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Back in Haiti

January 19, 2012

On Monday afternoon Meaghan and Mark drive me to Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport with my youngest granddaughter Eve in tow.  Air Canada’s self check-in system puts me through the whole procedure only to tell me I have to go to the counter.  The scale at baggage drop lets me know one of my bags is half a pound under the limit, the other one and a half pounds under.  I could have squeezed in a couple of more things.  We have a light lunch at Stella’s Café and Bakery where Mark now cooks.  The food is excellent and being family of staff has its benefits when it comes to service.  Saying my goodbyes, I head for pre-flight screening.  They confiscate the T-handle from the nut driver set I had purchased.  I might stab someone with it.  They let me keep the sockets.  The flight is delayed forty-five minutes.  Finally we are loaded onto a Jazz Bombardier 705—small aircraft, tight seating, even tighter bins for carry-ons.

In Montreal I am off the plane quickly and my baggage comes down the conveyor within five minutes; there are a few benefits to traveling on a small plane.  My cab driver has no idea where my hotel is and I have to search it out on my laptop; he has no radio.  I know it is very close to the airport, and indeed it is.  But the driver points to the decal on the cab window–$16.50 minimum fare.  The hotel is absolutely basic.  The restaurant is closed and nothing on the delivery menus the desk clerk offers appeals to me.  I’ll wait for morning.

My Haiti flight is typically Air Canada.  The clerk at baggage check tries to charge me for my second bag.  I tell him I had already paid an excess baggage fee in Winnipeg.   He insists my flights were separate.  I point out that both flights were booked under a single reservation number, and it is not my fault that Air Canada couldn’t provide me with a more timely connecting flight.  After some discussion another clerk intervenes and I am not charged again.  I have an emergency exit seat on the Boeing 767-300, so there is good legroom.  My plane is an hour late arriving at the gate; I would have had plenty of time to take advantage of the continental breakfast at the hotel.   I amuse myself by listening to a small group of Canadians discuss the situation in Haiti; at least they know what they are talking about.  Finally we board.

We spend another hour on the tarmac waiting in line for deicing.  Most of the inflight movie selections with which I am familiar are the same as they were on my flight to Canada.  However I find The Station Agent, a movie I had never heard about; I quite enjoy it.  Only one miniature drink served on a four-hour flight; if they get any smaller they will be able to serve them in medicine cups.  No snack.  Fortunately I saved half the roast beef and cheddar sandwich I purchased for breakfast at the airport, pricey but very tasty.  Being able to avoid the storm troopers at American customs by flying Air Canada is certainly a plus, but I am thinking I could do better than this.

As the plane banks on its approach to Mais Gate, Port-au-Prince’s airport, I catch a glimpse of the country’s shores.  It was wonderful to be in Canada but I have missed Haiti.  Walking down the jet way, I can feel the heat.  It’s back to “if I move, I sweat.”  I do a quick run through the airport—immigration, fighting off the “helpers” at baggage claim, customs, running the gauntlet of “helpers” on the way to the parking lot.  Dr. Felix has been waiting for over two hours.  As we drive he tells me the staff and students at the nursing school have all been asking about me.  Heading down “Kidnap Alley” the doctor explains that although he does not like to go this way, it is much shorter.  I have heard the same explanation from many.  I fill him in on the contact I have made while in Canada.  At Arcahaie, half way to Pierre Payen, we stop for Haitian food—chicken, rice, beans and bannann fri, fried plantain.

Home at dusk.  I unlock the driveway gate and Dr. Felix wiggles his SUV between the trees in my yard.  Turning around involves a 27-point turn.  I receive a warm welcome from Fritzner, the man who lives in my yard, and from my neighbours who are enjoying the evening outdoors.  My inverter is squealing in protest; I forgot to disconnect it before leaving.  Fritzner tells me the alarm started on December 30th.  Digging out the hydrometer I purchased at Princess Auto in Winnipeg, I check my batteries.  They are stone dead.  I start searching for what I need for the night in the fading light, but have to resort to my oil lamps.   Morning will be soon enough for unpacking.

Upon going to take my evening meds I discover I have no water.  I watch a couple of British TV programs I had downloaded to my laptop—Waiting for God and Foyle’s War.   I check for water again; whatever the problem was has been taken resolved.  Despite the heat I opt for a sheet due to the mosquitoes; the little bloodsuckers have difficulty biting through it.  I promise myself to get my mosquito tent up in the next couple of days.  But I will have to get a ladder first.  Blowing out my lamps, I watch as the fireflies in my bedroom, intoxicated on the smoke from my mosquito coil, descend in tight spirals like dying Fokkers going down in flames.  After the rats stop thunderously chasing each other up and down my roof, the sound of the waves on the beach soothes me to sleep.

Awakened before five by the boisterous voices of the fishermen on the beach loading their nets into their boat, I arise and finish unpacking.  I can’t remember what I put in which bag with all the packing, unpacking and repacking I did in a futile attempt to get bring everything I had collected.  I think about all the things I had to leave behind.  I could have used many of them.  But God will provide.

I immediately begin putting to use some of what I brought from Canada with me.  In a few minutes my toilet is functioning normally.  There is still a small leak but I will attend to that later.  I assemble the drains for my kitchen sink, though it will be some time before the sink is installed.  I assemble the shelf that will hold my two little fans over the head of my bed.  Unwrapping the legs for my counter, I discover the leveling feet are not with them; small problem, easily solved.  I pour a pail of water into my water filter to get it going.  I do some cleaning and settle into scraping off some of the paint dripped onto the floor during a number of paint jobs.  It is slow work, but the results are gratifying.

Friends and neighbours begin to arrive at my door to welcome me back.  One of the students from the nursing school drops in to chat.  Some of the friends I brought back iPods for arrive to collect them.  They are happy with both the quality and the price.  My phone rings frequently; the village grapevine spreads news as quickly as Facebook.

I need water for my batteries.  Molet arrives with his motorcycle and we decide to set off for the other end of the village to see the local furniture makers; their work is excellent.  As I walk through my yard I notice the mangoes are ripe.  The cabinetmakers agree to build me a dining table and a medicine chest according to my specifications for a reasonable price, but they won’t have them ready for a month.  Then Molet and I head off to buy some distilled water for my batteries.

At home Molet fires up my little generator while I top up the batteries.  Because they are so run down, charging will take a long time.  After a Coke break, Molet leaves; I am not much for company when I am busy.   I begin “drilling” a hole through an exterior wall with a masonry bit and a hammer; I will run in wires from my generator through it.  I plan to enlarge the hole so that I can get the plug from my battery charger through it.  But it is time to get ready to go to work in Saint-Marc.  I brace myself for a cold shower.

I gather what I will need at the school this evening.  Then I shut down my generator and haul everything inside.  Tomorrow I will set up the generator in the security cage I had built before I left and all this will be unnecessary.  I will not have to shut it off when I leave.  Eventually it will run out of gas.  I check for my keys and secure the padlocks on my door.

I have come to enjoy the tap tap rides.  The eyes of a little girl and two little boys are riveted on me.  They respond to my smiles and begin to giggle.  One of the little boys starts making faces to the delight of the others.  Their father talks with me.  At the station in Saint-Marc I pass on a moto, preferring to walk through the market.  I spot a short extension cord with a removable plug.  The price is right.  I will not have to enlarge the hole in my wall.  There is little else of much interest to me today.

My Internet subscription has expired and the store across Pivert Avenue from the school that sells Internet cards is closed.  It will have to wait for tomorrow.  As soon as I walk through the gate of Ecole La Muse I am welcomed by staff.  Arriving at my office I exchange greetings with Dr. Appolon and respond to his questions about my holiday in Canada; he comments that my French is improving.  I find we have a new secretary.  I also discover there is no power, and I know my laptop battery is down to less than 20%.  Since I will not be able to do much, there is no hurry to start and without fans it will be a long, hot evening.   I go to say hello to the young woman who operates the food kiosk for the school.

Returning to my office I decide I will work until my laptop quits.  Just before it dies the power comes on.  I will be able to continue and also to recharge my laptop so that I can send some emails and watch something if I choose when I get home tonight.  Suddenly I remember I have no Internet so there will be no emails tonight.  The breeze from the fans is refreshing.

At six Dr. Felix pops in with my supper—chicken nuggets with dipping sauce, fries and carrot/kiwi/strawberry juice.  Haitians love their sweet ketchup, so there is a large container of it.  My meals at the school are very predictable since the restaurant choices here are very limited.

When I finish at the school Dr. Felix instructs the chauffeur not to drop me at the tap tap station, but to drive me home to Pierre Payen.  We take three of the students who live in my area with us.   When I open the door to my house I am greeted by a big rat.  As I fumble around in the dark to arm myself with my broom to do battle, it scurries up the wall and scrambles out the window.  Another reason to get screens installed.

A few minutes later Olivier shows up and almost immediately another of my friends is at my door, come to claim his iPod.  Olivier’s attitude seems to be changed.  He is not looking for me to get anything for him, is not upset that I had not brought anything from Canada for him, is not upset that I had brought iPods for others (he knows they are paying me for them).  I tell him I will buy him a phone; he lost his some time ago.  He says he wants a Blackberry.  I nix that one in a hurry.  The look on his face tells me he is okay with that, but that he thought it worth a try.  I explain to him that I will start my English as a Second Language teachers’ course on Monday and that when I complete the course I will spend more time teaching him.  He is very happy with that.  He asks when I will come to visit his home and tells me his mother has been asking about me.  He says it was important that he work for me and I am not to pay him.  I respond that he should get paid for working, but he insists he will volunteer.  I don’t know what has changed, but I expect there is more to this than meets the eye.

When Olivier leaves I settle in for another episode of Foyle’s War.   Tomorrow will be another busy day.

I thank God for bringing me here.

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