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Haiti Homecoming

October 12, 2012

Arrival Day.  The first thing I noticed upon stepping outside the air terminal at Mais Gate was the heat—36° C., close, oppressive, stifling.  No appreciable air movement.  Within a very few minutes my shirt was wet.

I noticed changes to the airport—nothing huge, but a bit of progress.  The porters were less aggressive than in the past; they actually seemed to understand “no”.

After buying some telephone minutes from a street vendor, I tried to get hold of some of my friends.  To my dismay, many of them had changed their numbers.  Telephones are inexpensive in Haiti, and also cheap.  They don’t wear well, and people replace them frequently.  The consequence is a new number.  The Canadian option of transferring a number to a new phone hasn’t reached this country yet.

On the trip home to Pierre Payen, I saw change—more road signs, more cell phone towers.  The traffic hasn’t changed however; it is the same organized chaos.  Drivers are just as aggressive and the new speed zone signs go unnoticed.  Along the way Dr. Felix and I discussed developments at the nursing school and my disappointing efforts to raise money for it.  We have 160 new students this year, but only 200 of our original 290 are still with us.  We agreed that it was essential to find some way to provide scholarships for good students who find themselves in the position of being unable to continue paying their tuition.

The doctor informed me that Saint-Marc has a new mayor.  There was no election; president Martelly simply installed him.  Apparently there will be an election if the citizenry wants one.  Dr. Felix told me that he doesn’t like to vote, because elections almost always provide two or more bad choices.

As soon as we stopped, my Haitian family came out to the highway to greet me and carry my bags.  I had phoned to let them know I was on my way.  After a few minutes catching up on news (Yonese lost her mother in September), I went to check out the progress on my new home.  Things had progressed further than I had expected, but not as far as I hoped.   The entire roof is in place and the walls in the rooms that weren’t part of the original agreement are finished with the exception of one.  I was told that wall is soon to be demolished to bump out the end of the room a few feet, allowing for a stairway to the roof.  Change is easy here; concrete is forgiving and there are no zoning bylaws with which to contend.  All the window grilles are in place.  Some of the exterior walls have been parged.  The columns that support the gallery roof have been completed.

All the plumbing fixtures and accouterments in the bathroom have been installed.  Much of the electrical is functional.  But for security, the tools and construction materials now occupy what will become the kitchen.  That situation can be rectified with the installation of the door grilles that now lean against walls.  Screens on the windows are in progress.  The water system is in need of a pump.  I had considered bringing one from Canada, but baggage fees made that option prohibitive.  I had already left two suitcases of stuff behind.  The bottom line is that it will be a while before I will be able to move into the house.  I will, however, begin moving my things immediately.

I was very disappointed to see Olivier’s store collapsed, apparently by a storm.  I couldn’t find him, but others tell me he has more or less abandoned it.  I will definitely be having a heart-to-heart with him; repairs to the structure would be quick, relatively easy, and cheap.  I won’t brook his giving up.

Back at the family home, I discovered that the replacement of my laptop hard drive has rendering my Internet stick unworkable.  I will have to make a stop at my provider’s office to have them reinstall the program.

I will need to get some ti kob, small bills to take tap taps and make minor purchases.  I will have to do some grocery shopping and visit the market.  Drinking water needs to be filtered.  I am trying to unpack as little as I can as most of what I brought with me will not be required until I move.

But first I need to get some sleep.  A night spent in the Miami airport has left me exhausted.


Day 2.  I slept like a rock for 13 hours.  I can’t remember the last time I did that.  I awoke with a stuffy nose and a blocked ear.  It amplifies sound so that my breathing sounds like a dull roar.  My hips, shoulders and back ache.

I decided to unpack and open some of the boxes in which I had packed my things before leaving Haiti.  I then repacked some of what I don’t need right now for transfer to my new home.

I then set off for Saint-Marc.  Not too long afterward I wished I hadn’t.  My muscles were screaming and the weight of my backpack, although not really significant, was killing my shoulders.  My balance was off and I had to pick my way carefully over the rough streets.  I opted to settle for getting my phone and my Internet working.  The walk back to the tap tap station seemed endless.  I knew I wasn’t up to going to the school today.

When I got back I went to visit some of my friends.  As I walked through the village I was greeted again and again and welcomed back.  Many expressed their fear that something had happened and I would not return.

I finally found Olivier and put up with a few minutes of his usual “I don’t think you’re my friend” which always comes when reality doesn’t match his expectations.  I decided I would make the climb to his home to visit his family, even though I didn’t feel up to it.  I returned home for the gifts I had brought and set off.  I was gasping for breath by the time I reached his home.  He was very happy with the MP3 player I bought him, and his whole family was thrilled with the pictures I had taken of them and had printed to give to them.  Olivier told me he had cried when I didn’t return to Pierre Payen as originally scheduled.

He explained that he had gone to work with his father to learn to be a mason.  It was in my opinion a very wise decision; it will be more stable work for him and will provide him a better living.  He explained he had used some of the money he had made from his store on clothing and a better phone.  He was worried I would not approve.  He still has most of what he earned in the bank.   He explained what he plans to do, and it was well thought out and researched.  He has come a long way in the months I have known him.  His family has always encouraged him to listen to what I have to say, and I must say I felt a bit like a proud father today.

Coming down the mountain my balance failed me and I took a tumble.  Fortunately I escaped with just a few scratches.

I now need another good night’s sleep in order to recover from whatever ails me.

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