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Dorlette – Part 2

March 19, 2014

Spending the night on “the rack” had me up early.  The thin pad that served as my mattress was set on widely-spaced slats, and only by carefully adjusting myself could I work them into the hollows of my body to find some measure of relief.  In the predawn darkness the house was silent.  I lifted the forged iron gate-hook that secured the door as quietly as I could.  I then made my way across the road to the outhouse behind the school being built at the rear of the pastor’s church.  This amenity, intended for (and consequently sized for) the future young students, was not used by the family but had been opened for the convenience of the blan.

The moon still spilled a bright silver sheen over the landscape.  Returning to the yard I settled into the chair I had set out to soak in the morning coolness and revel in the choir of songbirds that heralded the first hint of day peeking over the mountaintops to the east.  Soon Pastor Enil appeared from the house, greeting me as he set about his morning chores.  Sounds from the house announced the rising of the rest of the family, and I went inside to collect my travel bag to wash up.  Madamn soon prepared teas, the first an infusion of a plant with a flavour somewhere between mint and sage, heavily salted.  It was not unpleasant, but was totally foreign to my palate. The second was closer to regular tea, brewed from teabags of a less than stellar quality.  The tea was served with bread purchased from a vendor who had announced his approach by tinkling a little bell.

Praubner set out to begin planting corn in the garden behind the school, loosening and hilling the earth with a pick.  Poking a hole with a spear-like dibble, a bit of pointed iron on a stick, he dropped in the seeds, then kicked some soil over them.  The passing of the years has changed little in this respect; I might have been watching a farmer of two thousand years ago.


Planting corn

I wandered across the road to explore the church.  Although it is in use, it is unfinished.  The walls are rough concrete block, there are no window grilles or doors, and the poor-quality concrete of the floor has broken up in places, leaving gaping holes.  A visiting American team had constructed the roof, readily evident from the bolted trusses of high-grade planed lumber.  Behind the church is what will be a school, for now only a concrete block shell awaiting the money for a roof.

Dorlette Baptist Church

Dorlette Baptist Church

Unfinished school

Unfinished school

This situation is all too common here.  Communities have little money to build churches, and therefore solicit the help of congregations in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.  These congregations respond by organizing short-term mission trips, sending crews to tackle chosen aspects of the construction.  But only very rarely do they complete the building during their two or three weeks in Haiti, and they almost never return to finish what they started.

Soon Rosenaline came running to call me for breakfast, and after washing up and grace we were served mounds of spaghetti with just enough tomato sauce to slightly colour it, with a side of hard-boiled eggs.  Afterward the pastor went to bring the animals back into the yard for the day, Praubner returned to his planting, and I was assigned to babysit while Madamn set about her business of sweeping the yard and bringing out laundry supplies.  The girls then launched into doing the family washing, diligently scrubbing the clothes with their knuckles. 

A bevy of young girls arrived to play with the pastor’s daughters and to help care for the baby, always a favourite undertaking for girls of their age.  A bed was fashioned in a much-repaired wheelbarrow and the girls took turns pushing the little one around, carrying her when she fussed, and attending to her needs while the others played energetic improvised games. These young girls are fearless, remarkably strong, extremely agile, have incredible balance and very apparently love daredevil shenanigans.  Watching brought to mind some of the things my brother and I got up to as children, perhaps dangerous in hindsight, but thrilling at the time.  As I followed the girls antics I thought of how parents in Canada would be having kittens should their own children play as these girls do.

Praubner returned from his planting and cleaned up so that we could take in the local market day.  I asked him how far the market was, and he gave his stock answer, “Not too far.”  I have learned that most Haitians have no concept of distance other than how long it takes to get to a particular place, and since their concept of time is pretty imprecise, I am always left not knowing what I am in for when travelling.  Praubner would have simply headed directly across the valley, but out of deference to my questionable ability to handle the very steep slopes, he opted for the road, turning off to take a shortcut along footpaths through the trees and pastures.   As we passed people along the way greetings were exchanged and we often stopped a minute or two to catch up on news.  At the river Praubner offered to carry me across, but I assured him I was quite willing and able to make the crossing on my own steam.  It had been a very long walk to the river crossing, and it was a longer one from there to the market.  The total trip took us over two hours, and since my normal walking speed is about 6 km per hour, I estimated the distance at 12 km.  By the time we got to the market the day was hot and I was tired and soaked with perspiration.

As we entered the market I was accosted by a clown, his face painted with glitter and his hair cut into a Mohawk.  He moved like a cat, performing a series of acrobatics, remarkable for a man I would estimate to be at least in his forties.   Completing his routine, he held out his hand for payment. He was not entirely pleased with the small donation I offered for the unsolicited entertainment.

Clown at market

Clown at market



The market was busy with vendors offering the usual range of produce and wares—fruit and vegetables, food staples, toiletries, used clothing and plastic shoes, soft drinks and cookies—items that the local people might use regularly.  Praubner went to talk to a very comely young woman as I made a brief tour of the market.  Seeing nothing of particular interest, I went to join him.  The young woman and her mother had a stall that provided a place to sit in the shade, a respite from the tropic sun.  Praubner had bought us each a koka glace, a cola that has been partially frozen.  Even the Haitian brand, usually excessively sweet for my taste, seemed delicious in the heat.


Praubner and friend

Beside us sat an old couple who had purchased a bundle of tobacco leaves, and the woman was now tying them into much smaller bundles of three or four leaves for resale.  This is standard practice among vendors here, reducing bulk items into small packages that can be purchased for a few cents.  As she worked, her husband would hand her his pipe, a rather handsome one with brass banding, and she would take her turn smoking it.  I asked if it was all right for me to photograph them, and although they readily agreed, it was obvious from their reaction that they had no idea why I would want to do so.  I showed them the result, and they smiled politely but really seemed disinterested.


Tobacco vendors

Beside the market stands a new school built by the government.  It is the finest I have seen in Haiti.  It consists of two classroom buildings, and administration building and a kitchen/dining room as well as two sets of outhouses and a wash station with a number of water taps.  The school is very well built and modern.  The double desks, somewhat like those in the school I first attended, are factory built.  The greenboards at the front of the classrooms are neatly framed.  I saw this school as testament that the Haitian government, despite all the bad publicity it gets, is indeed doing what it can to improve education here, which I believe is the key to positive change.


Government school classroom building

Praubner was the one to decide we would return by motorcycle, and I was glad he did.  I was not looking forward to the long return trek at midday carrying the two pineapples I had purchased.  Besides, I had forgotten that the sun’s intensity is considerably greater at higher elevations and my arms were showing a little pink through my tan.  The moto trip ended unexpectedly for me, Praubner having decided he wanted to show me a small piece of land he hopes to buy.  It is good land, but there is no real access; we had walked in through fields.  Should he buy it he will have to negotiate access with one of his neighbours.  After a bit of a rest upon our return, I took the opportunity to explore the neighbourhood in the opposite direction as Praubner had taken me the day before.  I loved the hibiscus pergola the closest neighbours had over their entry walk.

Supper consisted of the traditional rice and beans with the same minted chicken we had enjoyed the day previous.  After supper I sat in the yard, but now wearing shorts, I was attacked by what Madamn called mosquitoes.  However they were very much smaller than anything I have seen, and like no-see-ums left bloody bites that progressed not into the usual pale swellings but into irregular port wine stain blotches. 



There had been some discussion before we left on our trip about drinking water, and Praubner had suggested we bring along my ceramic filter.  But it is set into a 5-gallon pail and weighs about 10 kg.  I was not about to lug it around in addition to my backpack, and I was concerned it would perhaps be damaged on the crowded buses.  I figured that if the people in the area drank untreated water without showing any adverse effects, there was probably very little risk in my doing the same.  The high mountain streams are crystal clear and there is little chance of any significant pollutants.

The evening progressed in much the same way as the one before with hymn singing and discussions on the Bible.  The pastor had me sing over and over again a few of the hymns he had written out in English until he was sure of his pronunciation.  His daughters caught on much more quickly than he did and had far less difficulty mastering the English phonations that are nonexistent in Creole.  The girls stayed with us until Mithela fell asleep on the table and their mother ushered them off to bed.  After prayer we all did the same.




One Comment leave one →
  1. March 19, 2014 4:33 pm

    Reblogged this on Postcards from Haiti.

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