Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Jacmel - by David

Arrived Haiti 1230 EST Feb. 5, 2007
I have entered another world where few of the rules that apply to life elsewhere exist. The street is like a warzone held together by the crumbling dust of the french colonial houses that used to line the street. The dock is in disrepair and many planks are missing but they provide enough support to take a running start from 20 yards away and do a flying squirrel into the clear blue water below. After spending several hours fiddling with the dock lines (we have 8 in total plus an anchor i swam out to set) we joined our friends Patrick and Kate for lunch across from the main plaza in Jacmel. Lunch was delightful and yet it provided me my first glimpse of this beautiful but hard place.
"Bonjour Blanc", said the woman who may have been only 50 but looked about 100 years old. She held out her hands through the holes in the concrete that separated the terrace where we ate and the street.
Women walked up and down the streets with enormous baskets on top of their heads carrying things to and from the market. Men waited on their mopeds to ferry people around, and children in their uniforms danced happily down the street as they were let out of school for the day. "Bonjour Blanc" they would say with smiles that revealed their white teeth.
Geert and I then left Patrick and Kate to explore some on our own. We were hassled by the hustlers that were so quick to jump on our arrival. "Capitan, capitan, you give me dollar. I watch your boat." And on it went until we had to take stern action and tell them we could walk alone without their help. Despite this, the Haitian people are incredibly friendly and nearly always have a smile on their face. While I have only been here 24 hours it is already apparent how hard working they are. As I talked with Geert last night I commented on how used many of them have been by the government over the past 200 years. I hope to learn more as I get deeper into the people and culture.
This morning Geert and I changed money at a local store that Patrick recommended and we walked through the market. This was another world in itself. People, food, goods, flies all coexist in this market and it is difficult to describe. Everything is sold, and it is quite organized with a meat section, a vegetable section a produce section, a fish section, etc. The flies can be sometimes unbearable but Geert came up with a wonderful phrase that he attributed to the writer Saul Bellow, we have just taken a "humanity bath". He and Saul were dead on in that description. Never before have i seen humanity work at its most honest. The constant political upheavals have forced these people to survive on a subsistence economy. Hundreds of women get up each morning from their homes in the mountains and walk the 20 or so kilometers with their goods balanced on their heads into the market of Jacmel. They then sit amongst the other vendors and flies that feed off their goods and sell what they can. In the evening they return through the same road. It is, as i say, the most honest form of humanity i have ever seen. I must explore further.
Today I am helping Patrick and Kate paint the gallery in preparation for the show on Sat. night. Another entry in the blog will be required for what is promised to be an amazing evening of art, food, dancing, music and culture. I will not reveal the extent of the show so as to whet the appetite of the readers but i can say that this weekend is the national carnival fesitval a full week before the real carnival. 50,000 people come from all over Haiti to Jacmel for their carnival as it is usually the best and Patrick and Kates show will be the event that kicks it all off. Very exciting.
As for our plans in the future, Geert and I are meeting with the mayor and his wife tomorrow and on Thursday I plan to go into Port-Au-Prince and meet with Dick to explore that city. More poverty awaits me there but hopefully more intrigue and adventure. Again I am very excited.
After Carnival this weekend, we hope to sail with our friends to Ile la Vache and Les Cayes and explore the hundreds of bays and islands that are scattered along the southwestern coast of Haiti. We will then return in time for the next and more regular carnival that precedes lent.
We have adventures ahead of us that will hopefully trump those we have left behind. Haiti was one of our main destinations and there is certainly a sense that we have finally arrived and can begin to really explore. For Geert, hopefully the boat can avoid any more trouble and he can get to work on his stories. As for me I am off to do some manual labor and paint. I havent found what im looking for just yet ( im not even sure I know what im looking for) but here in Jacmel i definitely feel one step closer. Till next time....