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Monday, January 12, 2015

Bienvenue a Haiti!

It is our third day in Haiti, Sunday. We flew down from Boston Friday before dawn, landing briefly in Miami, then on to Port au Prince. It is always a strange transition, going from a cold place to warm, from frost to palm trees. It leaves me with an odd feeling of dislocation, a dream like sense of altered reality.
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We have rented a house about 10 miles east of the town of Jacmel, itself about 60 miles from Port au Prince, the capital. We found the house on Homeaway, which we have used before. We chose the Jacmel area because it is on the ocean, and because it is described as the arts capital of Haiti. There are, apparently, many crafs tpeople there.  We drove thru briefly on Friday, on our way here, stopping at a supermarket for provisions - peanut butter, jelly, saltines, cheese, potato chips, rum.  We knew that the caretaker here, Jeancene(ie. Johnson) would provide us with breakfast, and other meals too if we wished.

We knew from the photos that the house was sparsely furnished, and that was fine. We generally prefer rustic to elegant. There are four bedrooms here, and just the two of us. If we were indeed the ten the owner said the house can hold, we might have been hard put to find cookware, cutlery, glasses, etc for all. We were actually somewhat hard put to find enough for two. There's a pot, a pan, one mug, several glasses, enough silverware for perhaps three.

We didn't know there wouldn't be electricity, but that is mostly okay, too. We have spent plenty of time, in a variety of places, without it. Many years camping at Ladd Pond in Maine, our sojourns on a pretty much uninhabited island in the Bahamas, etc. The one thing I missed most there, in the Bahamas some 40 years ago, is the same thing I miss here, which is something cold to drink. In the Bahamas it was a  great joy to have an iced drink on our once weekly trips by boat into town.  There is a generator here, which Jeancene has run a few hours at night, not enough to keep a drink chilled. But we are fine without electric lights.

Our house here is owned by a Haitian American who lives in New York. I am not sure how frequently he is here, or how long ago he left Haiti. He lives, oddly enough, very close to my mother in New York, knows exactly where her assisted living facility is. That came up when he told me he lived in NY, and I told him I'd grown up in the Bronx.

The house is huge. There is a second floor with living room, kitchen, and bedrooms, and a third floor with living room and bedrooms and a lagre balcony overlooking the ocean.  We are primarily using the third floor, plus the kitchen to heat water for breakfast. There is also a large rooftop balcony which we haven't yet used and probably won't, since the one on the third floor is just as nice.
The breakfast Jeancene has served us is largely fruit. Bananas, tiny, drier, yellower than the ones we have at home, and mangoes, oranges that look like large lemons, and mandarines, small oranges, and larger oranges which are green skinned.  This morning he brought us coconuts to drink. There are also eggs, and the pb, j, and crackers that we brought. We've been eating breakfast plus one meal out, which seems to suffice.

Jeancene is very solicitous, almost too much so. He makes the bed every morning, and we think he's changed the sheets both days too. The first day he seemed to want to accompany us everywhere, to make sure we were okay, I guess. Oddly, he speaks some Spanish but no French. I can only guess he's spent some time in the DR.

Yesterday we walked west along the road, stopping to take photos and once for a swim.  The beaches all along the way are rocky, so no place nice to sit and relax for a while, the only dissappontment so far. Today we walked east a similar distance. The houses along the way are a mix of tiny shacks, some very colorfully painted, and half built houses on a scale similar to ours here. Very few of the large houses seem inhabited or completed.  It seems that most are post-earthquake construction. But it is not clear if construction is continuing.

We came across several hotel-restaurants.  One, fancier than the rest, was owned by a Swiss German man with whom we spoke for a while. There were no customers there. He said it was particularly quiet this weekend. probably because of the demonstrations in PP and along the highway. He was surprised we weren't aware of them.  We saw no evidence of any protests ( we didn't find out what they were protesting, the government, I assume.) Hopefully no one at home had heard about them either, or were worrying about us. We had told them we'd be out of internet contact for at least the first few days.

Mr. Lehrman showed us a room, quite nice. The grounds were pleasant and there were two
s wimming pools. He said his hotel wasn't one of the $60 ones, that the rates were from $100 to $140, but negotiable if one stayed a while. He said that a group had been there last week for 9 days. He told us that he was building a house behind the hotel for several children of two families whose mothers had died, who still had their fathers but who weren't able to care for them.

Another small hotel had little cabana rooms right on the beach. Nice but very rustic. Even those were $70.  Mr. Lehrman said people expected things in Haiti to be cheaper than they were, they didn't realize how expensive everything was, like food. He also said that people asked him many times why he chose to leave Switzerland for Haiti. He answers that there is no adventure in Switzerland, whereas in Haiti everything is an adventure.

Tomorrow we will head into Jacmel for the day.  We've considered even staying overnight if it seems like there is a lot we want to do there.  In any case, we will visit the Hotel Florita.  I spoke to the manager of the hotel from home, and had him arrange for transportation for us from the airport to here. The hotel was destroyed in the earthquake, but has been completely rebuilt. It is a 19th century building, one of many with wrought iron balconies reminiscent of New Orleans that were originally built for coffee plantation owners. There are pictures of the devastation on their website. They wanted to show how committed they were to rebuilding.

Tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of the earthquake. I wonder if there will be any visible acknowledgement, in Jacmel or in Port au Prince.

It is about a month before Kanaval, as they spell it here. Jacmel's is supposed to be even better than Port au Prince. They have moved it up a week earlier than PP's, so they don't compete. I am hoping that there are workshops we can stop in at where they are making the masks and floats. We stumbled upon one once, in Trinidad, but were quickly shooed out when they saw us, because the crews and their designs are quite competitive.

More to come, when we find internet.

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