Friday, February 23, 2007

Island life - by Geert

We went sailing with Manis and Lino in a 20 foot wooden boat named Nannantan bondje, which is creole for waiting for, or expecting the good lord. The boat has long bamboo poles for sprit and boom, and cotton sails that look like they were cut from old tablecloths or bedspreads. The wind was good and the boat sailed very fast. The mainsail is enormous, and cannot be reefed. For ballast we had two bags of sand that we moved around as needed to keep the boat level. On the wind Lino put a long pole athwartships, sticking out two meters on the high side. David climbed on holding on to a rope from the top of the mast. And on we went, Dick steering, David doing a trapeze act on the pole, and Manis and Lino bailing furiously.

We sailed to Ile Permantois, a tiny island north of Ile a Vache, It is home to about 60 people, all fishermen and thier families. They live in straw huts in the shade of palmtrees, fish in dugout canoes and little boats like Manis's, and dry thier catch on wooden racks on the beach. On a clear sunny day it looks like a paradise. In fact these people are rock bottom poor, They dry, and eat, even the tiniest minnow they catch.

Our sail was delayed because a woman from Ile a Vache had died in Les Cayes, on the nainland. She was eight months pregnant. According to local custom, a eccentric mixture of catholicism, voodoo and the influence of various protestant missionaries, babies, even unborn ones, have to be buried seperately. So the dead baby was removed from the dead mother. In the evening hundreds of people gathered and wailed on the beach when the bodies arrived by sailboat, in the pitch dark.

We have visitors every day. Islanders come to the boat in their dug out canoes, offering bananas, coconuts, mangoes and fresh eggs and lobster for sale. If we want beer, we hail a canoe to go and get it, and do our laundry the same way. Some islanders sell themselves. On several occasions we were offered women, by men. One afternoon Vilna, a woman who also does landry, came by peddling her canoe wearing hot pants and lots of costume jewelry. She asked in creole: Are there no women on this boat?

This may be the last dispatch from Haiti. We plan to sail on to Cuba on Sunday.