Posted by: posthaiti | February 15, 2009

Gonaives, Finally

sleeping was interesting at St. Joe’s, amidst the broken down buildings, the thick, humid air, the sounds of cockroaches twitching, invisible beneath our beds, the crowing of roosters at all hours of the day. actually, that was a shock; to not only go to sleep to roosters guffawing in the backlit night, but to wake up to them too? ugn. in Turkey, i remember the chilling sound of the call to prayer jolting me awake at 5 am. what the…? oh, right. that sound, though, disturbed my sense of time, transported me back a thousand years to a time and place that i never knew but that somehow felt deeply familiar. not so with the roosters. the roosters you just wanted to kick the shit out of and throw down the street. still, that sound became part of your nights, and especially your early mornings, in Haiti.

we woke, “showered and dressed” (firstly, the shower at St. Joe’s consisted of a single streamlet of water, from which you could fill a tiny cup that they placed on top of the shower’s ledge with water to i GUESS wet and rinse your hair and rinse your body after sudsing up. good LUCK if your hair was nearly dreaded from the combination of humidity and dust, like mine, and if you weren’t yet used to drenching your bare skin in ice cold water! secondly, i don’t think i properly “changed” my clothes the entire two weeks i was there.), and went downstairs for breakfast. it reminded me of a bed and breakfast; Michael asked us immediately what kind of omelette we wanted, and the cook whipped it up and served us in about five minutes. we sat down to a fresh table of fruits, breads, muffins, coffee, tea, etc. it was SO NICE.

we quickly packed up, and by 9, headed out to Gonaives. Paul, the man who “no longer worked for money” and who served as a sort of group coordinator/welcome wagon for HODR volunteers, crammed his six-foot frame into the back of the shuttle, which was really just an overstuffed SUV. we stopped at the hardware store to let him out before flooring it north on the one main highway that connected PAP to Gonaives.

the ride was kind of exhausting. holes the size of moon craters, gravel chunks the size of boulders, bumps as big as hills, and dust. DUST. everywhere. there were four of us in the back and one in the front, and the van was supposedly air conditioned. uh huh.

we passed several towns along the way, and at this point, i still had my camera. we were all snapping pictures, and i noticed that many of the people seemed annoyed that were shooting them. most of the shots were of the side of the road as we passed: women and men carrying huge bundles of STUFF on their heads, wearing long skirts, torn jeans, floppy, plastic shoes; side-of-the-road “shops” that sold everything from beer to food to tires to wood, to radios, to shoes, all hanging from the makeshift roofs; signs everywhere that read ‘Titi,’ which was short for Titide, or Aristide. one town specialized in timber, another in tires. we passed hundreds of vendors, all hawking the same things.

we also passed homes that were still partially flooded. after a shocking series of four major storms in the second half of 2008, the rains came in and dumped not only massive amounts of water, but also mud, which was washed down the eroding hillsides surrounding Gonaives. when the flood waters receded, the mud stayed, stacking up to sometimes four or five feet inside people’s homes, shops, and bars. that, in fact, was why HODR had moved in, to help dig out the mud, which was sometimes thick and hard, sometimes wet and sloppy. other volunteers had come up with different pet names for the kind of mud in each house, but i was so over it by the second day that i chose not to acknowledge la bou by its first name.

by the time we got to base camp at the hotel HODR had converted, it was midday and very hot. we honked outside the compound and someone opened the gate. inside, there was a huge open space in front of the hotel, which was on the upper level fronted by a large veranda-like balcony; it was here where we had our nightly meetings. below was a kitchen, surrounded by a place to wash and hang clothes, some sheds, a few outhouses, and a several separate living quarters. in the center of the wide open space in front of the hotel was a large cement ring — this was part of the well project, an effort by HODR to pour and lay cement rings for new wells that would be more flood-resistant.

we got out of the van, unloaded our stuff, met Marc and Stef, the project leaders, and were led around in a five-minute tour by Karen, a very cool Belgian chic who seemed to know the place so well she could have done it blindfolded. i remember seeing the kitchen and feeling a bit daunted by it all — the HUGE metal cooking pots, burners the size of records, and the “gas tank” outside the kitchen door. Karen made a point of saying something about turning the knob to off on the tank before we left if we were on cleaning duty, and i was like, what?

before we knew it, we were told to pick our beds, threw our bags down, and were carted off via awesome taptap ride to our first mud site. i went to a house that was half-to-almost dug out, and the team there was bent on finishing. we only had about 2.5 hours there, so it was a nice entry. the next two weeks would be much harder.

pics to come…

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