March 9th 2011
We went to Okap (Cap Haitien) on Sunday morning, in a tap tap. A tap tap is a pickup truck which has about 25 people piled on. There are 2 rows of seats in the cab, with 7 people packed in, then the back is packed really tight, with peoples’ bags and huge baskets of stuff tied onto the sides…usually there are 2 or 3 people sitting on the top as well. So, we rode to Okap--about a 5 hour ride, to go a distance of maybe 50 miles--I don’t know the exact mileage but it is short. But over mountains, on a dirt road--the most rocky, bumpy dirt road that you can imagine. Up and down hills, through several rivers (you just drive right through--it’s shallow)….we were sitting next to a lady with a 3 month old baby, and we got to hold her for awhile because of how the sun was coming into the cab--we held the baby out of the sun. It was nice. We passed through a lot of really small towns. So, so desolate. It’s the dry season...the landscape is so barren…you look up at the mountains from afar, and they look bare…with small shrubs maybe…they just look brown…you look up at the mountains and then down outside the window of the tap tap, and what you see is complete desolation…these small towns, with maybe the remnants of a town square…everything looks like it’s in ruins…people walking around with no shoes…it looks like something you would see in an article about a really poor place in Africa…I have images burned into my mind that I cannot put into words…if I had taken pictures, maybe people would catch a glimpse of it…but I can’t take pictures…I never take pictures…I just can’t imagine pulling a camera out of my pocket and taking a picture of peoples’ lives--this is their life--and what would they think of that…I already stand out so starkly…they already think I’m so rich and privileged…which is true, in comparison to them, so true.
We got to Okap, and got to Blada’s mother’s house. We spent Sunday and part of Monday there. It was wonderful to be with his family…they really accept me and love me…his mom is so affectionate, so sweet…but when I’m there, it’s kind of hard too, because we’re basically closed up in a small space, because there’s no shade outside, and the sun is sooo strong…
So, we went to the beach Sunday afternoon, and then just hung out at the house…the beach…it is full of trash…just full…even the water has trash floating in it…there is black oily water running into the water from a pipe…it’s incredible…I didn’t feel comfortable getting into the water this time…so I just got in up to my waist…Blada could sense that I was not at ease and kept offering for us to leave…the next morning, Monday morning, he could still sense that I was feeling down, and he persisted in asking me what was going on…I hadn’t wanted to hurt his feelings by telling him how the scenery in Haiti really depresses me sometimes…but I started telling him now, because he genuinely wanted to know, and as soon as I started telling him, I just started weeping…just seeing the scenes in my mind from the tap tap ride the day before…the extreme poverty, the barrenness of the landscape…this is the majority of the population, that is barely holding on…imagine a country where a large part of the population has chronic headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, general malaise…imagine why…when you see the extreme poverty here, you understand why. People don’t have enough to eat, they have to depend on the rain to water their crops, they are chronically dehydrated…
Being in Okap is also usually depressing for me, because Okap is so filthy. Gray water (smells like sewage) running through streets and walkways…open canals with sewage and trash everywhere (here too), huge piles of trash everywhere, smoke, dust, etc.
Blada was really sweet and understanding of my feelings, and he didn’t feel judged by them. That was great. We decided to come back to Hinche a day early--Monday afternoon. If was too late to get a tap tap, so his brother, who is a taxi driver (motorcycle taxi), was willing to take us. We left Okap on the motorcycle. As we were leaving Okap, we had to cross paths with some guys who were blocking the road with a rope, making people stop and pay them a toll. They were a little sinister and intimidating, to me. Blada kind of laughed it off--they do this every mardi gras. They had put black motor oil all over their bodies, and had these weird sinister masks on--like Halloween masks. We got through that, and then drove for 3 ½ hours on the motorcycle to get home. It was the most bumpy ride you can imagine. Not that I am complaining, it’s just incredible to me that this is the reality here. I was scared--I don’t like traveling by motorcycle. I feel too vulnerable. A dirt road, with gravel, sand, mud if it’s been raining, rocks…anything could happen. How is it possible that in this country, between 2 main towns, there is a DIRT road, that’s full of ruts and potholes, and rocks…how is this possible??? I think about all of the pregnant women, who come to St Therese hospital for one reason or another…who come from hours away, by motorcycle, on these roads. This is peoples’ normal lives.
I was so relieved to get back, take a shower, eat some vegetables, and get a good night’s sleep. We did a lot of stuff yesterday and today. Washed clothes and sheets, did other house stuff, lots of stuff. Last night was the last night of Kanaval. We went to the plaza, and there was a Rara band playing--it’s the most amazing music…everything about it…homemade horns, that have this beautiful soft sound…drumming, singing…the songs are always about the history here, how the people are still being fucked over by the gov’t, how they need to be united and continue the struggle for freedom, etc. Really positive, heartfelt, prideful songs. So, we arrive and get right into the crowd, which is in rows, dancing and marching, with the band. Of course, just like all the time, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing here, however I’m dressed, etc, I am a spectacle for everyone, it was of course this way at Kanaval. But, in a way it was less. In a way I felt more a part of the crowd. Because we were all dancing. Dancing and walking, around the plaza. Getting down. People LOVED seeing me get down with Blada, dancing with him. It was a spectacle for them, inevitably, but I could also see that they were really happy to see this. It was really really fun. A few fights broke out--there are always people who want to create fights, because that’s fun for them…we were walking a thin line the whole time, trusting in the crowd to react wisely if there was a big fight…trusting them not to trample us completely…Blada was on top of it, and was very protective of me and careful…but it definetly was a thin line.
The Kanaval experience was really satisfying and joyful for both of us. For me, it was like being slightly closer in to the group than I am usually, and that felt good.
Here, people will always see me as different and perhaps strange, no matter how long I’m here or what I do. It grates on me, the constant, nonstop reactions from people, just from seeing me. The comments. The staring, the preconceptions. I’ll never be able to be a full member of this society. All of this, as a collective reality--this layer plus the reality of the hospital, the death, the lack of supplies, the poverty here, everything--all of this exists and I know has changed me.
I came here because I needed to change my reality, to learn how to be adaptable and flexible again, to be immersed in a new language and culture, and to expand my scope of midwifery experience, including seeing death. All of these things have come true.
I also left El Paso because I felt that I needed to make a big life change in order to meet my partner, who was out there somewhere. I thought that even if I just came to Haiti for 6 months, that would set me on the path to meeting him. I had waited and waited, visualized and visualized. Now I had this opportunity to come here, and it was scary, but I had to trust and walk through that door, which was wide open.
The first months here was the hardest experience of my life. It broke me down. I didn’t think I would stay past 6 months, I was so unhappy. However, when I started seeing Blada, it was like he scooped me out of that gloom, out of that darkness, swept me up. And up and up.
Everything that is hard here, it has a counterpart which is positive. Like, the beauty of dancing Rara with all those people last night. And, overall, the biggest positive influence in ly life right now, which enables me to stay here and also like/love being here most of the time, is my relationship with Blada. He is exemplary.
That is all for now…