By Cricket Dotson, V Form
Today we woke up and had a breakfast of plantains, toast, peanut butter, and an assortment of juices. We could already feel the sun’s hot rays as we brought our bags outside of the house. It was a peaceful morning. I braided Elise, Lindsey, and Kerrie’s hair. We could hear the occasional motorcycle zooming by playing joyful music and see the children filing into their morning classes in their crisp and startlingly clean uniforms. We could hear the gentle murmur of the children talking in their classrooms and the banter between Mimi and (I forget her name) as they cleaned our dishes from that morning. A few of the older school kids, who were our age, were lounging on the swing set in the driveway, chatting and laughing. Elise, Lindsey, Henry, and Mr. Umiker were sitting in the cool shade, relaxing and reading. After I finished braiding Kerrie’s hair, she went over to Will Stack and Jack, who were playing cards, and joined their game. Will Allen was sitting in the school yard, soaking in the sounds of the school day– children laughing, singing, birds chirping in the classroom. A few brave little ones walked up to him, staring at him in curiosity. They introduced themselves and sat next to him. It only took a second for them to become comfortable enough to start playing games with him. They brought with them a dirty rubber ball, which they tossed around. Their eyes lit up and they started to laugh out of pure innocence and delight with the simple game. To me, the children in Haiti were extraordinarily different from the children in America. The Haitian children were thrilled to make a new friend in Will. They would laugh at the simplest things– a rubber ball, a hand game, us, anything. We never saw a Haitian child complain to their parents or throw a tantrum when they saw that someone else had something that they wanted. American children, however, usually throw many tantrums when something does not go their way. Haitian children would not hesitate to hold each other’s hand, or walk up to us and hold our hands, jump on our backs, or pull on our arms. It was in the cultural norms of the Haitian children to touch other people as a sign of affection. In America, that is something that you do not usually see children do. Some girls may hold hands with their best friends, but other than that, touching is not a normal thing to do–there is a barrier. I was continuously astonished by the difference between the Haitian children and American children. Jack, Kerrie, and Will Stack went over to join in the fun that Will Allen was having with the kids. The sun continued to creep up higher and higher in the sky, and it got hotter and hotter as we continued to wait for the cars to take us to Port-Au-Prince. We heard the horn of the van outside the gates of Pere Reginald’s house. It was Charlie, the national police officer coming to pick us up. We loaded up our things into the car. The Wills, Jack, and Kerrie tore themselves away from the children’s shining faces. I handed over the letter that we all wrote to Steven and Jetsen, some of our favorite children in the neighborhood, to Pere Reginald. Just before I head into the car, I caught a glimpse of the drawings that Steven and I drew together the night before in the coating of dust on the car–balloons, leaves, and faces. My heart already ached with the thought that I would not be seeing the children for a long time.
The car was air conditioned and cold as we drove through the rugged roads of the neighborhood. Elise’s knuckles were white as she concentrated every fiber of her being on following the car in front of us at all costs. We watched quietly as we rolled past women carrying enormous amounts of goods on their heads, lambs tied to dilapidated goals, scrawny dogs scavenging for food among the rubble that cluttered the sides of the roads, men lounging outside their houses listening to music, and children in their uniforms walking to school holding hands. As we neared Port-Au-Prince our surroundings changed, we saw beautifully painted tap-tap’s full of people chatting zoom past us, motorcycles weaving in and out of the stream of vehicles in the road, old school busses from Florida being used to transport supplies, people walking through traffic with things on their head which they were trying to sell, people sitting under the shade of tattered beach umbrellas on the sidewalk, tables of clothes for sale, stacks of tires for sale, and so many other things. Eventually, the car pulled over, and we got out to have a bite to eat.
The restaurant was quiet, as it was already mid-afternoon. A few people sat around a small table, chatting casually. We seated ourselves in the corner, next to the window. The kids sat at one table, the adults sat at another. A waitress handed out menus to everybody. The menus were all in French. Only one person at our table spoke French, Will Stack. He had to translate the entire menu to us multiple times. He had become accustomed to being the translator for the kids at this point. While we waited for our food to come, we played some cards. They fluttered a bit as the ceiling fans whirled above our heads. A few people passing by outside stared at us, which we had also become accustomed to, because we stuck out like sore thumbs. One man, holding an assortment of artwork stared at us, trying to get our attention. He wanted us to buy his artwork, however we couldn’t. He continued to stare at us intently, eventually losing hope, and walking away.
Every meal had fried plantains with it, along with a type of salad which resembled spicy cole slaw, which reminded me of New Orleans. The food was delicious. Kerrie and I ordered pineapple juice, which was fresh and homemade. We both loved the sweet cool taste of the juice, which went well with the spicy salad. When we were finished eating, we filed back into the car. Steven and I’s balloon drawings were already fading.
The drive from the restaurant to the hotel was pretty short. Our eyes opened wide as we pulled up to the hotel. An extravagant staircase led up to a beautiful porch filled with little round dining tables. The porch wrapped all the way around the hotel. From the porch we had a stunning view of the thousands of colorful buildings packed together, with steep mountains watching over them. A few palm trees cast shade on the pebbled driveway. Next to the hotel was a gazebo shaped structure, which is where we checked in. Lining the pathway to the gazebo were fascinating voodoo statues. They were composed of things which we would think of as junk, but when put together, they were something beautiful. Inside of the hotel, there was a large face of rock which was covered in a vibrant mural. There were many things painted in the mural most of which were women walking with baskets on their heads.
We dropped our things off in our rooms. There was one room for the boys, one room for Kerrie and I, and one room for Elise and Lindsey. My room was very light and airy, painted white with two doors leading to the porch outside. There was a toilet which flushed, a faucet with running water, and a shower; all of which seemed unreal to me. I found myself shocked at how much treated clean water there was, as accessible as simply turning the faucet. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by all of that clean water. The boys’ room was larger, and just as bright, with lots of late afternoon sun filtering through the porch glass doors. Their porch was extensive, with a bed (covered with a bug net), a card table, and chairs for lounging.
After exploring each other’s rooms, we filed back into the car and headed to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Haiti to give our shot at some bargaining. We hopped out of the car at a street crammed with vendors, lots of lively chatter, and people milling around the tables. All of the art was cheery and colorful, just like the streets and cars in Haiti. Kerrie and I were glued together, as people came up to us, rapidly talking up their artwork and naming prices. All of the vendors spoke very good English, which made the bargaining easier. However, Kerrie and I struggled with bringing prices down because we wanted to give everybody every penny we had. We ended up not bringing prices down that much on purpose, because we did not have the heart to slim the prices down too much. We were perfectly fine with buying an overpriced piece of art from the Haitians. The others in the group did not share the same state of mind however. Will Stack stuck out as a relentless bargainer, which I was really impressed with. He was not phased by the large amounts of people coming up to him and persistently trying to get him interested in the art. He managed to get some prices down almost $50 dollars from the original price! At some points, Kerrie and I went to him and Will Allen for their bargaining skills. When we finished our shopping experience, with our arms full of art, we marched back to the car. The sun’s last rays were touching the almost completely faded finger drawings of balloons on our car from the night before.
We ate dinner at the hotel that night with Reginald and many police officers. We sat at the table for more than 2 hours, just enjoying each other’s company and conversation. The conversation never ceased. I loved learning all about everybody’s lives and pasts. After dinner, we retreated to our rooms. After a few minutes, Kerrie and I went over to the boy’s porch. We all laid on the screened bed, joking around, half asleep, and taking videos. Henry gave his birthday cake to Kerrie and I, which we were most happy about. Even though Kerrie and I wanted to sleep on the porch that night, the boys had claimed it as their own, so we went back to our room around midnight. We wanted to eat that birthday cake though, so we went down to the deserted dining room and found a couple forks to use. Kerrie and I ate the cake and reflected on the trip in our room. We were both heartbroken by the thought that we would be leaving in a few hours. We tried not to think about it as we joked the night away.
We went to sleep that night to the sound of crickets chirping outside the porch, and some Haitian music playing on a radio on the street next to the hotel. It was an amazing day. Every day in Haiti had felt like a lifetime. Each day I became closer with everyone in the group, which made the trip even more of an incredible experience. Everyday, my perspective of the world broadened, empathy expanded, and heart swelled. I have never laughed more in my life. It seemed as though every other sentence, I would toss my head back in carefree laughter. If I could capture the trip, or even one moment I experienced, in words, then a little of the Haiti magic could touch those who were not fortunate enough to have this experience. I hope that a little of that magic has been captured here.