Some things are handled quite differently in Haiti than they would be in the States. There’s so much less infrastructure here, so much less governance, so many fewer public services. We in the States can tend to take a lot for granted.
I was on the way back to Pòtoprens on Friday from Sodo, a small town in the Central Plateau. I was a little annoyed, because my host’s planning had cost me a day at a very busy moment. I had been in Sodo since Wednesday morning, and had asked my host, at that time, to simply help me get to Mibalè Thursday afternoon, after we finished our work. I would sleep there, and then take public transportation to Pòtoprens early Friday morning. I could use the evening in Mibalè to meet some people I wanted to talk with, and would be able to travel back into Pòtoprens early enough to do most of a day’s work and then still ride up to Ka Glo by a reasonable hour. I needed to get home to make sure everything was ready for the workshop I was to host in my house in all day Saturday.
My hosts would hear nothing of it. They would drive my all the way to Pòtoprens early Friday morning. They had brought to Sodo, and they would take me home.
By Thursday evening, they were telling me that I would no longer be able to leave first thing Friday morning. They were down to only one truck. They would, however, send me to Pòtoprens when their truck returned from an errand in Mibalè.
When the truck got back, they told me that they could only take me to Mibalè. They could not afford to send their only truck away for the half-day it would take to get to Pòtoprens and back.
So I was sitting in the back of a pick-up truck that I had found in Mibalè, and pouting because I hadn’t been on my way half a day sooner. I got the last seat as the pick-up pulled off towards Pòtoprens. I’d get to the Kwadeboukèt station by early afternoon, and would be home by 4:00. Not ideal, but workable.
The road from Mibalè to Kwadeboukèt winds over a mountain, rising out of the Plateau and then descending into the so-called “Cul de Sac,” the coastal plain that Pòtoprens sits in. It’s a dry, dusty part of the country during this rainless time of the year. Water sources can be a long way away for the folks that have to get their drinking, bathing, washing, and cooking water everyday. Young boys often try to shorten their trip by hopping onto the back of trucks and busses that drive by. They stand on the fenders and hang on. Some drivers will chase them off, but most just let them ride.
Of course it’s dangerous. And when we got to a level part of the road just short of Trianon, we saw why.
There was a large flat-bed truck, pointed towards Mibalè, parked in to middle of the road. Its engine was still running. A few yards behind it was a boy, eleven or twelve perhaps, sitting in the dust at the side of the road. He was wincing in pain as two middle-aged women and a pack of smaller children looked on. He had jumped onto the truck for a ride to water – his gallon jug was still in his hand – but he fallen and had, to all appearances, broken his leg.
The truck’s driver had intended to simply drive on to Mibalè. It was not, he thought, his problem or his fault. He had told the boy to get down, but the boy hadn’t listened. The two women were market women who had hired the truck to take them and merchandise they had bought in Pòtoprens back home with them. When the driver started to continue on his way, they had gotten of the truck, refusing to go on. They wanted him to take the boy back to Tè Wouj, where he could get medical attention.
It was a stalemate. The driver wouldn’t turn around, but he wouldn’t continue without the two women either.
The women explained the situation to our driver. They asked him to take the boy to Tè Wouj, but he said that it wouldn’t be right. The boy should not have jumped on the truck, but the fact that he did made him the truck driver’s responsibility. He took out a notebook, and went to talk with the other driver.
There was a lot of yelling between them. It turned out that one of the reasons that the truck driver was reluctant to return was that he was driving without license plates on his truck. He was worried that stopping in Tè Wouj – a market town he had just driven through where there is a UN military base and a Haitian police station – could mean no end of trouble.
But they argued and they argued, and finally the truck driver gave in. He turned his rig around, and headed back to Tè Wouj, about 45 minutes away. Our pick-up could have made the trip much more quickly, but our driver refused to pass. He didn’t really trust the other driver to keep his word, so he followed him all the way.
There’s an amusing scene at the beginning of //The Man without Qualities//, Robert Musil’s massive unfinished novel. A couple, strolling through pre-World-War-One Vienna, is witness to a traffic accident. They see a man struck by a speeding truck. The couple looks on in awe as a crowd of witnesses makes way for the clean, professional-looking ambulance attendants who whisk the victim swiftly away in their bright, new machine. The narrator can only remark, “How admirably everything was functioning!”
That was 1913. Here, it is 2007, and the boy on the road through the Central Plateau – National Highway #3 – has nothing of the advantages of the book’s nameless victim. Here in Haiti, not everything is functioning so admirably.
At the same time, the market women and the pick-up driver handled things very well given the means available to them. I certainly would not have known how to accomplish what they managed to do.