Thursday, August 12, 1999

Haitian writers, according to the group:

Jacques-Stéphane Alexis
Jacques Roumain

Masillon Coicon
Frédéric Marcelin
Émile Roumain
Franc Étienne
Etzer Vilair

Anotoine Duprez
Bernard Pozey
Giles-Soline Millecent
Lilac Desquerond

Margarette Papillon
Frédérika Étienne
Audette Roy Fonbroun
Yanick Lahens
Mercedes Guignard
Magalie Cocteau-Denis
Danny Laferrière
Gary Victor
Cyto Cave
Lional Trouillo
Mireille Perodin-Jérome
Lionel Lerebours
André Victor
François Duvalier

Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Myrlande H. Manigat
Leslie M.
Prospère Avril
Michel Soukar
Oswald Durand

At about 2:00 yesterday afternoon we finally piled into the rented taptap and started driving north. St-Marc is a perfect pirate city, straight out of Monkey Island, because of all its colonial houses on the turquoise sea (the second storeys look evacuated and blasted because wood construction doesn’t hold up under 200 years of tropical sun) and the changing carnival music at every block. Oddly, every store seemed to sell tires, which was good, because we’d already blown a tire and had had to pull over beside a clutch of women selling melons by the ocean to change it.

As night was falling and we were jittering toward Gonaïves our battery failed, and I wouldn’t have known what to do without jumpers, but apparently you pull into a Shell station, wash off whatever dust you can, and get a bunch of street kids to help you push the truck back and forth, letting go of the clutch every so often. And then on to Gonaïves, birthplace of liberty, to find a pool of light outside a bar with seafood on rice and Shaggy on the speakers and enough room to dance a little.

Our second tire blew in the middle of pitch-black nowhere, and all of a sudden my daydreams about what I’d do if bandits attacked evaporated … newspapers call them the real rulers of the countryside, and they rob and rape and kill people like us on a regular basis. Phadoul stopped telling jokes and we started singing prayers … there were drums in the distance as we jacked up the truck. Changed the tire. As we were pulling onto the road again Risson slammed to a stop an we had to start singing again, this time to wait for him to figure out what to do about the headlight wiring that had just fried. They’d blank every so often for the rest of the trip.

The corrugated sides of semis passed by us in hills like the flanks of great huge whales, lit askance by our truck and disappearing. Their broken-down hulks might emerge into our beams, exposing the holes ravaged in their sides by looters. Or their whole fearsome bulk nose-dived down the steep side of a hairpin turn, the driver’s cab lost somewhere in the darkness and the underbrush down below.

We made it to Cap-Haïtien around midnight—we had been aiming for 4:00 p.m. We passed through the city gates and foiled across the slick of gasoline at the entrance to town. Ducking down alleyways and veering from sudden motorcycles reminded me of my first night in Haiti, driving in the dark from the airport, the whole city of Port-au-Prince working its horns to avoid gridlock and head-on collisions. (Inch seeing this on her return is perfect counterpoint to the American car chase with Dieter…) I was starting to have enough.

We finally got to a nearby town called Limonade at about 2:00 in the morning (we’d passed through a Marmelade on the way). A Bahá’í named Charles who’d been in the front of the taptap lives there. His left arm tapers down to a single finger. He offered us his floor for the night. I was fuming with lack of sleep and not having taken a decent shit in a week, and Risson was dancing around me and beating his chest and saying: “I’m solid. I’m Haitian.” I was just about ready to flip my lid.

We were woken up four hours later for the final leg, and I bit my lip and climbed back onto the hard wood bench in the taptap. Ouanaminthe is much bigger than I thought it would be: I was imagining a hill town, but after a morning of rolling semi-desert it turned out to be another prairie city with high city walls. We met the group of Dominican Bahá’ís we’ll be working with for the next week—although I’d been assured at one point that the Dominican Republic is really just as much a black republic as Haiti (they just don’t care to admit it), the Dominicans all turned out to be very much hispanic in their baseball caps as we sat together in the shade and idled awkwardly.

We’re getting to know each other a bit better now, though, and I’m getting a kick out of getting to say “gracias” so much. And I’ve just come from having a beautiful bowel movement and my heat rash is at its lowest ebb since July.


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