Tuesday, 28 January 2014

painting rocks . .

Haiti is in the dry season at the moment.  So it's typically hot and arid, and hasn't rained for months.  There have been a few brief showers - one or two at night, that have reverberated on the tent walls - which have only lasted for a minute or two but that's all.  No real rainfall so the ground is hard and parched.  I was here in the rainy season once and it's common for dramatic bursts of rainfall several times a day - even during this time of year the ground can't cope with the sudden and torrential downpours and the streets turn to rivers of mud, rippling currents, carrying rubbish and anything else in its path.

The mosquitoes are out in abundance then too.  Breeding and biting.

January is the best month to be here to avoid the extreme heat of Summer and the biting mosquitoes.  The temperatures now are between 25°C - 32°C, dropping to about 20°C at night.

Earlier today the thick cloud seemed to promise heavy rain.  It was cooler.  And when a smattering of rain did come it didn't last long.

I realised today how nice it is to have a break from the constant flow of noise; my own mother tongue and the relentless sea of words and sound bites - which are normally a constant, so pervasive, and is hardly noticed until it has suddenly be silenced.  It has now been replaced with French that I hardly understand and yet the sounds and vowels aren't so alien to me after all.  I had French lessons from the age of about six yet it didn't stick.  I have French words in my vocabulary that I didn't know I had, like sacre coeur, notre dame, gauche and chauffeur.  I'm shrouded here in a kind of muffled, partial deafness.  Even at meal times as the constant, albeit pleasant, chatter bounces around the taverna walls I can opt out and wallow under the surface of the strings of vowels and semi-vowels that flow and undulate just above the crowded table top of soups and powders, crockery and elbows . . . punctuated with the international noises of approval.  Most of the sounds can't be decoded anyway so I let them pass me by dissolving and fading. Firing from mouths and rolling off tongues, if I do listen I'm left interpreting gist and mood from volume and cadence.  Often getting it wrong - someone sounds angry but then a final smirk and laughter from another betrays the playful bickering and the friendly jousting.

I'm left listening to the patterns of song, nasal interjections and throaty banter.  Processing the sing-song melodies of communication without the code to make sense of it all.  I feel so comfortable here, so relaxed at that table that it's heavenly to feel so accepted without needing to keep up and speak up.  I'm a mute member of the family - enjoying my food and accepting the extra helpings that the sisters take in turns to dish out.  Washing up and placing back on the table in complex configurations is fun too.

The singing in the church, too, is similarly emollient at 5am or 5pm.  The French is foreign yet the hymns they sing are immediately recognized but unknown.  Mass is understood and followed fairly precisely because of my own indelible mental map of the precise order I hear every day at home.  Each word or phrase can't be registered with the English words I know so well but there is an approximate registration that tells me where we are in my cognitive sequence and map of the Mass.  Precisely the same moments of extreme reverence, sorrow, hope and gratefulnesses that the Mass inspires are repeated now as I witness this great Sacrament translated in French.  It might easily be Creole or Swahili but French as it happens is beautiful and intrinsic.

There are few barriers where you might expect them.  And words of wisdom and gestures of kindness are in abundance: just when I least expected an easy time; prepared myself for a terrible ordeal of discomforts and hostility, as a reasonable cost of carrying and delivering to a hard place: this instead.  Still prepared for challenges and adversity; I wonder if this is some good fortune before bad . . or will we simply get things done and sail homewards, swiftly.  I hope so.

Monday, 27 January 2014

after the earthquake, wind, and fire

For a moment the sun pauses on its arc across the sky; the heat is still searing but there's an imaginary pause all the same. The leaves, like palms outstretched in the light, listen too.  Clouds, continents in oceans of enamel blue - grand and morphing inventively, shifting shapes of symmetry - slows to still.  All these speak of His greatness.  There is Spirit.  Not one entity but a Spirit complicit in all.  The tiniest to the greatest.  A greatness pervading the least likely, the least expected, the least deserving.  A tiny germ vital to the greatest construct. A still, small voice of calm . .

We must be at the mid-way point now, half way through the trip - at least in terms of days.  Though productivity is not a constant; and we will achieve more as our departure nears.  The milestones of time I have plotted out are the 1st of the month (this coming Saturday - pretty random but feels significant), the tenth (around the time the container arrives at PAP from Miami), then, say, the 20th that gives time for potential haggling at the port to get the thing through with as little aggravation, and with the lowest costs, as possible.  Then on the 24th we take a bus to the Dominican Republic with, hopefully, every loose end tied and every challenge resolved as fairly as possible.  I have to say, I am looking forward to reaching this point: when we've resolved all, or most, of the objectives and can leave with a small bag of essentials and make our way home.

Right now I feel uneasy about the length of time we are grazing here - almost three weeks so far, and although it still feels like paradise, there's a kind of conditional joy attached to these comforts, that linger amidst the well-being and contentment, but they are my own imagined issues, I'm sure . . taking so much from the sisters causes me some guilt, its a kind of repressed state of being that lingers in the background - I want to give to them (and although we have determined between us to make a significant contribution to some of their projects) - their giving, and in abundance, is quite magnificent . . . and we're 'taking' it all: their privacy, their food and sharing in their community whilst they give it all freely I feel somehow in the way.  Of course, I realise that these concerns are self-made and we are helping the children in their care.  But I don't see that as any justification, but they give as freely as we are giving, admittedly, and this makes it an acceptable collaboration, I suppose.  There's an unhurried pace to life in the convent and the nuns are so kind and welcoming.  We are with them for three meals a day - unless we are out on the road - which from the start I have been trying to ease back from because I was worried it might be too much for them.  And yet I can see it must be my awkwardness in receiving so much kindness from relative strangers.  I have spoke to some of the nuns, and Gisele, in particular, and she is adamant that we are no trouble and that in fact the sisters feel we are the ones giving.  One couldn't buy this experience and we have got to know all the nuns that live in the guest house, about a dozen sisters.  And much to my shame, and to make matters worse in a way, we haven't been all that specific about when we are leaving.  The head sister has been unbelievably generous insisting we stay as long as we like.  And granted, she knows that the container has suffered from delays in getting here - and that originally our departure date was the 29th of January.  So there we are!

We retire early at night and we make as little disruption as possible and try to relax and enjoy the gift that the sisters are giving us so freely.  Darren and I were painting rocks today with one of the sisters . . honestly, it feels more like convalescence than any form of work.  But we accept it when things are slow and we try to be patient while we wait for things to arrive or take shape.  Sister Gisele is a delight - she painted a beautiful palm tree on the face of a smooth pebble.  We had something else planned for the first half of the day but things changed at the last moment.

At night - particularly those close to the weekend - there's loud music coming from the main road.  A loud DJ, music and bottles clashing.  It's hard sometimes to sleep with the sweltering heat, the hard ground, the competing animals barking and calling together with the mesmeric chorus of grasshoppers . . but one does block-out that nocturnal cacophony in-time as fatigue envelops the din and one soon wallows asleep.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

around camp

Adoration . .

Darren's gone into town with two escorts to research a few things.  I've chosen instead to remain here at the convent where it's relatively quiet and peaceful.  My body feels a bit hammered today, fragile after the 5-mile hike yesterday around, up and down Petionville.  The sun is fierce so I'm in the shade.

As mass ended a Florence bell rang out from the darkness.  It was somehow comforting to think of a Tuscan haze, terracotta and cold beer.  It was coming from a solitary church some way off, amidst shanty and rubble. Over there the camp fires heat breakfast.  Parents ready their children for school and themselves for work.  Riding tap-tap or taksi.

In the church there's Exposition all day.  Long lines of children make there way from the school below into the church for a few minutes of fidgety contemplation.  I can hear them sing.

Back home this heat would be the height of Summer.  The view from the wall reminds me of a London park.  The sun is intense, and quickly burns - although this can be deceiving and one can easily sit too long in the brain-washing heat.  Shadows fall across swept paths and parched grass.  The contrast is complete.  The riot of colour invites me never to leave.

On the narrow path besides the wall there is a steady of flow of traffic.  Cars ferry sisters to work.  Open trucks laden with water for thirsty plants and blossoming flowers.  An elderly sister, I know from mealtimes, walks hurriedly passed on some mission.  She announces, "Adoration . ."  She's just come from the church.  She annunciates the French vowels beautifully with a broad smile. Prayers prompting some urgent fiat. And tired, too, in the mid-day sun.

The sky is baby blue.  Growing lighter just above the rooftops. A sharp blue.  The children can be heard playing out during their break, the generator keeps the power on, the trees stir, too, heralding the breeze.

I shared a few more precious moments with Sister Gisele.  Sitting by the door.  She speaks softly, her French lovingly articulated; we chatted about the Annunciation - I guessed rightly that the word might be the same in French.  Though her pronunciation gave the word much more opulence.   She showed me the picture from her wall.  A faded monochrome print - redrawn in parts by her own hand, but clearly the Annunciation.  Mary holds her heart.  Gabriel elucidates unambiguously.  Few words were needed between us - despite our limited communication, we could still convey our appreciation of this event  - we each love the poignancy of this magnificent occasion.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

middle of the night

Day 14: I can hardly believe it.

I'm up at 4.30am which for most of us is the middle of the night.

It's a bit of a struggle dressing whilst contorted in a limited space, like being below deck, with my back taking a few seconds more to adjust after a night's sleep on the hard ground.  But within minutes all is well and I take the short walk over to the convent for a freezing shower, a cold shave and clean clothes.  My head full of the dreams of the night before only add to the surreal stupor I'm in at this hour.  Then into the church where the sisters are gathering for their morning prayers.  I follow their lead in standing and sitting through alternating psalms in a sleepy haze.  They sing with such fidelity - their demeanour is serene - voices sharp and arresting.  Through the open window the hill still sleeps.  The church is dimly lit and has a comforting, prayerful ambience that offers the best antidote for a rude awakening.

Darren and I have a great routine going.  I return the key the usual spot and he gets up soon after.  We compliment each other quite well - and work great as a team.  It was quite random how we came together to share this adventure - or so we think - yet, we also acknowledge that other higher things are at work too.  And by our own strength we are nothing.

After prayers we sit and breathe in the soft electric light.  The arrival of the priest is signalled by headlights and a noisy diesel engine . . then he sweeps through to the sacristy - its early for him too.  The mass is swift and in French.  I can easily keep pace of the order but certain sitting and standing is out of the sync with the ebb and flow of the English Mass.  It's wonderful all the same.

After breakfast I'm standing on the edge of the road watching thick traffic and waiting for Jude.  We agreed 7.30am.  But I didn't hear back from my text yesterday checking if we were all the set for today.  I met Jude two years ago, he's the proprietor of a guest-house in downtown Port-au-Prince (PAP).  Delmas is a busy, run-down district close to the airport.  His house is large with balconies and balustrades, tiled floors and ceiling fans with no shortage of plasma screens and wifi.  The house completely survived the earthquake, Jude was out in his car at the time.  He's a rich bloke by Haitian standards.   His dad lives in very different surroundings, an hour north of PAP and runs an orphanage which we were due to visit today.  After some time, while I was standing watching the road, Jude cancelled by phone - Friday instead.  The orphanage is a desperately poor place - you'd think they'd receive plenty of help from other quarters but sadly not.  And so regardless of the reasons or criticisms I recognised their need and wanted to help somehow.  There are about 25 children there, situated in Arcahaie, mainly boys; rough and resilient.  And ever since my first visit two years ago I've wanted to try and help bring some stuff for them - especially play equipment for the boys.  There's a huge climbing frame in the container for them and a few beds.

While watching the morning rush I was impressed by the smiles from everyone - the warm summer stream of bodies and buses.  Bikes arriving and braking, immaculately dressed children sandwiched between driver and parent.  The innocence of it all . . and the parent's strict determination to get the child through the gate in time.  And the child, with sleepy complacence, oblivious to it all.

Monday, 20 January 2014

many parts

Looking forward, looking back; the gap is narrowing and I am getting closer to being in the moment without the burdens of what and when and why.

However, two weeks ago I left my little, honest market town of Otley embarking on the final stages of this complicated and protracted endeavour.  The idea was born on my last visit but has been achieved by the cooperation of hundreds of people who shared the responsibility of these aims: to assist the people of Haiti with a few material goods to help them in their time of serious need.

Beds, play equipment, shoes and clothes, food, tools, computers and phones.  Some items inspired more giving than others.  Laptops are interesting, for example.  I have seen with certainty that the youngsters need them - like phones - but our perceptions of poverty make clothes and shoes and food more important than computers - but I know the kids need them like MP3s and smart phones - but we question this need.  One lovely old sister here endorsed shoes as her particular plea.  These do capture peoples sense of a very legitimate need - how can they lack something we all take so much for granted! . . . and I immediately wanted to bring these from home more than anything, though we didn't raise nearly as many as I was desperate for.

Giving at this end is quite hazardous as I have mentioned.  Adults are sometimes insulted or undermined by too much free help.  They can feel stubbornly embarrassed by handouts preferring the independence of self-determination by their own merit . . .   It's quite reasonable, the ego is made up of a complex package of self-worth, knowledge of weaknesses and strengths.  Also, measures of justice and merit, righteousness and altruism.  The ego drives personal ambition and sacrifice.  And possibly in an inconsistent way but hopefully evolving for the better of others in time and with wisdom.

And so the endeavour has been made possible on so many levels by so many willing to share the goals without personal gain or self-interest.  My own involvement was exposed and apparent, whereas many gave and sacrificed for the success of the project quietly and discretely.  A few resolved issues of great importance.  And many made small sacrifices that were vital too for the overall success.  Resulting in a 'whole' that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Team work has many fruits and many constraints but again the outcome is far better as a consequence of a joint effort with each offering unique strengths.  Interestingly, there always seemed to be some gravitational pull preventing us from succeeding.  Was this the enemy?  The final hurdle might be getting the container through customs - I've heard it can take up to a year in the worst cases.  I felt a huge release when we arrived in the grounds of this convent - it felt like suddenly the great resistance that had been pulling on us for two years was broken.  The long journey of team work requires so many compromises, concessions and flexibility to hold it together for the overall mission.  Knowing when to yield and when to intervene is a fragile occupation too.  The tireless efforts of others can be overlooked or taken for granted.  Some have just a little to offer - some carry the success of the project in one finite act that only they can give.  Building on these successes, learning from the set-backs and triumphs graciously - selflessly, and all importantly, keeping in mind the help we want to give others less fortunate than ourselves.  Each stage of life's journey contributes to the next.  Disparate concerns running through your life - whether they are many or few - are still made up of stages, improving in time one's sense of caring more for others than for ourselves.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

highway to Les Cayes

With each day I seem to understand a little more about this place and the people who roam the main street.  The nuns continue to amaze us with their absolute generosity and hospitality.  And as we relax more and more into this culture of the strange and beautiful; the eye-watering colours of day and the piercing house lights on the hill calling us from the ink black night; all we see and hear are holding us, changing us and keeping us captive.

The sun is burning but we are settling into a very different climate to home and my heart swells when I count the days we still have to enjoy all of this.  Thirty-six days, but I know I shouldn't be counting.  There are still echoes of concern and worry fading from my mind; vestiges of my impending visit which promised all the discomforts I experienced three times before.  And the risks that rarely bear out.  But one never can tell.  We try to anticipate, as part of the human condition - but I couldn't have anticipated this unique ambiance.  I could never have predicted such beautiful surroundings.  Haiti has improved too, certainty; still shocking and feral - all that we see seems inadequate.  And the corruption, that is worth trying to change - but most of the complexion, the interaction, the messy street life and the gritty character seen everywhere seems acceptable and indigenous.  It belongs and there is no reason to want this to end.

Yesterday I noticed the national palace had been completely removed.  The pictures of a collapsed white dome featuring repeatedly on the BBC and in the press days and months after the earthquake.  Now, its absence speaks of recovery - albeit slow and frustrated.

Saturday - yesterday - was earmarked by Sister Evelyn and me as an acceptable day to start the mural at the school.  She thought it would be better to start on a day when there wouldn't be the 700 children in noisy attendance . . I didn't mind this, and actually think it would be a novelty for them.  I was reluctant about this day for her sake, much more because it was her day off as the head of the school.  She's a wonderful person and perfect for her job. Her explosive effervescence, sing-song voice and broad smile are all in evidence in the character of the school.  The children are all a bit wild and free-spirited - and the potential of an over-bearing discipline is replaced by freedom and self-expression, much better for a school, I think.  Though there's a place for the other kind too.

The day was earmarked too by Sister Marie-Carmel for a trip to Cavaillon and one of the orphanages there.  Something had to give, and there is plenty of time for both so we opted for the road trip.

They have a new 4X4 that speeds along the Caribbean highway - a straight, tree-lined freeway skirting the coast westwards, moderately busy with trucks, buses and bikes.  We passed through many small towns and settlements, where vehicles are slowed to a crawl making way for the crowds of shoppers and sellers. Containers double as stores and shop fronts.  Painted in dark colours or left to rust.  And signed with bright letters of yellow and orange.  When the car slows hoards of sellers swarm to the open window: cakes, mangos, bananas, bread, up-turned live chickens, phone charges and windscreen wipers.  We buy something then we're off again.  Through tropical trees, bends in the roads, rough and smooth, skirting the rocky beach and white surf then under trees again and mottled shards of light and stark shadows.  We moved with great speed with nothing in our way.  The views of the sea mirroring those we watched passively from the first bus in DR as we entered Santo Domingo.

The children in the orphanage were excited and welcoming.  They live in basic surroundings but one can see that they are well cared for and safe.  To see see their joy and unconditional love was quite unique.  We'll visit again after the container arrives.

Friday, 17 January 2014

over the wall

I prepared for months for this trip.

Many more gave time, money, vocal support, a listening ear, advice and prayers (prayers most important of all as it happens) to get us here now.  And to arrange that twenty foot box full of random stuff that will hopefully make a difference somewhere.  I was almost spent before I got here.  With packed bags the money was absurdly inadequate given the cost of this sleepless city.  How can a shoddy hotel room with very basic facilities cost a minimum of $70 or $80 a night?  Many American aid workers come here on full expenses might be part of the answer, as well as an over exuberant business mentality that is everywhere from the sugar cane seller to the hotelier.  But that's just part of it - the discomfort, the pain comes to mind first.  But there's also the joy, the joy which exceeds many of the experiences I have ever had.  I prepared myself for a difficult trip - for two years.  And now I am here I am shocked by the good fortune that has washed in around us - yes, the suffering and poverty and filth is still in abundance - but we are living in exclusive comfort in the convent.  And I feel guilty most of the time that this is not what I prepared myself for - I am secure and comfortable, yes -  but it's still unfair given what exists out there, over the wall!

This is where many fell.  But without doubt the people seem stronger than before.  My last visit was two years ago.  There was residual rubble and occasional scars from the earthquake were still visible in places.  Most of the blue plastic sheets for roofs had been cleared and sheltering frightened people coerced to move elsewhere out of sight.  Or told to return to their precariously built houses and repair them.  Perhaps help was available to them in various forms and the road to recovery - at least to a level pre-quake - was slow and frustrating.  Life certainly has its struggles - life here certainly has a dark side.  But they all shine too with a boundless brilliance. Every moment I spend here it changes who I am.  Get close enough to experience the Haitian temperament, their soul, the love and laughter they give freely . .  their smile shining freely and generously.

The president is doing a good job - he is a good man - one of the sisters tells me with a calm conviction . . " . I pray for him!" Sister Gisele disclosed, as we chatted, mixing colours together on the convent rooftop, painting the mountain.  The summit, way up high in the bleaching renewing sun! A summit way too far to reach.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

garden of dreams

The mess

Mid afternoon I travelled by car to the food store - driven there by some of the workers at the convent.  Safe in the front seat and everything in full view.  It's always a great experience travelling through the streets in congestion like you've never seen in Britain.  The streets are chocker.  Walking is quicker, though hazardous, on foot you're vulnerable, and you need to be acutely aware of all that is going on around you, whereas in car you are cocooned and it's safe to watch in wonder taking in the full panorama.   Cars, vans, pick-ups in all conditions and hoards of people too line these streets selling, buying and weaving through one another.  The colours mixed with grime and rubbish are mesmeric and kaleidoscopic.  One scene morphs in to another, shapes overlap, entwined and underpinned, people and bikes and barrows weaving rapidly through unfolding scenes of chaos and heat  - these are the world's poor but they have as much pride and dignity as anyone regardless of what they lack.  As I become more and more familiar with this place I am less shocked by the obvious disparity between here and home.  I am desperate to appreciate what I know to be true, and know is hidden from first sight; they grapple with such poverty with the greatest resilience and acceptance.  Of course all of them hate the discomfort, the injustice of poverty - and they know it what they lack and know what they have lost as a nation - but there is an acceptance and a peace also, and their great character shines through the grime and the squalor and the pain of it all.  Adversity has this effect on human nature - and extreme conditions bring people together with welded solidarity.  Patience must prevail in these circumstances otherwise the misery becomes overpowering and all-consuming - and might finish you off.  This must be true for all kinds of suffering - it requires a positive response.  Of course it hurts.  But to see that all is not lost and that endurance must prevail for the immediate is a survival instinct.  And there must always be hope, whatever we are faced with.  A knowledge or belief that things will get better - however long it takes.

beautiful Haiti

Monday, 13 January 2014

God’s mountain

The highest hill in Petionville fills the sky and greets us each morning - it's been here forever and has seen so much.  Solid earth – with some patches of scree and full, full of houses embedded in the earth, houses that might slide away at the slightest tremor if it were not for the massive, stolid determination I can see now.  The highest hill - protective and overwhelming - stretches one way undulating from the peak at roughly the same soaring altitude eastwards.  And west, it plummets down to earth in full view.  Gollum might have been here.  And the Mines of Moria beneath.   There’s a clean descent westwards interrupted only by a few solitary trees breaking an otherwise solid blue sky.  The colours tessellate like ceramic tiles, azure joins earth.
It’s more than a hill to the ten thousand families here.  And to anyone that can see it: it’s God’s mountain – because these souls that live here so simply – perched incorrigibly - have more than you can imagine.

Each home has grey breeze-block walls and fifteen feet of real estate.  In daylight and from a distance the windows are black pin holes and at night pierce one’s soul like a hundred Jerusalem stars.  It breathes at night.  And accommodates the camp fires providing supper and supports the sleep of tired workers on a few dollars a day.

In the daytime, the cool concrete is somehow camouflaged with subtle colours, faded, though still hewn out of the bed rock of Port-au-Prince.

On this trip I can see Haiti is happy again – though I’ve only known her a short while – when I first saw her she was sick.  Now she is standing and singing with full voice.

Haiti really is happy again – I can see it in the hilltop houses. In the streets of vibrant colour, determination and patience!

Don’t want for anything, Haiti! Then you won’t feel the world’s indifference.

Saturday, 11 January 2014


The best away to start any day is Mass, and Mass with a devoted community is all the more striking.  The trade off with morning prayer and mass at five is bed at 8.40pm which isn't that good for my travel buddy.  It's pitch dark then, the sun hasn't risen and the compelling hillside that is in full view is decorated with bright lights of yellow and gold.  In the convent there are about twenty novices and about twenty experienced nuns.  They are the Sisters of the Poor of St Hyacinthe and being here now, if only for a short visit, is absolutely serene.  I’ve met the sisters before – this is my fourth visit to Haiti – but each time the relationships becomes stronger, I am compelled to help in some naive way and  worry about being in the way, as they include us in their private meals and welcome us with such love and affection.  Today I had a chance to paint – some of the hills of Petionville . . and my first painting from life – extraordinary, given how long I’ve been painting.  I hate to think that I've restricted myself to painting from photographs for so long, and not broadening my experience a little more.  One of the sisters sat with me and we agreed we’d each make a painting and then exchange them at the end for keeps.

The heat is constant and brilliant.  The sky is enamel blue.  I saw one tiny cloud today that remained at the base of the hill all afternoon.  There is a breeze, this stirs the trees and it’s like paradise.   The suffering each year as a direct consequence of the earthquake is receding.  Or so it seems.  We are, admittedly, cocooned in the grounds of the convent in Petionville with its security and high walls.  It’s a beautiful garden and the streets that surround us are mental.  Not so much traffic noise in fact.  And the cockerels compete with one another all day.  I heard them start at four. 

I still love the hustle and bustle – the chaos and disorder are an essential part of Haiti’s energy and drive.  The bubbling and the thriving energy on the streets is like Manhattan, there’s the same relentless surge and conviction.   But in Haiti there is also a genuine spirit and endearing character that is matched nowhere else. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

buses, taxis and dollars

What a way to begin.  An early start from a strange bed, a long flight, and remunerating for eleven hours in the air on all the challenges that lie ahead.  This takes its toll and when one finally rolls off at the other end in an uncomfortable time zone and unforgiving humidity, strange swarms of baggage handlers and surly officials there’s little energy left to face the questions and the insanity of such a trip.  And yet the weird uncertainty of it all mingles with holidays makers in the same queues and palm trees.  We had fifteen bags at the journey’s start and we went from taxi to hotel, then bus and taxi then to another bus with little time to rest between each relay.  It was one surreal jolt after another.  It seemed as though there was some conspiracy against such an endeavour, everything incurred extra charges, everyone wanted to know where we were going and why, in broken or almost indecipherable noises and actions.  If we paid the asking price then things we’re done with such speed and certainty – but always the price was extortion.  Dollars streaming away, each step exceeding the mental arithmetic and the financial limits we try to set based on some rational view of what things should cost. Though glad to be through each stage.  Then passing through two borders, the first, the Dominican Republic was uneventful.  The second, the Haitian border, and we were mobbed by young men who said they’d check our immigration cards and asked for $10 entry fee, which turned out to be a scam.  Even the’ legitimate’ officials seemed to know it was going on – and as few of the officials on our bus plainly said it was wrong, they still seem complicit it in all by not speaking out against it.  It’s a fragile world this one – and rocking the boat might get you into deeper water or worse. 

And then we arrived.

Friends met us and the ordeal was over.  We were welcomed into the convent and had a great night’s sleep.  Worries washed away.  It was safe and quiet – and the one thing we wanted was possible; sleep.

view from the road

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

all set

Well, we're all set to depart from Gatwick in the morning.  Leaving behind storms across Britain which are common place in Haiti during certain times of the year.  No one really notices when the storms blow across that land.
Thirteen cases, two tents and two guys venturing forth into the unknown but ready to take what comes.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

what to expect . .

Anticipation is made up of expectation, based on what I have experienced before and expect again.  And also prediction, that something surprising and unknown will inevitably occur.