A Walk Up the Hill

It was a strange walk. I say “strange,”even though a few paragraphs will make “strange” seem like a flippant, an inappropriate, way to describe it. But I don’t know how else to start. It was Wednesday, so I was headed uphill late. By the time I got to Bwa Moket, it was already 6:00 and getting dark. I was ready for a slow, careful walk up the steep and rocky path. I’m not really able to see where I’m stepping in the dark, but if I pay attention,
and it’s not raining too hard. I’m generally okay.

I was halfway through Bwa Moket when I heard my name. It may have been dark, but my pale white skin stood out clearly enough. Frenel, Mèt Anténor’s youngest brother and my next door neighbor, had seen me. He was on his way up too. He commutes daily to a job in Pòtoprens. He’s a bookkeeper at a small factory. He leaves every morning by 5:30 and walks up in the evening. We were in luck today. The driver of a flatbed truck had to get up to Malik, and he was willing to wait a few minutes while people who were on their way up on foot piled into the back. We stood up, holding on to the truck’s sides as he
sped away. The ride would get us halfway home.

As we left Malik to walk the rest of the way, a small group formed. They began to talk. One thing about my Kreyol: I can generally follow a conversation well if I catch the beginning. If, however, I don’t know the context from the start, it’s much harder. At first, I wasn’t even paying attention. I spent several minutes reflecting on the class I had just led. It hadn’t gone well, and I was thinking about why and about what to do next

Soon they were saying something about a machete. That didn’t really catch my attention. Almost every man on the mountain has one, and they use them all the time. Then I heard “wounded,” and I started to listen. I figured there had been an accident. I had never heard of one before, but they use the machetes so much that I assume it must happen now and again. But then I heard “struck,” and my mind started to race. Were they talking about a fight? A murder? An attempted one? I heard “angry” and “depressed.” I felt lost in words. I knew the meanings, but they all seemed too terrible. I was trying to figure things out, but something wouldn’t let me. I recognized moment by moment that something awful had happened, but it was hard to piece together just what. My imagination went wild.

Eventually, I put together the following story: A man from a neighboring lakou had attempted to take his own life. He had reached back and tried to cut off his own head with a machete. He cut himself in the back of the neck, but the motion was awkward, and he wasn’t nearly strong enough to cut through. He was wounded and bleeding badly, but he was alive.

Madanm Anténor was tending to him. As soon as it happened, his neighbors rushed off to find her. She’s no doctor, not even a nurse, but she has some first aide training, is the local midwife, and that’s much more than anyone else in the area can say. She hurried down. As she later told me, she saw right away that she couldn’t do enough. While she fought hard to stop the bleeding, she sent some young boys to find a car to take the man down the hill to the hospital. This itself isn’t easy. There aren’t many cars on the hill, none within 10 minutes’ run from where the wounded man was. And there was no guarantee that anyone with a car would be home. Beyond that, it would be a 10-15 minute drive down to a doctor who might or might not be in Malik, or another 15 minutes’ drive to the clinics in Petyonvil. Somehow, they found a way to get him to a doctor eventually. I’m not sure how. When Madanm Anténor got home, she was not any state to answer questions. It seemed inappropriate to ask.

I did later ask Frenel and Toto a little about the incident. As much as it seemed that the circumstances would allow. I tried to ask whether they knew why the man had done what he did. Sensibly enough, they said it was a mystery. Suicide is probably always a mystery. But it’s not one I ever expected to encounter here. I guess I thought that people with pressing material need would be immune from existential crises. I suppose, however, that there is no place without its share of despair.