat, smoke from burning garbage, dust and a whole lot more.  The blend is not unpleasant, just distinctive.  As soon as I got out of the truck today I recognized the smell.

Dropped Olivia off at a preschool at a childens’ home run by a missionary couple I met on my first day here.  At the food market the first person I encountered was the ubiquitous shotgun toting security guard.  Leslie then took me to a private school run by another couple I met.  They have 85 students and use a curriculum out of Texas.  What immediately came to mind was just how relevant this curriculum could be to Haitian students.  Then the director told me all but two of the students were from the US or had lived there for part of their lives.  He told me of a brother and sister whose parents had sent them to the school from the US as punishment for their behavior.  The teachers are not trained as such, but they are superior to those in most Haitian schools.  You need only grade six to teach here.  The director told me that many of their students have gone on to American universities and scored well.

Most buildings in this city look as though the owners’ decided to do-it-themselves but were only vaguely familiar with how to go about it.  In Saint-Marc the most common building material is concrete block, usually locally made from poor quality concrete.  The finished structures are usually very rough with no corner blocks resulting in ragged corners, poorly fitted doors and windows, and mortar dripped all over the walls.  Blocks are often poorly fitted.  Many buildings are neither plumb nor square.  Almost all are left unpainted.  Despite this many feature decorative touches such as columns, balustrades, ornate window frames and details.  And as I mentioned in an earlier post, few are “finished.”  Rebar sticks out from various places indicating where the builders intend to continue at some future time.  Little consideration is given to whether the lower storeys can carry the weight of additions.  There have been disasters.

Try to imagine what it is like to live in a house with unglazed windows.  Anything small enough to squeeze through the grilles can get in; that usually means anything that can get through a 4” space.  Shutters help, but if closed there is no airflow and rooms get oppressively hot.  Dust gets in.  There is nothing to muffle sound.  You are subject to the full volume of traffic noise and everything else going on at street level.  And anyone passing by gets to hear every word spoken in your house.

All of what I have seen of Haiti is very dusty, but it is the dry season.  If you have been out at all, at the end of the day you and everything you had with you is coated.  Your hair is stiff.  The heat makes you perspire and that makes the dust stick.   A shower feels so good.

We all had a quiet afternoon.  After supper we watched a movie on a 13” laptop.  There’s no English language TV here.

Well, it’s off to Port tomorrow morning.  I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Bari Castle permalink
    March 3, 2011 7:11 pm

    Barry, Your posts are getting through – and we are soaking them up with open hearts. Thank you for including the details that help us “see” the world in Haiti. Keep writing, my friend…we are here.

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