To read more about this little series of posts, and about Gardening Mom and Sister Swimmer's journey to Haiti, go HERE, and see part II HERE.
Wednesday, July 20 It is about 6 am and I am already showered and dressed and having coffee. I did not sleep well last night. Seemed more humid and buggier. I read later into the night and kept waking up and SS seemed restless too although she is still asleep this morning.
Today we finished S's house, all painted inside and out. We left just after breakfast (eggs and toast) and worked until about noon, then returned to finish after lunch (lunch was Haitiian spaghetti which is plain with hot dogs and something like peas). The work crew wants to correct us often on how we are painting but most of them actually do not know much more about it than we do. I think they enjoy being in charge and being able to teach us something. The house is white inside and on the roof and the rest is a very pretty sea green. S did not want her picture taken today either and was going to at one point and asked me if I would bring her a copy when I came back to Haiti. I told her I would send her a copy and she said others have said that too and did not do that. S finally agreed to be in the picture with us at the end but Z had to practically insist.
S and the local children with A and Sister Swimmer.
The work crew, with K on the left in white tee, A in grey, S in the middle, Sister Singer with the shades and headband, and Gardening Mom in white tank.
We met S's mother today. S is her oldest child of ten, they all or most of them live there and this house that was built that we painted will allow S and her two kids and probably several others to have more space. The family mostly lives, cooks and eats outdoors, the houses are just for sleeping. When we were there painting, we attracted a lot of attention, mostly from the kids - about a dozen in the family group, but also from the adults - mostly the male adults, the women other than S and her mother and today her sister seemed to stay away. I wonder about the men and why they are not helping with the work. I wonder what all of them, men and women both, do every day and if they get bored. Watching them as the day goes by they seem very languid.
A and SS brought some of the bracelets they made today and gave them to the kids at S's. They were very happy to get them and even some of the older boys came by to get one and S's mother also asked for one. Their wrists were so small that the bracelets went twice or even three times around. One that had two colors instead of three turned out to be Argentina's colors and that was a hit as Argentina is a fave soccer team.
Thursday, July 21 We painted the other house today that we had primed earlier, inside and out. Pancakes for breakfast, grilled cheese and tomato for lunch, lasagna last night for dinner. The people whose house we worked on today are not quite as friendly as S's family but the kids just as curious and as enthralled with SS & A. They gave them bracelets again and at one point when we were mostly done painting two little girls each took one of K's hands and were picking the paint spots off her.
There was a moment when we were all painting and the work crew was singing to pass the time and started singing We are the World and it made me tear up. There was a woman there today who seemed very old but my guess is that she is probably about my age. I am actually quite ancient here, Haitians do not generally live long lives.
Someone came to the gate at the quad and wanted to sell us peanuts but I was not sure if he was saying peanuts or paintings or penis (Stress Case note: imagining this conversation and miscommunication makes me laugh out loud) and had someone translate for me. Once I ascertained it was peanuts he wanted to know whether all four of us wanted them and when I asked how much for four of us he said $50 US which I thought was entirely too much for peanuts so I told him I would buy $10 worth and decide if I wanted more and he did not like that and left but later came back and said ok so I gave him the $10 and am curious if the peanuts arrive today and what they are like. We had coconuts yesterday at S's - one of the men in her family cut off the tops with a large machete and made a hole to drink out of and it was not as sweet as I expected but very refreshing and then when we were done drinking he cut up the rest and we ate the flesh which is different than Hawaiian coconuts, kind of slimier but still good.
I slept very poorly Tuesday night but better last night and K did not sleep as well last night.
The first night we were here we had a huge lightening and thunder storm, so loud that it sounded as if it was cracking right outside but K and A slept right through it.
When we were painting one of the rooms today there was a hole in the corner that really needed to be caulked but we had no caulk and one of the crew members said gum would work and of course I had my omnipresent gum in my mouth so I pulled it out and handed it to him and he was very pleased and stuck it in the hole and painted over it so now my chewed up gum will be in a house in Haiti forever.
Friday, July 22 We primed two houses today, finished by lunch. It was sad to know that we would not see most of the guys on the work crew again. The houses will be painted Monday but we will be gone by then. French toast for breakfast, ham & cheese sandwiches for lunch.
After lunch we went with into town. P gave us a tour, J was the driver. Driving is crazy here, there are motorcycles and scooters and big trucks and smaller trucks and not much in the way of traffic lines, lights or signs. So many of the injured, even in connection with the earthquake, were injured in car accidents - it is truly a hazard disproportionate to the number of vehicles on the road. Downtown Les Cayes makes Tijuana look luxurious.
The shops are mostly open air and there are clothes and toys and housewares for sale all in a jumble and absolutely nothing of appeal even for a hard core shopper like me. P toured us through the open air market. Picture the swap meet, at least twenty times more crowded and compressed, with open baskets of fruits and vegetables and large piles of grains and meats that smell with flies all over them and you had to kind of step over and through some of the booths to get around and people were hawking their goods and staring at us like we did not belong, which of course we did not.
After that we went down some other streets in the car and the living spaces were close together and squalid and the people sitting on the front steps and looking out at us and looking hopeless and kind of resentful as we drove by and I am thinking that I would really hate for the car to break down. I am snapping pictures out the car window but feel like I have to kind of sneak them and am self conscious to be capturing the suffering of these people's daily lives on film for my vacation pictures.
We then went to an area by the water, kind of a beach, and the water and the view across is pretty but there is so so much trash on the beach, just piles and piles of it, and loads of people enjoying the waterfront nonetheless.
We got out of the car there and have to hop across a puddle to make it to the sidewalk that goes to the beach and I miss it and step in the puddle which turns out to be more like sewage than a puddle and I lose my sandal in it and fish it out. Luckily, we are right by part of what is or used to be Espwa offices and P knows a man that is standing right by a gate right there and has me go unto the courtyard where there is faucet where I can wash my foot and sandal (and when we get back to the quad I wash it and scrub it more and still feel as if my foot is stinging but I think it is stinging from scrubbing it and not from the sewage but just to be safe I will scrub it more before I go to bed and may check to see if K has any alcohol with her).
We take some photos and P is telling us about some regional and historical facts, none of which I retain, then get back in the car and go to another beach that is more like a park, a bit cleaner but still a lot of trash and more people that I feel are looking at us in a hostile way, very different than how I felt in the village homes near Espwa.
SS on left, A on right.
I am struck by the numbers of people just sitting on their porches and wonder what it is that they do all day, similar to how I wondered that in the village homes near Espwa, but at least those are in pleasant settings, with some space around them. Then back through downtown and more hopeless hostile stares as we drive through and I am afraid again of what would happen if the car was to break down, and am feeling very tired and really wanting to go back to Espwa or really wanting to go home. I think about Casey's blog (shout out to Stress Case, what what!) mentioning my humanitarian trip and try to wrap my mind around making the decision to actually stay here and help and what kind of person can do that, and realizing that I am not that person, which makes me feel somewhat shallow but also kind of relieved, and I can't decide if I think that the people who do that are truly admirable or crazy or both.
I think we are going to head back to Espwa now but P is not done with his tour and we head to Gelee Beach, which is a bit more like a beach town in Mexico, but without any of the resorts, but there are a few small hotels and food stands. Gelee Beach is also dirty but not with piles and piles of trash and there is a family that is actually walking through and picking up trash. P asks if we want to stop for a beer but the girls are seeming like they want to go back and we beg off and head back to Espwa. When we first got here, Espwa and the quad were so strange and different but today it feels familiar and comfortable as we return.
It looks like these recaps will end up being more than three parts - stay tuned for the next post!