Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Waking Up in Haiti

The guest house through the gates, past the smiling and mightily armed guard, is shocking if you've just driven through Port-au-Prince. There is a tile veranda with large glass tables and umbrellas. Chives starred with purple flowers and fragrant rosemary grown in pots next to tall waving flowers that wheel like pink kites.

Inside the tall glass doors is a great room with pale yellow walls reflecting the light. Orange mexican tile flows past a living room with spotless new windows and a desk with a working computer and printer. There are four tables hanging with table cloths and a huge metal butterfly that brightens the far wall. A quilt some children made hangs on a fancy metal bar above some cane-seated chairs. There are four bathrooms-- SPOTLESS-- and four large guest rooms. In each guest room are three bunk beds with colorful, new quilts.

Julienne is the manager. She is warm-faced like the sun. She smiles widely and welcomes us and gives us the lowdown:

No smoking, no drinking, this is a Christian establishment. The huge bottles of water are filtered and safe for drinking. The shower water is not. Don't get it in your mouth. Use bottled water for tooth brushing. Don't put your toilet paper in the toilet-- put it in the basket next to the toilet. (ew.) Turn off the lights when you go to bed. Marie cooks Haitian dinner in the evening and American breakfast in the morning. Lock yourself in before you sleep and don't worry-- the guard never sleeps. He's very good. You'll be safe.

The "safe" discussion makes me feel not safe, but hey, I signed up for this and I'm here. I'm not liable to suddenly become a black belt in karate instantly because I suddenly might want to. I pick the second guest room. That way, I'll have time to hide if something bad happens. I remind myself: big gun. Razor wire. Locked door. Buck up, buttercup.

The translators schlep in our five enormous duffle bags. I ask if water is rationed here. It is not. I check out the showers: there is a chain you pull for water. If it comes out, you adjust the temperature. It is warmed by the sun and recycled.

We sleep, so tired, so tired. The bed is lovely and safe, and Marian Allen, the organizer of the trip tells me there are no snakes here.

I wake at 5:30 in a dreamy haze. I am being rocked in a cradle, swaying, warm and sweet, close to somebody who loves me. It is the singing. The women are singing. Next to our guest house is a church. The women have walked many many miles with their small children to seek treatment at the clinic. The clinic is underneath the guest house. They sing all together, in kreyol, songs of praise, mellow, their voices pouring over everything in the half-light like warm syrup. I blink awake, and lie there in the quilt, being massaged with sound. A man is leading them, but they don't wait-- he sings a line to them but the have already started. They know it by heart. I try to pick out words. Jerusalem? David? Who is like waking in Heaven. My cousin Karen brushes my hair sometimes. We both like to have somebody else brush our hair. It feels so good. We joke that while somebody is brushing our hair, all we can think about is, "don't stop, don't stop, don't stop." That's all I am thinking as these women sing. I've woken up in a bath of warm chocolate.

There are other sounds. A rooster. Dogs, dogs, so many dogs barking, but they are far away. I am in a cocoon. When the singing stops I am released from the spell. Julienne arrives and makes coffee. I wrap myself in my quilt and go out on the veranda. My God. I'm on a mountain top. Huge cliffs stand staring, white and covered in green. On the very top of them are fancy homes. The mountains crag crazily down, and banana trees, bouganvilla, rubble, homes, goats, chickens, random cement block, bags that used to hold foreign aid rice, dogs, and jutting branches are all over. The sky is blazing blue and there are radio towers on the mountains to the right. Red amaryllis stand straight in a row against a concrete wall. A peach tree throws out a flower or two. The coffee is wonderful.

Breakfast is fancy: oatmeal with star anise, hard boiled eggs, bananas and homemade chocolate chip banana muffins . Lots of coffee. Life is grand.

I take a freezing cold shower (solar water must mean that when the sun isn't out yet your water is cold) and horrify our religious house staff and my much-classier-than-me travelling companions by coming out of the bathrooms in a towel. With my hair in a shampooey point. I forgot my hair conditioner and need to get it. I am emerging as the class clown. You get used to it.

It is quickly time to get down the hill to the school. We grab backpacks, take our malaria pills and go outside.

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