There is a Haitian proverb, Apre dans, tanbou lou— literally, ‘After the dance, the drums are heavy,’– that describes the feeling of letdown and melancholy after a big event. The drums felt heavy this week returning to Port-au-Prince after a whirlwind weekend in Pennsylvania with many of my favorite people, celebrating the wedding of my beautiful friends.
On the plane from Ft. Lauderdale I made friends with four Haitian-born American men who were seated around me. They were all functionally illiterate, and it made me so curious about the story that each of them might be able to tell me about their path to becoming American citizens. I didn’t get their stories, but I helped them fill out their customs forms and one of them gave me a pack of gum as a present!
Wednesday was the first (exhilarating/vulnerable) meeting of my new writing group, inspired by Women of Letters, a monthly performance/literary salon in Brooklyn. Our theme this month was A Letter to my Unexpected. I’m grateful for the space and the push to write! There’s something really meaningful about sitting down to make narrative sense out of my scattered thoughts.
Also on Wednesday, I went to a great free concert at the Institut Francais featuring Leyla McCalla, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Yesterday I miraculously got in to an invitation-only screening of I Am Not Your Negro followed by a Q&A with director Raoul Peck (who is Haitian). Go see this documentary if you haven’t– based on James Baldwin’s final, unfinished manuscript. It is incredibly powerful. I can’t stop thinking about it.
The flamboyant trees are still blooming! Living in a place that is painted in such vibrant color makes me deeply happy.
So even though the drums are heavy, I’m grateful for the patchwork of unexpected and thought-provoking experiences that make every day in Haiti a learning experience.
I’ve been riding moto-taxis every day this week to and from Noailles, in Croix-des-Bouquets, where I’m spending the week working with cut-metal artisans.
Motos are by far the fastest (though certainly not the safest) way to get around the narrow, transportation-challenged, blokis-clogged streets of Port-au-Prince. There is a death-defying smugness to weaving through a thicket of idling Land Cruisers, missing collisions by inches.
Alongside the adrenaline rush, I love expanding my knowledge of the PaP urban landscape, getting to know new routes and observing the rhythms of daily life:
In my opinion, Croix-des-Bouquets has the second-best painted tap-taps in the greater PaP area. My favorite is one that features a portrait of Serena Williams about to rip a backhand. I also appreciated the Legolas/Jesus piece below.
On Monday, the roadside drainage ditches (canals? open sewers?) of Croix-des-Bouquets were overflowing with plastic bottles. Disheartening, but unsurprising in a country with very limited trash disposal infrastructure. On Tuesday, backhoes and people were digging all the sludge-covered bottles and trash out of the ditches. Today, the piles of garbage sludge lined the streets. I’m curious what will happen next: if the trash will be removed, or if it will be allowed to slowly tumble back into the ditches.
On Tuesday, the road was blocked by a manifestasyon (protest) outside a high school. Students were protesting because they have no teachers: the state-funded school doesn’t have enough money to pay teacher salaries, even though students also pay to attend this public school.
I have yet to ask my moto driver to stop so I can try on a romper. I’ll keep you updated as this situation unfolds.
Every morning as we take the final turn into Noailles, I can’t help smiling as I hear the ting-ting-ting of hammers on steel, the sound of cut-metal artisans practicing their craft. More on this soon!
I’ve been playing pickup ultimate here in Port-au-Prince most Saturday afternoons. My expat friends who organize pickup also run a clinic for local kids every Sunday, and yesterday I showed up to help out and scrimmage against the older kids. It was SO fun!
It was a gorgeous, blazingly sunny day to be out on the turf. The kids, ranging in age from probably 7 to 18, warmed up & ran a couple quick drills, then we played 4 v 4 to get ready for the big scrimmage. Above: impressive mark by the kid in grey during a warmup box drill.
It’s apparent that the kids LOVE these Sunday clinics. They played with so much heart and intensity and joy. The older kids won the scrimmage against our ragtag expat team!
The girls who came out to play were far outnumbered by the boys, but these girls were fò! Fò means strong (physically, mentally, emotionally) in Kreyol– it’s one of my favorite words. After the scrimmage, I spent a long time practicing throws with the three little girls holding discs in the picture below: Sterline, Emmanuella, and Djamon. They’re wonderful and they’re going to be baller athletes.
Organized sports have always been a vital part of my life and identity. Though there are tons of kids playing pickup soccer and basketball games in streets and makeshift fields all over Haiti, it’s pretty special for these kids to have access to a space like this– a big fancy stadium where the focus is entirely on them running and playing and learning. Watching these kids yesterday, I recognized in them the same effort, striving, elation in victory and frustration in defeat that I have known, hundreds of times over, in the highs and lows of playing sports. It’s a powerful and beautiful thing to share.
I can’t wait to help out again!
P.S. Aforementioned expat friends Paul and Erin are raising some funds to keep these clinics going after they leave Haiti. Donate here if you feel moved!
My late grandfather, a prolific writer and documenter and traveler, once told me, “If you don’t know how to begin a project, find a yellow legal pad and start writing.” So here goes!
I’ve been in Haiti for six weeks now. My orientation period has been humbling, and strange, and productive.
Humbling, as I stumble through a new language and accept the hospitality of my gracious host families, who open their homes and the rhythms of their everyday life to me.
Strange, because as much as I’ve traveled, I’ve never had this kind of structured, scheduled orientation. I’m glad for the time & space to adjust, while the stubbornly independent part of me just wants to leap on the nearest tap-tap and go exploring.
Productive, because I’ve learned so much! I can have conversations in Kreyol; I can tell you something about how agroforestry techniques can mitigate the effects of climate change on small farmers; I know my way around parts of Port au Prince! I feel a little burst of joy every time I navigate a new patch of this sometimes-labyrinthine city, with its streetside merchants and steep, densely populated hillsides and abundant bougainvillea.
More to come. For now, some photos:
Flying over the Caribbean | Visiting Sokontre | Drawing with Nephta in my first host family | Walking through dry hills in the town of Kabay with MCC colleagues | Tarantula! | Green coffee, just before roasting | An especially colorful tap-tap in PaP | Studying Kreyol | Streets of Petionville with colorful Jalouzi in the background