We started out on our trip to Lazil later than Madanm and Beatrice had suggested. When we told them we were going to take a machin up into the mountains they were vehemently against it. They said, “No, the best way to go is to wake up at 4 in the morning and go in one of the (Kreyol word escapes me) air-conditioned busses. The driver isn’t separated from the passengers and the only way to get in one of them is to go really early, around 4 a.m.”
Funny enough, that idea didn’t really appeal to us.
So we left around 8 and we got into a machin complete with chicken and blaring Haitian pop music. People kept piling in over the course of the 45 minute trip up the mountain and, as must happen, there was bickering and refusal to pay. The drive up into the mountains was pretty if you could see out through the welded sides of the machin, which I could every now and again. At several points you're convinced that the drivers must have ESP, or just guardian angels, because they drive about 55 mph around blind curves, and if you’re lucky they lay on the horn. The thing is, if anyone else was coming around in the opposite direction, they would also be laying on the horn, and it’s likely neither would hear. So, I’m not really sure how there aren’t more accidents than there are. The roads are certainly not wide enough to be called two lane roads. I just kinda hung out with my water bottle and my Rika, and a slightly blue looking Cara and said to myself, “Well, if you’re gonna go, there’s really not a whole lot you can do about it at this point. You’re not driving, so just enjoy the rush of possibly being flung to your death down the side of a mountain. It’s kinda like a rollercoaster, only less harness-y and more chicken-y.
We pulled into Tom Gato around 9, and had a snack of Rika (think Ritz cracker shaped lemony graham cookies) while we waited for Kim. She was hiking from Lazil to meet us so we could hike back together. Lazil is about a two hour hike from Tom Gato over the mountain ridge. After waiting about twenty minutes, we decided to head down and meet her along the way, figuring that she might appreciate not having to walk the last quarter mile which is all steep uphill. We met her and started on our way. Kim is a lovely woman in her mid-forties who used to be a lawyer, but found she wasn’t fulfilled by that, and decided to change directions. She entered the apprenticeship program around the same time as Cara, and came to
On Saying Hello-
I’ve talked a bit about the generous spirit of
*tangent within a tangent* On our way back to the apartment one night on a walk through downtown Jacmel, Cara and I were approached by a man who spoke very good English. He was carrying a gigantic painting wrapped in tissue paper. He insisted on showing it to us, which led me to think that he was trying to get us to buy it. But no, he just wanted to show it to us, and to get our opinion on what it meant to us. “Where do you see yourself in my painting?” he asked. And after about ten minutes of talking with him we excused ourselves. He wouldn’t hear of it, and asked us to wait for him to wrap his painting back up so that he could walk with us, as he thought he knew which way we were going (Cara is somewhat of a celebrity in Jacmel because she’s one of the few blancs, and people she’s never met will yell out her name, “Kara!!” or sometimes “Farah!!” because Farah is a more common name and Kara actually means “carat” as in 24 carat gold, so why would you name your kid carat?). Turned out he was mistaking Cara for a different blanc and when we got to the top of the hill, he said, “I thought you were going to take a taxi with me. Can’t give me some money for a taxi to get home?” At which point it became clearer why he had insisted on following us.
But he’s the exception. For the most part, people just want to talk to you and find out how your family is, or where you’re coming from, or how long you’re going to be in town. On one hand it’s very friendly and warm, and you always feel so welcome. On the other, if you’re trying to get somewhere and it’s blazing hot, you begin to tire of the welcome because you just want to sit down somewhere and die. But the thing that I noticed is that if you’re going to go visiting, you end up being very tired afterwards, and it’s not like you did much of anything. The only explanation for the immense fatigue I felt was a combination of the heat and the fact that I was listening so intently trying to pick up as much Kreyol as I could. Attentive listening is actually a hard thing to maintain over the course of a day, and at some point you just get psychically drained. After the sixth house, I was just kind of smiling and nodding because often I’d reached my limits of answering, “When are you coming back to Haiti?” with, “M pa konne.”
We made it to Lazil, and to Kim’s host family’s house. Belange and Bemarie are kind of the heads of the community in Lazil (Lazil itself is rather small, and I gather it’s actually only about fifteen houses tops before you are in a community with a different name). Belange is the spiritual leader of the community, and he also founded a school that sits next door to his house. Bemarie is the only person with medical training for hours in any direction so the front room of their house doubles as a clinic for the area. As I was putting my pack down on what would be my bed, Kim said, “Just to warn you a little, there may be some kind of emergency in the night, and your bedroom may become a hospital. If someone has a machete wound or some other accident, this is where they’ll come.” My eyes just kinda widened at the thought of that, and the thought of what might happen if I should have an accident while I was here. I generally don’t think about stuff like that, but this brought those thoughts into sharper focus.
I’ll do an aside on food later, because food in
Belange’s house is an amazing thing. In a community where most of the houses are at most three rooms, this house is a crazy mansion. I say crazy because it’s built on the side of a hill, and it was built as most houses in
The full day that we were in Lazil was spent visiting. While we were there I got to see how, for many people here, life is much harder than it seemed to be in Dal. We met Belange’s brother Castelle, who is in his mid-sixties and still works a mountaintop farm every day of his life. This is true of Cara’s host father Gabo as well, but for Castelle it’s a bit different. My first impression of the man was that of a kindly oak. His handshake reminded me of my friend Brendan’s father who would never mean to, but might just crack your bones with a friendly greeting. He’s just that strong. Castelle was like that, and his smile was so warm and inviting despite its missing front teeth. His machete hung on his belt, and his wife hovered off to the side with a quiet grace as he held court. We
Indeed, he wasn’t the last person I would meet in my time in Lazil with a limb that didn’t work. We sat with a family outside shelling beans one afternoon while we were there, and a woman came by and showed us her daughter’s feet. Curled up like fists they were. I wondered what this girl’s future would look like. Would she be ridiculed, told that she was useless? That seemed to be how it worked here, but something I saw later that day gave me hope.
We were sitting at the home of another friend of Kim’s, whose name escapes me at the moment. She was a lovely young woman of about 18(??? You never know in
We exchanged a few more songs together and then the rain, which had started slowly when we were at a different house, decided it wanted to be more of a real rain. So we moved out to the front porch to really appreciate it. The rest of the children in the family had come home by now, and they were all gathered around laughing and playing on the porch just out of reach of the big drops. Here is where I got my ray of hope for disabled folks in this village. I don’t pretend that this is proof that that little girl with the fist-like foot will be okay. But it made me think that there might be hope for her. One of the young people in this crew of about ten that were gathered on the porch was mentally disabled. He had the look of someone who had a birth defect, with a crooked mouth, and a squinty face, and he walked with a listing to starboard. But here was the ray of hope. In this place where I’d seen animals kicked and had rocks thrown at them, this boy was getting cheered on. He had decided to make good use of the rain, and for a few minutes he disappeared. I wondered where he’d gone, and then he reappeared running through the rain in his underwear with a head full of soap suds. He was grinning, and the other children were cheering his ingenuity. When he made his way back to the porch, a few of them scrubbed his back for him and helped him wash. It was such a nice thing to see, because I’d seen this kid before in our trip, and I’d silently worried that he hadn’t a friend in the world. In a place where “you’re on your own” takes a new meaning, I thought this kid might really be on his own. But here was proof that in some way he was loved and accepted. Even if I was wrong, and he really was shunned, as I know some mentally challenged people are even in our culture, at least here at this house he had some friends who had his back, if only to wash it for him.