Posted by: posthaiti | February 10, 2009

Slave to the Rhythm

today is my one-month anniversary of having returned from Gonaives. actually, i finally made it home on January 8th, but close enough. it feels a lot longer; needless to say, i am fully re-submerged in the matrix, the staid, the secure, the bottled up and pinned down, the protectorate — a protected cage? — that is the US of A. USA, Inc., rather. i encourage all of my readers who’ve never left the States to see for themselves exactly what i mean…

it didn’t take long, and i’m not sure if it coincided with the lifting of my post-trip letdown or the fact that those malaria pills finally completely exited my body, but…it happened suddenly. right, back in NYC. right, don’t feel in any way warmth toward my fellow man/woman, don’t want to look at the people on the street/don’t care what they’re doing. right, don’t want to get up and go to work and converse about my trip to my coworkers. right, it’s winter and it’s cold. in Haiti, i felt so open. yet, two weeks ago, it was like someone flipped my switch and i was back to “normal.”

normal. what is normal here, in terms of community? what is normal there? to be addressed in another post, to be sure. first, i guess i should get on with the logistical stuff, but it’s tough, in a way — there was SO much that was crazy: from the fight for you (as in your person, physically, as taxicab fare) as you exited PAP airport — i actually recognized the guy holding up the sign with my name on it, grabbed him, forced my way past a few rather angry men who looked like they believed he had “stolen” me as fare from them, and had to literally push them aside and protect my guy — to the ride uphill in the night, past the cooking fires along the sides of the road, the rundown buildings with makeshift roofs and signs advertising what they were (Jesus is Christ, Lord, and Savior Beauty Salon, for instance), the throngs of people moving en masse with and against the ongoing traffic, past the boys peeking into the open shuttle windows, trying to kiss us, touch our faces, proposition us; to the bumpy ride down the gravel driveway to the hotel where we’d all booked to stay, St. Joe’s orphanage, not knowing what to expect.

when we arrived at St. Joe’s, we were taken inside, up and around what seemed like a maze of rooms, bathrooms, tv rooms, a kitchen, artwork, plants, and boys. boys. everywhere, there were quiet boys tiptoeing through the halls, gliding past us on their way to the tv room or their beds — where they were tucked in at night, i don’t know, and i couldn’t tell. St. Joe’s seemed to accommodate SO many guests, aside from the orphan boys after whom the St. Joe’s Home for Boys was named.

the rooms were modest, with five to six bunks in each. there was a large oscillating fan in ours (thank Jesus), a couple dressers, and open, screenless windows that let pour in the night — the dark, the scent of dust and gravel and burning garbage, the sounds of pets, children giggling and talking, clanking cooking pots, laughter, the shuffle of conversation, shouts and yells poking through the din, cracking what might have been a strange cellophane divide between “us” and “them.”

our first night was blurry, in a way. i was exhausted from the getting-up-and-dealing-with-LGA mess, the plane ride, which i nearly missed, and then the long wait in the shuttle for others whose flights landed late (Allyson, Robert, and Tamara — all my soon-to-be mud buds). Michael, the priest who ran the place, had food ready when we got there, and a group was already eating. we ate, talked, i met Paul, the man who will “no longer work for money” and who now helps HODR as a full-time volunteer coordinator in PAP, and then Tamara and i decided to explore.

the place was immense. nooks and crannies everywhere, with several staircases leading to rooms and open-air verandas. we made it up onto the roof but couldn’t see much of PAP. the next morning would reveal a bright white-lit rooftop with plants potted the size of us and a view overlooking a cityscape that i’ve never seen before: faded white buildings made of stone, all caving in on each other, built and falling down together, clotheslines crisscrossing them, binding the buildings together in a seemingly tenuous but in fact unbreakable bond of poverty; people and wash basins and scrawny dogs; and on the rooftops, in the blaring sun, children playing, standing around, starting their days.

and one thing that was even more different: the start of the day for everyone (and if you weren’t up, you would be soon) was at 7, or basically with sunrise. to hear that din of life, that rhythm, moving with the hot sun starting to creep into your blood and out through your pores by 7 in the morning — i got that. and i am missing it now. a Jamaican friend of mine once told me that in the Caribbean, there is a rhythm to life that we, here in the US, just don’t see and can’t really understand. i sort of got it then; in Haiti, i definitely got it. and i liked it. and it seeped into me and i got it even more, up until the day i left.

next up:
where are all da girls at?
the toilets (yes, they deserve their own post)
more logistics: en route to the “compound” — dust, holes, crazy taptaps

some pics, grace a Aaron, Michelle, Becky Peters, etc.

PAP, from the roof of St. Joe’s
Allyson and Robert, atop the Hotel Sterling, our base camp in Gonaives
Autumn and Allyson, at Thanksgiving dins in Gonaives
Autumn and Tamara
Me, Allyson, Suj — yums! someone (Laura) made cookies!
and, for the various, CRAZY taptap rides, your choices of crazy are endless:



  1. Confused? lol. You’ll have to try another deployment to help sort out your feelings. You know you will.

  2. ha! i can’t wait! not to say that i look forward to the next disaster, but you know what i mean…

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