May 23, 20100
I lived in a rough neighborhood on the near west side of Chicago in the 1960’s. I worked in Watts in Los Angeles for several years in the mid-1970’s. I have traveled over remote roads in Northern Cambodia, through the alleys of Calcutta, and I have walked all over Johannesburg, South Africa, despite being warned that it was dangerous. I have discovered that, if you don’t do anything stupid, treat people with respect, don’t look like a victim and act like you have a purpose for being where you are, that people generally don’t do harm. Therefore, I was not worried about the anarchy I had heard about in Port au Prince.
When I arrived at the airport, Hugh Des Granges, Ben’s sponsor in Haiti, was right there to meet me. He whisked me through customs. I had 200 pounds of luggage, which included one 99.5 pound suitcase with an electrical convertor for the Southern Wind as well as other supplies.
Port au Prince resembles any other city I’ve seen in economically distressed areas. There is rubble everywhere, just like in Calcutta or Freetown, Sierra Leone. The people living in tent cities, sadly, didn’t look out of place. The cardboard, tarpaper, and occasional salvaged wood shack in which so many live in these tragic places (did you see Slum Dog Millioinaire?) are not much different in appearance. What was different was the large number of collapsed buildings remaining, despite the heroic amount of clearance work that has already been done.
I spent the night at the Des Granges’ home in a very pleasant neighborhood of Port au Prince. I had the great pleasure of meeting several of Monsieur Des Granges’ friends and relatives. I found them to be sincere friends of Haiti and sophisticated “citizens du monde.” They had experienced extensive and lengthy stays in Europe, Africa, and the USA. They are sincere in their desires and energetic in their efforts for a better Haiti.
I especially enjoyed meeting Lionel Des Granges, a man who has lived, studied and taught in the developed and the underdeveloped world. At one time he served as Vice-President of Haiti.
The 60km drive from Port au Prince to Petit Goave would have been hair-raising were it not for the fact that I have been driven around India on numerous occasions. Auto travel in the under-developed world is not for the faint of heart. The trick is to be extraordinarily aggressive–and always bluffing.
In California, “lane splitting,” or driving on the lines between lanes is legal for motorcycles. In economically distressed countries it is allowed for Semi’s! No drivers get angry at other drivers as they do in the USA, because drivers know that all the other drivers have just as much right to that space in front of your car as you do. Only possession of a space makes it yours. The only part of the road that you own is the part directly under your vehicle.
Petit Goave is a charming little town on the North Coast of the Southern Peninsula of Haiti. There are 32,000 residents. As a smaller community, there is not the anonymity of a big city for its citizens. People have a tendency to behave better when everyone else knows their business. The accountability factor. I found Petit Goave to be an extremely friendly place. What a place to meet up with my family!
More later–or in Haitian, plu,pluta. GL