Haiti

Haiti is suffering from the massive Jan 12 earthquake and needs our help. Below I've posted some first-hand accounts of the quake from people in Haiti. Please consider a donation to an organization in Haiti. If you would like to give directly to a Haitian family, please contact me (anna.versluis@gmail.com).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Leaving Haiti

I sit in the airport on the second floor where there are little shops and coffee and drink bars. I have a cup of good Haitian coffee, rightly served with a saucer, and am at a small round table with my laptop. It feels very Oregonian. I’m watching the white people in the room, trying to imagine what a Haitian sees looking at them. First, our shoes are very servicable. The Haitian men are wearing shiny dress shoes, the Haitian women strappy sandals with thick coats of polish on their toenails, or uncomfortable and too-small dark navy office shoes with thick high heels. The white people are wearing Tevas. I have on tennis shoes. One white woman is wearing white leather Keds still covered in red mud. A Haitian would never leave the house with muddy shoes much less travel internationally in muddy shoes. Shoes are washed and shined constantly. Next, the white women don’t wear jewelry or much makeup or nailpolish. None of us white women in the room spent more than five minutes pulling our hair back into a ponytail this morning. The Haitian women wear gold: necklaces, bracelets, earings, rings, and many of them carry large and fashionable purses, the stuff of fashion magazines. The white people all have fanny sacks and backpacks. It’s like we were issued them along with our white skin. The woman with the muddy Keds pulls a bottle of OFF out of her fanny pack and sprays her arms. We are in an air conditioned airport so this strikes me as a little strange. Will she be afraid of mosquitoes on the plane too? The Haitians eat food from the bar: hotdogs in warm bagettes and croissants stuffed with chicken; the Americans next to me are eating Nature Valley granola bars. They have a large supply of them in plastic ziplock bags. One white woman is reading a novel. I’ve never seen a Haitian reading a novel in the airport (or almost anywhere, Djamina aside). The Haitians watch the Haiti-El Salvador soccer game on T.V. or doze or talk on cell phones.

There is construction work going on at the airport. Waiting in the immigration line, I see a sign advertising the renovations. BEHIND THE MACHINES THAT BUILD THE AIRPORT ARE THE MEN THAT BUILD THE AIRPORT, it says. Of course I make a mental correction: and women. Then I step forward in the immigration line and can see that penned onto the poster in blue ink are the words AND THE WOMEN!! There are plans to build those wing ramps so you can walk directly from the plane into the airport without having to pass outside. This is a pity, in my opinion, though it will be good for older people or people in wheelchairs. I love walking down the steep steps from the airplane when I arrive in Port-au-Prince, hearing the almost overwhelming noise of the plane and feeling the heat of the day. It feels like really arriving. It feels glamorous somehow. I love walking across the tarmac—and doing so I always think about the word tarmac and how much I like it—to the airport door where the troubadou band plays a welcome song. In any case, the construction work has begun. I hear a white man say to his group, Did you see the hole their digging? They’re actually using machines to do it.

On the plane, a flight attendent tells us the trilingual attendent who makes the announcements in French and Haitian Kreyol is sick; she will be attempting to read the announcements based on her high school French. She does so and it’s really awful and I cringe and hope she can get through it quickly. But no one else on the plane seems to mind. A group of Americans with matching Wells For Haiti (Isaiah 23: 2) t-shirts gives her a smattering of applause for her bravery. Everyone else either doesn’t realize she’s attempting to speak French or else is just very understanding. Perhaps they are well aware that soon they will be the ones with the accents. Up until this point it is me who is the odd one out, the one with the funny clothes and manners, the accent and the strange skin. But soon we will be in Florida and the tables will be turned. The square-jawed immigration agents (apparently a job requirement) will greet me with hearty Welcome back’s while they look suspiciously at the Haitian travelers and take their fingerprints. I will know how to work the revolving doors, how to ask for directions, how to drive in traffic. The same people I admired while they cooly drank Prestige in the Port-au-Prince airport will now seem strange—their pants too baggy, their skin too dark, their suitcases too big, their shoes too gaudy.

Note added later: Apparently immigration agents are no longer hired for their square jaws. Perhaps it has something to do with the Department of Homeland Security taking over the old INS, but the agents were downright pudgy this time. I presented my passport and immigration card and the agent said, “Haiti??? What the heck were you doing there?” “Research,” I said, “and visiting friends.” The agent shook his head like that was something too awful to think about and stamped my passport.

2 Comments:

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since I put my "Leaving Haiti" comments on the "More Photos" page, I shall comment here on the photos. Thank you for the pictures of Haiti (for those of us who have never been there and probably never will visit). I enjoyed seeing the pics of the people, their land, how they live and work. What a beautiful family to begin this section! How did it feel to go from Motorcycles (with flats) to seeing mostly SUVs on the freeway?
Lori from Ontario

 
At 1:06 PM, Blogger Anna said...

The first picture is of a very lovely woman I interviewed. We managed to get the interview done between her tending the fire that was cooking their breakfast and keeping an eye on her 4 young children and the neighbor kids who'd come over to see what was up. Her husband was already at work in the fields.

We first got the motorcycle flat in a remote area where the solution to fix it was to tie a piece of plastic around the tube's hole and pump the tire back up. Amazingly, that held over many rough miles of road. We were then able to patch the tire (photo) when we got closer to Port-au-Prince.

Haiti has more than its fair share of rattle-y-bang old vehicles that somehow keep working and spewing out black smoke. But, in the capital at least, there are quite a few big new SUVs of the Land Rover and Mercedes varieties. When I first went to Haiti what shocked me was not the poverty--I'd heard enough about that to be prepared for it--but the extreme wealth held by some: huge mansions, servants, and shiny new SUVs.

Of course, nothing can compare to the vehicles driven in Southern California. When driving here it's sort of a game I play to try to find a, say, Buick, among the BMWs, Mercedes, Porches, Explorers and Hummers. :)

 

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