Category Archives: Original Life In Haiti Letters

Here I’ll post the original Life in Haiti letters, written in 1999 and 2000. There’s much I would change about the letters if I were to re-write them from the perspective I’ve gained as I’ve continued to live and work with my friends and colleagues in Haiti, but I’ve decided to leave the letters basically unchanged. I’ll correct misspellings and if there are wild inaccuracies I’ll note them. But on the whole, I’d rather share them as they are.
I hope you enjoy them.

The Konbit

Edwa has what could reasonably be described as a strong preference for driving on the right-hand side of the road. In Haiti, the right-hand side is the right side, too. He drives on the right most of the time, but sometimes he drives on the left. Traffic on Avenue John Brown heading into Pòtoprens has been heavy lately, so one day recently he was on the left most of the way down. What’s most striking is that my confidence in him is so complete that I wasn’t giving it a second thought. I was still sore from working on the
konbit the day before, so that’s what was on my mind.

There are several things I’ve learned to do in Haiti that I might never otherwise have learned. The most obvious is that I can speak some Kreyol, enough at least to get by. But there’s more. I can grind corn into cornmeal. I can iron a shirt with a coal-heated iron. I can ride a moderately feisty donkey of average size, bareback. And there are larger things, too. The sorts of things that are harder to describe. None of these new skills, large or small, prepared me for work as part of the konbit. That’s ok, though. As it turns out, I didn’t need any skills.

A konbit is a group that gets together to do work that can better be accomplished by a team. I’m told that much of the farming in the countryside depends on them. Several men will get together and go from farm to farm, tilling or planting or weeding or reaping. Each day they work a different plot of land. They can be cooperatives, working land which the individual konbit members own. Or they can be a kind of team for hire. Even if it is a cooperative, the owner of the land provides a meal. There are standard fees if the group is a professional team.

Our konbit had nothing to do with agriculture, except that we were working on land where Mèt Anténor used to plant corn. We were a construction team, laying the beginnings of a foundation for a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Ka Glo.

Ka Glo has had an Adventist community since the mid-nineties. Until then, it was largely Catholic. I’m still unclear as to what brought Mèt Anténor and the others to turn to Adventism, but by the time I arrived for the first time in the summer of 1997, Adventists were a large majority. There remained then, as now, only a few Catholics and a few members of an intensely charismatic Protestant group. Our neighborhood of Ka Glo has no Voudoun, or at least none that I’ve ever seen. There are a several practitioners of Voudoun down the hill in Mabanbou, several more across the road in upper Ka Glo, and lots of them just up the hill in Ba Osya.

That first summer, and through the summer that followed, the whole community would go down to Bwa Moket or to Pènye every Saturday for Adventist services. But by the time I arrived in August of 1999, that had changed. They were meeting each Saturday on benches and chairs arranged outdoors, right inside the entrance to our yard, in front of the porch where I like to sit and read. Two or three members of the community in Bwa Moket come up the hill each week to share leadership of their Sabbath service, but for the most part they themselves lead it-Mèt Anténor, Jean-Reynald, and Toto.

For some time now they’ve had plans to build a church on a small piece of land that belongs to Mèt Anténor right beneath the great mapou tree. But even to start a building project is a major undertaking here in semi-rural Haiti, not to speak of getting it finished. Thanks to Mèt Anténor, they had the land. And for months now they’ve had some of the material they would need: a large pile of rocks of various sizes. Several weeks ago, a small group of teenagers was hired to dig the trenches that we would lay the foundations in, but more was needed. We had to have both cement and sandy gravel to mix it with. In addition, we needed labor. And labor was briefly in short supply, because the rains had just started, and it was critical for everyone to get their corn planted quickly. Crops were already about a month late.

But the crops are in the ground, and last week a truck brought a load of gravel and ten sacks of cement up the hill. We were ready to start.

Now, organizing a konbit for farmwork is probably pretty simple: You gather together a bunch of guys with hoes or machetes or shovels or whatever the appropriate tool is, and they get to work. But our construction team was more complex. For one thing, it depended on some real skill. We were to start a foundation. More specifically, our first day’s task was to build a wall about six feet high and twenty-five or thirty feet long, set into a trench about four feet deep on a steep incline. That meant we needed experienced stonemasons. For another, though there would be a bunch of us doing the unskilled lifting and carrying the masons needed all day, there was one aspect of the job that required more consistent, more dependable strength than any of us could supply: mixing the sand with water and the cement to make the concrete. It’s very heavy work, and it would need to continue without pause all day. So there were about 15 unskilled volunteers from Ka Glo, lifting, carrying, arguing, complaining, joking, and chatting all day, but there were also four professional stonemasons, plus two more who were members of the church working as volunteers, and two professional mason’s assistants. Madanm Anténor led a team of six women who made the meal and hauled water-both rainwater for the cement and drinking water for the laborers.

The work that we actually did was pretty uninteresting. I spent the day hauling buckets of concrete and moving rocks. By mid-afternoon, I was sunburnt, but my shoulders were less red than my soft, professorial hands. My awkwardness was enjoyed by all. Passing neighbors stopped to watch. I made, in fact, quite a spectacle of myself. I was, as they say, a “conversation piece.” Finishing the church will require many more such days. I hope I’m part of some of them.


For Ellen and Carol

Sometimes I wonder, “What were those people thinking?” The “those” might be almost anyone. It’s a type of thought that occurs to me often enough, a sort of formula-half harshly judgmental, half genuinely mystified. Friday, “those people” were whoever brought the jawbreakers to the orphanage.

I’ve been visiting an orphanage every Friday morning. I call it an orphanage, but that misses the mark. It’s a facility that receives abandoned and desperately needy children. The sisters who run it organize food and medical care for infants and young toddlers on the brink of starvation and dehydration. The children-if they live-might be adopted. They might be placed in what would more properly be called an orphanage. Or their parents themselves might take them back.

Jawbreakers seemed a terrible idea. There weren’t nearly enough for all the toddlers and older children. The children, to their credit, are devoted to sharing. This is especially striking because they have so little to share. Jawbreakers, however, are not easy to share. So the kids were taking turns sucking on the ones they had. Then someone figured out that you can shatter a jawbreaker if you throw it hard enough against a bare concrete floor. I should say that the sisters and their staff work hard to keep the place minimally clean, but even so the floor seemed not quite sterile. The shards of wet candy that the kids were passing around didn’t appeal to me. Several were offered. I declined. In addition, as the kids threw the jawbreakers around, someone discovered their military value. They became projectile weapons in the kind of playful fighting that is common among kids.

I go to the place each week because I like the children. For example, there’s Charles. He’s a small boy who must be eight or so. He strolls around the facility, watching the sisters and their staff at work, chatting with various adults and children, always in good cheer. His demeanor, his posture, the way he has about him suggest more than anything that of a “hands-off” administrator, make his or her presence felt in the place where he or she is
the boss. Charles’s twisted, crooked, discolored teeth do little to make his constant smile anything but beautiful. It’s a big smile, above a little chin that rests above a large, bulging goiter. Another example: There’s a little boy of about two perhaps, not quite toddling yet, who does little but point his finger to show that he’d like to leave his crib in your arms. He glowers when you don’t pick him up, and he screams when you put him back. There’s a mute little boy or girl or five or six -I’m not sure about the gender-who walks around smiling and cooing. Other children warn me not to take food from his or her hands, not to let her touch me at all. They say he or she handles his or her own excrement. I don’t know whether that’s true. There are girls and boys who want nothing but to be held, or be carried, or be paid attention to for a short while.

In fact, there are dozens of such children, thirsting desperately for attention. Those of them who can walk around struggle to cling to me as soon as they see me. They want to be touched, want to be held, want to be spoken to. The sisters and their staff have enough to do to keep the children clean and fed. With the best of intentions, they can’t do much more than that. And it’s not clear that they should do much more. The nicer the facility is, the more it might encourage people on the edge of despair to choose not to raise their children.

So I stroll in, and then I sit on the floor, as out of the staff’s way as I possibly can. I don’t try to stand, because standing I can only hold two kids, and I’m too tall to relate well to those I am standing above. Chairs don’t help much. Only three or four can make their way around me if I’m in a chair. If I sit on the floor, and stretch out my legs, five or six or seven can climb on me at once. I can be chatting and joking with them face-to-face,
eye-to-eye. One consequence of their terrible, terrible need for attention is that they pay more attention to me than anyone ever has. I ought to admit that I like them for that, too.

Their need for attention seems infinite. It’s not just that there are too many children, even though there are. Even with six or seven climbing on me, they’ll be others crying because they can’t get as close to me as they need to. But it’s more than just the number of kids. Many of the individual kids seem so needy that one could hardly ever do enough for them. There’s one girl who’s always crying anytime she’s not the only child I’m holding. She needs someone all to herself, and needs that someone to give her much more than I

This brings me to my point. Or points. I have two.

First, I’m in awe of the women who work there. Each one of them might be responsible for a room which has 15-20 cribs, each with a young child who is surely always needy in one way or another. In a sense, the most reasonable response to the situation they’re in would be to leave it. They have, as we say, “only two hands.” And 15-20 kids need food, need water, need to have their diapers changed. And those are only their simplest needs. But the women don’t give up. They keep working, walking from crib to crib, doing what they can for each child in turn. Generally, in good cheer. They seem to know something that I’d like to learn and to learn well: that hopelessness is a luxury, and a stupid one at that. In the face of continual, particular needs, larger questions, global questions, such as “What’s the use?” are trivial.

Second: I do enjoy my visits, and I think the kids enjoy my visits, too. And even the staff seems amused by my presence. Or at least they seem not to mind. But it’s perfectly clear that what each child needs is not a small share of a middle-aged bachelor’s attention during the few hours a week he can drop by. Each of the children needs parents, totally committed to him or to her forever. Whether those parents must be Haitians or should be Haitians or whether any parents will do is an important question that I can’t answer, but that is, I think, what each child needs and deserves. I’m smart enough to know that that is not what I have to give.

Which brings me to my cousins, to two in particular, a couple who have raised two magnificent young men, men on the verge of going out on their own. This couple has decided to start all over again, to adopt two infant girls. Cambodian girls, it so happens. They’ve chosen to make a life-long commitment to two more kids. Instead of wallowing in the infinity of needy children, or in any individual child’s infinity of need, my cousins have chosen to assume specific and unlimited responsibility for two particular kids right now. I am in awe of these cousins, too.

As for the jawbreakers, I doubt whether that foolishness really did any harm. I myself am considering a box of superballs. Bouncing off bare concrete floors and walls, they should cause chaos enough.


I love O’Hare Airport. Maybe “love” is too strong, but I certainly admire it. So much is accomplished there all the time. Pòtoprens International Airport is a different story. I spent a fair bit of time there recently, more than I wanted to, waiting for luggage I had checked on the way back to Haiti.

I hadn’t planned to check any baggage. In fact, I had planned not to. But when I went through security at Miami, I was told that I couldn’t carry a hammer onto the plane. So I went back to the line at the counter, and I gave them my backpack. And though I was the very first person off the plane in Pòtoprens, and the very first person through Haitian immigration, I stood waiting for my bag for almost an hour. It was frustrating.

It’s not that I have any particular use for a hammer here in Haiti. I don’t make, or plan to make, anything. The hammer wasn’t for me, but for Byton, who’s a cabinetmaker’s apprentice. He will eventually need his own tools, and acquiring them will be hard. He has very little money, and is unlikely to have more without the tools to earn it with. I thought an old, but perfectly serviceable carpenter’s hammer would give him a start. I
brought a tape measure, too. And I hope to bring a saw and a plane next time I come. So I was trying to do something nice, and here I stood in the sweltering airport heat, paying for my kindness. No good deed goes unpunished. As I stood there, I had time to think about that kindness, about what it really means for a foreigner to give to a Haitian, and I thought I should write about that.

Let me start by talking about a kind of person I sometimes meet here. I meet them most often in Okay, where I have had occasion to overnight at a guesthouse run by a Haitian Protestant denomination. Often there are groups of Americans staying there, usually for about a week. They are “work groups” on “short-term missions.” They have come to Haiti to give their time and energy towards various sorts of development projects. Some are medical or dental teams. Some simply come to build, often a church or a school. They come to serve God by helping those who are in need.

Though I don’t know what to think of dental or medical teams, I have to say that I find the teams that come to build things curious. After all, there are plenty of skilled builders in Haiti, and Haitian unemployment, among builders as among others, is very high-higher, perhaps, than most of us Americans can easily imagine. So if there’s a need to build a school, I wonder whether it wouldn’t make more sense for Haitians to build it. Perhaps the money to buy materials is short here, but there isn’t much in the way of planks, cement, concrete, and roofing that you couldn’t buy for the price of the airfare for a group of eight to ten Americans to fly to Haiti and back. So I do wonder who is giving what to whom.

But I don’t mean to point a finger. For me, the question is a general one. There are a lot of foreigners here in Haiti. Many of us come to help in some way. Haiti is attractive because it combines all the neediness of poor African or Asian countries with a convenient location, but has an exotic quality that impoverished areas of the States generally lack. The question is: When we think we’re doing something good here, when we think we’re giving a gift, who is giving what to whom?

Such questions arise for me around the notion of giving almost every day. Take Byton’s hammer. He thanked me profusely. That’s how he is. But I didn’t give him the hammer. My father did, and I told Byton this. Both the hammer and the tape measure belonged to Dad, both for a long time. I could be-and to a degree am-sentimental about the fact that they are the tools I remember my father using when I was a little boy, but if anyone deserves thanks, it’s my father, not me. I myself thanked him, and thanked him sincerely. I was grateful.

Let’s be clear, though. My father has other hammers and another tape measure. He was giving from excess. What he gave, he didn’t really need. That’s not to deny that his gift was genuine and generous. My father’s as generous a person as I’ve ever known. But it’s important nonetheless to see it for what it was: a thoughtful way to dispose of stuff he didn’t need.

Every day I have chances to give. Whatever “give” finally means. People come up to me and ask for a few cents or a soccer ball or my book bag or my watch. And a lot of people who don’t ask for anything could make good use of such things as well. Sometimes they are asking for things that, for whatever reason, I feel I need. Often they aren’t. Sometimes I give such people something. Often I don’t. When I do, I feel good. For a moment, anyway.

Giving is an act I was always taught to value. Sharing is a good thing. Generosity is a virtue.

But those good feelings are also a temptation of sorts. A kind of trap. I don’t especially think that I deserve what I have. Nor that others deserve to lack what they lack. If I give from my excess to meet some else’s need, am I doing something good or something obvious? Shouldn’t I be looking harder and more often for ways to give away the goods that I have? I’m not a Christian, but there’s something about St. Anthony that’s hard not to admire.

And that assumes that the distribution of goods between Haiti and the wealthy nations is innocent. The situation of Europeans and Americans who would give to Haiti or Haitians is, however, more strained than that. Years of our policies have done a lot to impoverish this place: from the annihilation of its natives, to the import and the exploitation of slaves, to the insistence on indemnities, to brutal occupation, to the extermination of Creole pigs. And that’s a very limited list. So that what I have, and what Byton, for example, lacks may have much less to do with luck or fate or the hand of God than it has to do with theft. And here “theft” is a euphemism for what is, in the end, much, much worse. So maybe we should be pouring resources through governmental and non-governmental channels, into this land. Maybe we owe Haiti some of what we have, and ought to give it back.

I’d rather avoid such larger questions. Even if I was sure that such steps were the right ones, they are ones I don’t know much about taking. I’m neither a policy maker nor a policy analyst, neither an economist nor a historian. It’s hard for me to guess just what consequences such larger projects would have. I don’t know much about the kinds of projects that do-and the kind that don’t-improve people’s lives.

So I would rather just think about the little things that I can choose to do on any given day. I can choose to give a little money to a street beggar or a larger sum to someone who knows me well enough to ask for it. I can give a hammer to a friend. Even such decisions can be complicated when I let them be. I can be haunted by the worry that I am encouraging dependence, or fearful that I’m only adding to the tendency to ask for things. I can doubt someone’s need. These are thoughts I have often enough, even if I have no right to them. To worry that I’m making someone dependent is to assume I know what someone should be like. To fear that I am encouraging people to ask, is to want to avoid the responsibility to think about what I have. To doubt another person’s need is to pretend I know more than I can know. I have, I repeat, no right to these thoughts.

Sometimes I give. Other times I don’t. Often I’m glad when I do. That’s not because I’m confident that such gifts make anyone’s life better-except perhaps my own. I try not to take myself too seriously.


The first thing I need to explain is this: Just what was I doing, squished onto the back of a motorcycle behind John and a driver, flying up Canape Vert, with two screaming, scratching cats squirming in a borrowed, ventilated pillowcase on my lap?

I had just spent Saturday morning at Coleen’s place, and she gave me the cats. It seemed like a good thing for her and a good thing for them. She lives in a small apartment, above the owners of several large dogs. These dogs are given free reign in the yard in front of the building. This effectively means that the cats can’t go outside. They also never learned to use a litter box. The combination of those two facts is stressful for Coleen
and for those who live with her. The presence of the dogs is by itself stressful for the cats. We have no dogs in our corner of Ka Glo right now, and we thought that the cats would be better off up there-at least after an initial adjustment. So we chose the fastest way to get them up there-a motorcycle-and accepted the consequence: The cats would need to make the trip confined in a pillowcase. I cut them some breathing holes.

We hadn’t expected to spend the morning at Coleen’s. Normally, we would have had our Saturday class at the Fakilte Syans Imèn. On that day, however, a funeral for Jean Domenique and his guard was scheduled. The funeral was a major public event, to be held in the soccer stadium, and demonstrations were expected to follow. Businesses were closed out of respect, and, just maybe, out of the fear of the consequences of opening. Our class couldn’t be held.

Jean Domenique was a Haitian journalist who had been assassinated the previous Monday. I don’t want to talk about him. I have no right to. I’m too ignorant. I will, however, say this: He has been widely and wildly praised in my presence since his death as someone honest, serious, and courageous. Lot’s of different people speak well of him. He’s described as just the sort of journalist, just the sort of person, that this country-or any other, for that matter-badly needs. And apart from any praise for him, and apart from any
particular sense of loss related specifically to his death, many of my Haitian friends think in depressed and depressing terms about his murder as something of a “sign of the times.” Thugs are free to murder with impunity for whatever sick reason. I have heard no one suggest that any “they” will catch the murderers. No one has, to my knowledge, “taken responsibility” for the killing, as certain sorts of political forces sometimes do.

Politics are darkness here these days. It says too little to say that the public realm is under stress. Scheduled elections-people I know seem to want very much to vote-have been postponed. Some say it’s because the electoral commission hasn’t yet managed to register all voters; some say that there are other forces of various sorts at work. Most people speak of both, even those-and there are many-who agree with the postponement. In any case, bad-faith beltway temper tantrums about these postponements only add to inflation here, as the US and others cut the flow of aid dollars into the country, and so reduce the already-falling value of the Haitian gourde.

So prices are rising, fast. Madanm Mèt, among many others, has been on edge, under stress. She’s more inclined, for example, to reach for a belt when frustrated with her children at night. Let me be clear. Let me be fair to her. She never beats her children badly, but she strikes them. She continues to work hard all day, every day, and is struggling with her sense that they are irresponsible in ways that range from their resistance to doing prescribed chores, to their unwillingness to eat what they’re served, or to eat enough, to their poor performance in school. And it’s worse than all that. She was loudly worrying the other night that no one would be able to run the house if she were to die.

I don’t live in a poor neighborhood. Folks where I live are, as they say, “pa pi mal,” or “no worse.” In this context, that means that they have access to the money they need to cover necessities. For some, bare necessities, for others something more than that. Even the best off, though, live without any security. Any bit of bad luck-a death or serious illness, a crop failure or a so-called “act of God,” or simply mounting inflation-any such turn could be disastrous. There are no “Plan B’s.” And the rains have been late this year.
Corn should have been in the ground a month ago around Ka Glo, but there hasn’t been enough rain. More stress.

So let me get back to the cats. The two of them, mother and daughter, were warmly received when I got to Ka Glo. I gave one to Madanm Kastra and one to Madanm Jean-Claude, two of my neighbors. Madanm Kastra has the mother, and it’s doing well. Her son, Byton, seems to be taking good care of it.

The kitten didn’t last the night. It was taken by Madanm Jean-Claude’s oldest son, Jean-Reynald. Madanm. Jean-Claude herself is a tireless market women in Petyonvil. She sells plastic sandals, flip-flops. She’s rarely home between four in the morning and eight-thirty at night. Jean-Reynald was in a rush, so he put the kitten in his family’s outdoor kitchen. His grandmother, one of ten people who live in their small house, objected, and told him to put it in the “depot” next door. The depot is the house next to their own. Actually, it’s the old house that Bòs Jean-Claude and Bòs Kastra themselves grew up in. Right now, Bòs Jean-Claude is selling pig feed, and the house is loaded with the 50 kg. sacks. They filled it with sacks-actually, I helped-despite the fact that Bòs Awol lives there on a mat on the floor with his wife and infant daughter. Custom allows that Bòs Jean-Claude, his
parents’ youngest child, has the main claim to the old house. Bòs Awol, his nephew, may live in the house while he builds his own, but he has no larger claim to the space inside of it. So they just moved the mat and a very few other possessions into a corner, and filled the house with big sacks of pig feed, floor to ceiling and nearly wall to wall.

It was dark when Bòs Awol got home, he knew nothing of his home’s newest resident, but knew about the epidemic of rabies we’ve been through on the hill. With his child in mind, he killed the kitten right away, the minute he noticed his presence. He would take no chances. He didn’t think twice or even look twice, not even long enough to realize that the kitten was tied up, as if someone had carefully put it there-as someone had-exactly where it was suppose to be in order to cure mouse problems associated with the pig feed.
He might have looked, but his life is stressed too. For one thing, there’s the drought. He’s poor, poorer than most in our neighborhood, and a relatively high percentage of his family’s sustenance comes from his subsistence farming. In addition, his neighbor and uncle is pushing him out of his small space, and though he recently made some progress on his own house, he’s been working on it for several years. He moves forward in small
spurts, dependant always on his ability to accumulate enough money to buy each successive round of materials: cement, roofing, cinder blocks, doors, whatever.

And then there are my own stresses, cause for a lot of whining, but no real concern, connected mostly to the wonderful but mutually-exclusive alternative life-directions which are before me. Meanwhile, I’m living safely and comfortably among friends and colleagues.


Eddy and I were to leave Okay on a fairly early bus back to Pòtoprens. It would probably leave at around 6:00 a.m. We were staying in downtown Okay, not far from the station, but it was still almost 5:45 when we realized the time. We rushed out of the house, got motorcycles to the station, and were off. We grabbed a quick cup of coffee on the street while we waited for the bus to actually leave, but that’s all the breakfast we had. No problem. The bus would stop at Kafou Dewiso in less than two hours, and there would be
plenty of food there.

Kafou Dewiso is roughly halfway between Okay and Pòtoprens. It’s the usual rest stop for the busses that make the route. There’s hardly a bus, going in either direction, that doesn’t stop there. People get out and use the facilities. For men, that means finding the nearest tree or wall. Women do whatever they can or have to do.

Each bus is swamped by merchants selling snack foods and drinks. There’s sugar cane, fried plantain and meat, candies, cakes, crackers, breads, and nuts. Eddy and I were hungry when we arrived, so we quickly bought some fried plantain with the spicy coleslaw-like condiment it’s served with. We ate it fast, but the bus lingered, and the longer it lingered the more we realized that we were still hungry. We wanted more plantain, but all we had were a couple of hundred-goud notes. The plantain would run us about ten gouds. So Eddy called out the window of the bus to ask the merchant we wanted to buy from whether she had change. She didn’t, but she immediately talked to
another merchant, and then another, and soon she had our change for us. We bought more plantain and then a couple of drinks. Presumably, the woman who sold us the plantain would settle with the other merchants later.

These events struck me, but in order to explain why I probably need to say more about the scene. When the busses arrive, they really are swamped. There might easily be a dozen merchants just selling plantain. And as many more who are fighting to make each other kind of sale. The point is this: Competition is fierce, really fierce. Merchants run and push to get to advantageous positions. They shout over one another, too. Money is short all over this country, and every one of these merchants badly needs to make every
single sale that he or she can make.

So what struck me when our plantain merchant went looking for change is that she went to other plantain merchants. And they, instead of taking advantage of her situation, gave her the change she needed to make her sale. They may strain hard to compete for every sale they can make, but they have their struggle in common, and they’re not averse to helping one another out.

One of the most consistent impressions I have of the people that I live and work around in Haiti is of the solidarity they show one another. A quick example: Though traffic here is awful, and though everyone is always in a hurry to get through it as fast as they can, professional drivers are, on the whole, quite courteous. Private individuals, driving their private cars, may have all the worst qualities of the Boston drivers I grew up around, but many of the taxi and tap-tap drivers are remarkably quick to give up the right of way, to let another driver cut in, to make space for u-turns and various sorts of stops and starts. That doesn’t mean that they’re not anxious to get through. Nor does it mean they won’t press hard to make their way. It doesn’t keep them from yelling and cursing at one another. They’ll still ride their horn if they feel as though someone is holding them up. But they also seem to understand that their fellow-drivers, their colleagues, are in a hurry too. If I ever have a car again, I hope I’ll remember that.

I see the solidarity in other places, too. I’ve already written about the way the street boys work together at the Bwa Moket station, the way they share what they have. And sharing is an enormous part of Haitian life. There are, for example, two donkeys in our nine-family neighborhood, but all nine families seem to have nearly equal access to them. Frenel has a pretty good ax, but he’s only rarely the one whom I see using it. There are three water cisterns, but Toto’s, the most biggest and most reliable among them, is open
to all. Everyone grinds his corn in Kasnel’s mill. Transistor radios and headphones appear and disappear from the young people I live around as they borrow them or lend them to others. And then there are the exchanges of labor.

It’s among Haitian children, however, that sharing is especially striking. For example, I occasional buy candy in Malik on my way home. I always give it to Kasann, and she always parcels it out. I’ve never heard the slightest complaint. I can bring four or five pieces, and the children manage well with that. But I can bring one piece, and they still make do. The candy is about one inch by two, and has a consistency slightly stiffer than fudge. Kasann breaks it into smaller pieces-two or three or four or five or six-and however small the pieces finally are, everyone seems happy. I can’t help but think that a lot of people back home would think that there wasn’t enough to go around.

Sometimes I bring little balls up the hill with me, balls that the smaller children can use to play soccer. If I brought a hundred up the hill, there would be a hundred more children who would ask me, but we all make due. What’s so striking about it to me is that as much as each child badly wants his or her own ball, I might end up seeing any given ball that I bring up the hill in almost any child’s hands. I recognize this especially with regard to the couple of inflatable, higher quality balls that I carried back from Germany with me. Since I’m the only one around with a pump, I see each and every one of these balls pretty regularly. And the probability that the child who brings the ball to me is the child I gave it to just isn’t very great. It might mean a lot to each child to own his or her own little ball, but such questions of ownership seem to have little to do with who plays with one or when.

This sharing and that solidarity seem to me to be one and the same thing. And it’s striking that they are so prevalent in a place where resources of all sorts are so scarce, where the pressures on everyone’s lives are so great. There’s a lesson in that, and it’s worth taking home with me.

The Spectacle at Kosovo

Lately I feel as though I’ve been spending a lot of time in Kosovo. Let me explain: “Kosovo” is a nickname for the area around Pòtay Leyogann, the main bus station for destinations south and southeast of Pòtoprens. It’s called Kosovo because it’s said to be extremely dangerous, a shooting gallery of sorts. Before I go any farther, I should say that I am never there during the dangerous hours of darkness, always during it’s bright and busy-and therefore much safer-days. This is my way of responding to advice that is not really even advice. I have not so much been asked or counseled to stay away from there at night. There have been no “recommendations.” I have been ordered to do so, by Toto and by others as well. I obey.

Erik and I were entering Pòtay Leyogann on a recent Monday morning, sharing the back of Edwa’s motorcycle. I have been going to Okay every Monday for about a month, but this was Erik’s first trip with me. Pòtay Leyogann is an active, active place, home also to strange, strange sights. For example, every once in a while, as I sit in a bus, waiting to leave the station, I see a man walk by. He’s a healthy-looking young man, probably in his twenties or early thirties. He stands tall, and walks deliberately, calmly. As though he knows where he’s going, but is in no rush to arrive. I’ve never seen him stop to talk to anyone, never seen him turn to exchange a quick greeting or even to acknowledge a glance. He just walks, straight and slow and completely naked. Erik says he once saw him wearing a hat. No one seems to take any notice.

As Edwa, Erik, and I drove up, we came upon another startling sight. There was a brass marching band, playing a slow piece, strolling ahead of a bright white hearse. It was a funeral procession – in the States we might say “New Orleans style” – but there seemed little that was funereal about it. The music was slow, but not really sad, and the front of the hearse bore a stunning, many-colored wreath of flowers. Edwa made a quick left, cutting across a layer of rubbish and worse, into the station itself to avoid getting hung up by the procession.

Before going any farther, I should say that there are certain things that any understanding of the station would require. In order to begin to imagine the scene, you have to realize that it is hot, dusty, smoky, noisy, busy, and littered. I suppose that what strikes me the most is all the shouting: merchants shouting their wares and bus loaders shouting to potential passengers.

We drove in on the carpet of trash, and started to look for a bus. Generally, several will be loading up, competitively, at any one time. Teams of loaders shout and tug at you – they might try to grab your baggage, too – hoping to get a bus out a little sooner. They seem well-organized, even if it’s hard to figure out exactly how. I have observed this much: there are individuals, one tall, heavy man in particular, who are shouting loudly, angrily at all of them, all of the time, from the front of the station. The drivers pay the loaders a set fee for their work. There seems to be very little room to argue or negotiate.

The trick for a passenger is to find a bus that has a reasonable chance of leaving fairly soon, but one that also still has not-too-undesirable seats available. One has to make quick decisions about how to compromise between those two ends. The desirability of seats ranges both from bus to bus and within any given bus, too. Things like leg room, proximity to windows, the volume of the music charging out of the inevitable speakers –all these things can vary greatly. The wait can be fifteen minutes or more than an hour.

Erik and I were looking for seats next to the driver, in the front. The busses are local constructions. A bus’s body is built onto the back of what I believe is called a “flatbed” truck. The driver sits, with a small number of passengers, in a separate cab. The two seats right next to him, in contrast to the two behind him, have much more leg room than any others. They cost more, but they’re much more comfortable, too. I tell myself that I need to avoid arriving in Okay too tired. It helps me justify the extravagance. We secured such seats by choosing a bus that wasn’t nearly full yet. They don’t leave before they are. That gave us some time to take in the spectacle: the traffic, the shouting, the busses being washed, the deals being made. At the corner, there’s a tap-tap station. Down the street there are auto repair shops and a car and bus wash, too. Occasionally a police vehicle drifts by.

But there’s something else, too. I’m told that in my life in Waukegan, Illinois, I live near one of the biggest malls in the States, Gurney Mills. I think someone once told me it was roughly three miles long. Everything is there – except exactly what I want – but in order to find anything at all, you have to walk and walk. The stores can’t come to you. More and more folks shop through catalogues or web sites at home, but that involves credit cards, delivery charges, and waiting for the mail. Things at Pòtay Leyogann are much, much easier. The stores all come to you on merchants’ heads. There are hardware stores: baskets filled with flashlights, locks, batteries, screwdrivers, knives, scissors, and other miscellany. There are bookstores: neat, straight piles of Bibles and hymnals. There are opticians, carrying short poles displaying dozens of sunglasses in various styles. There are drugstores: baskets or small tubs of pills, liquids, powders, bandages, soaps, shampoos, toothbrushes and pastes, and other assorted stuff. There are bakeries: men and women selling cookies and cakes and crackers and breads. There are produce stands, selling local fruits and Washington apples. There are candy merchants and drink vendors. You can buy towels and wash clothes. You can buy sewing kits and sandals. You can buy brightly-colored combs for little girls’ hair.

And it all comes straight to you. If American consumers only knew how easy life could be.

Street Boys

Byton and I were heading down the hill the other morning. When we got to Malik, we saw an unusual sight: There were two street kids in the back of the tap-tap that was waiting to fill up before leaving for Petyonvil. They called to us to hop on, but we said that we’d walk, and off we went. The sight was unusual because they boys don’t usually come up the hill. They pack the tap-taps in Petyonvil for the trip up, but they stay down there.

I told Byton that I enjoy seeing the boys, and I do. He asked why. I explained that I love their manner. There’s a group of five or six of them that work at the station in Petyonvil where tap-taps leave for either Bwa Moket or Malik. They call out each ride’s destination, and get a goud or so from the driver if he’s satisfied with the way they fill his truck or van.

They are genuinely playful. They are playful in the way they shout out destinations: “Malik! Malik! Malik! Ann ale! Ann ale moun mòn nan!” (“Ann ale moun mòn nan” means, roughly, “Let’s go, mountain folk.”) Or: “Dola Malik! Dola Malik! Dola Malik! M prese! M prese!” (Here, “dola” means a Haitian dollar, or five gouds, and “m prese” means, “I’m in a hurry.”) There are plenty of other variations, too. They are playful too in the way they sing, dance, and play-fight with each other as they work. One or another of them might occasionally have a little radio, or even a walkman, and they’ll pass the earphones back and forth. And they are playful in their exchanges with drivers and with passengers as well.

I explained to Byton that I had to like them, because they make me smile. And we talked a little about how we understand their situation. Or how little we understand it. We suppose that they are street boys, homeless. Neither of us had a reasonable guess as to where they sleep or eat. I imagine Byton’s own life as hard-his unpaid apprenticeship demands long hours of heavy work, and when he gets home there’s always more work waiting-but we both tried to reflect sympathetically about the boys’ lives, too. There’s little about it that we’re very clear about. They seem to be organized at least loosely as a union-like body, working the Bwa Moket station, and it’s there they spend their days. It’s always more or less the same boys, enough so that I recognize them and they recognize me-even though I rarely take the ride to Malik. They seem happy.

I had a lot to do on that day, but I spent much of it, on and off, thinking of the boys and about my conversation with Byton about them. I had to go to Bizoton and back that afternoon, a trip which takes me through downtown Pòtoprens. The various rides I take there and back take me around and through several other, bigger tap-tap stations, and so I see many more of the boys. Things are different downtown, though. A fair number of the folks packing the tap-taps are adult men, or much older boys, and no one seems to be having as much fun as the boys at Bwa Moket station do, but those facts didn’t really strike me as I made my way back to our office in Delma. My thoughts were jumping back and forth between the talk with Byton, and the difficult class I had just had.

But as the tightly packed van that I was taking from the Pòtay Leyogann station to the station at Delma 65 turned up Rte de Delmas itself, it ran, predictably, into traffic. Somehow I always end up in the worst possible seat in these vans, right behind the driver, facing the back of the van, with nothing to brace myself on but the hope that I won’t quite end up in the lap of the person whose knees are pressing tightly against the half-seat beneath me. We were in the left lane, with a concrete barrier separating us from oncoming traffic a few feet to our left. Strolling up and down the narrow space between us and the barrier were drink venders, carrying buckets and boxes, and calling out whatever it was-water or various soft drinks-that they had. They spend their days there, selling their wares, and choking on whatever fumes Delma traffic can produce. As I stared out the window that I was clinging to, I started to see another procession walking up and down that little space. They were boys, dressed or half-dressed in filthy rags, many of them barefoot, each carrying a no-less-filthy rag in his hand. They make eye contact with each driver, silently asking for permission to wipe his or her windshield, perhaps the whole car or truck.

None of this really grabbed my attention. It’s surprising how hardened one can become. I was still thinking about my class, and about how uncomfortable I was. Days earlier, I had complained to Erik that I always ended up in the same bad seat on this trip, and I was looking forward to telling him that it happened again.

But then I saw a boy. He was no bigger or smaller than the others. He too had his rag. He too was looking for a windshield he could clean. But he wasn’t looking very hard. He couldn’t, because he was crying. He was walking along, hanging his head, dragging his rag along the street. His torn shirt, whatever its original color, was dark gray-the color of the worst that Delma traffic was coating him with. His reddish brown skin was the same dark gray.

I don’t know exactly why he was crying. It’s not unusual to see a child cry. Maybe someone hit him or yelled at him. Maybe he lost something important. It’s hard to say. I thought about getting out of the van to try to talk with him, but it was getting late, it would have been hard to catch another ride, I didn’t know how he would react. There are always such reasons. By the time I realized that it was indeed the thing to do, it was
too late. So I’ll never know what he was crying about.

But I can say what I imagined. He seem defeated, disconsolate. He seemed to be crying because of everything all at once.

Since that day, I have seen the boys at the Bwa Moket station several times. They’re just as happy as they’ve always been. As nearly as I can tell. But their happiness seems even stranger and more wonderful to me now.


On the day after our all day hike into the mountains southeast of Pòtoprens, the first sound I heard was the corn mill. I was on my porch, a little tired and a little sore. Juan and Erik were still asleep. I looked over at the mill, and saw Clébert grinding away. He may have been tired too, but that wouldn’t have been to the point. He is married, with four very young children, and the corn he grinds every few days is what his family mainly eats. The work had to be done. After he finished grinding, he went over to Toto’s house where he’s doing some repair work. He’s a stonemason. There he spent the day moving the rocks into position, carrying water and sand, and mixing and applying the cement. Building. If he had any complaints, he kept them to himself.

I often think about work here, about how much work, how much hard work, the people I know here do. Let me mention a few examples.

I’ve written some about my neighbor, Madanm Kastra, but less about her husband, Kastra himself. Bòs Kastra is in his mid-sixties. His five children, ages 19-35, still live in the house he built. Recently, though, he’s started to build a house next to his own for Casnel, his oldest son. He is, like Clébert, a stonemason. He gets some help from his brothers, men not much younger than he is, and from Casnel too. But, on the whole, he’s building it himself. He’s a small thin man, but stands straight as a rod, and he works with the same energy, lifting and moving heavy stones and buckets of cement, that he must have had forty years ago. He’s said to be sick, to need prostate surgery, but the surgery is expensive. He doesn’t have the money, and could hardly afford to take the time away from work that recuperation would require. Even so, to see him from behind is to see a young man. If, once in a while, his knee gives out mid-stride, he gives his leg a shake and keeps walking.

Or take the folks that live in lower Ba Osya. They come, mostly the children, to get their water in Ka Glo. They live about a mile away, but ours is the closest source. It’s an especially hard mile to walk, steep and rocky. A couple of hundred yards of it are through the galèt, the pathless, rock-filled ravine that separates Ba Osya from Ka Glo. They make the trip several times each day, before and after school, with a gallon or two or five or six. I’ve lost my footing on that trail carrying nothing but my lightweight book bag. They carry forty pounds of water on their heads. Even little ones, four or five years old, will carry a gallon. By seven, they carry two, one in each hand. It’s remarkable.

Or Madanm Mèt. She’s up by four every morning, cooking and sweeping. She won’t let her children or her husband or me leave the house without a big meal, and Kasann, for one, leaves by six. She herself won’t leave until the house looks good, and that means carefully sweeping both it and the dirt yard outside. She’s in a hurry, because she too has to get to work. She walks each day to surrounding villages, from ten minutes to two hours away. She meets there with pregnant women and new mothers to talk about prenatal and infant care. And she does child vaccinations. When she gets home, at twelve or one or two, she starts cooking again, in a kitchen that quickly fills with choking, eye-searing smoke. She continues to labor all through the day, whether cleaning the house, preparing more food, or doing her daughters’ hair. She maintains her frenetic pace until eight or nine, then she goes to bed.

One more example: Byton, Bòs and Madanm Kastra’s younger son. He’s twenty-two. When I first came in 1997, he was still in school, a tireless student, up every day at first light, memorizing his daily lesson. When I would light my lamp at night to relax on my front porch, he would rush over and use its feeble light to read. He studied hard, really hard, all his days at school, and though he was the best student in our little neighborhood, he finally failed the national high school examinations. Twice, I think. So he gave up, and left school. It must have been a terrible blow. Now he works in Pòtoprens as a cabinetmaker’s apprentice. He goes down five days-a-week. He gets no days off. If he misses a day, he makes it up on a Sunday. He’s paid nothing, not even the little it would cost to ride a truck down to Petyonvil from Malik in the morning or back up at night. So he walks the hour down from Ka Glo before and after work. He spends his days lugging wood, or acting as his boss’s human vise-grip, or planing hand-cut boards-learning his trade.

It’s easy to romanticize the work that people do here, how much they work and how hard. It’s easy to slip into the habit of admiring special reserves of physical and inner strength they seem to have. It’s easy to think they’re extraordinary in some way. It’s much easier to construct and admire that notion of Haiti’s poor than to face the facts. I recently helped Jean-Reynald and some other young men with a little job they had to do, and was reminded that they are neither especially stronger nor less strong than I am.

The very hard work that the people I know do wears them out. Just as it would anyone else. Madanm Mèt has an ulcer. Byton, young as he is, is already developing a bad back. Of course, if you ask him how he is, he always says “tre byen,” very well. That’s just his way.

People work hard here just to survive. It’s not because they like the challenge, or because they’re “workaholics,” or to stay slim, or to get strong. It’s not to make a pile of dough. They have to.

Gaz blan

I had a great idea. Not brilliant, but pretty good. The swiftly rising value of the dollar would surely drive the price of gaz blan, or kerosene, up soon. Other prices were and would be rising. Serious inflation is a real danger. I myself, however, was focused on kerosene. The absence of electric lighting where I live makes us depend on it.

This was my idea: I would buy three full gallons today-normally we buy only one, because a little goes a long way. I’d get it all at today’s price. Mèt and Madanm Anténor both liked the idea. We share our kerosene, so we’d all save. Only later did I think about how little we’d actually save: probably less than a buck. Only later did I wonder when I’d begun thinking like some Coeur d’Alene survivalist: squirreling away my stash of essentials to hedge against what might come. These were my thoughts in retrospect. At the time, the idea seemed really good.

So I collected three empty gallon jugs, and took them down the mountain with me. We don’t generally buy kerosene up on the hill, especially larger quantities. I go down to Petyonvil or Delma, and lug it back up. I stopped by the Texaco at Delma 83 on the way down to the office. I figured I’d leave the kerosene at the office for the day while I went off to do some work. I could pick it up on the way home.

But it wasn’t that simple. When I got to the Texaco, they were out. They had had a delivery that morning, but I was unusually late getting down the mountain, and by the time I arrived at around 10:00, they had sold it all. But that wasn’t so serious. The guys at the station said more was on the way. If I came by later, I’d be fine.

So I spent the rest of the morning working in the office, then went another mile or so down Delma to meet with a group of community organizers for the afternoon. Erik and I left that meeting just after 4:00, and headed up the hill. I went by our office to pick up the empty gallons, and walked the five minutes to the Texaco.

The kerosene hadn’t arrived. It would be there, I was told, by 6:00. I should come back. I thought for a minute. If I waited until 6:00, and could fill the jugs then, I could probably get home around 7:30. I hadn’t ever arrived quite that late, and I didn’t relish the thought. It would be dark, and I would be lugging what would be for me a lot of weight, so my footing on the path would be that much harder. I’ve fallen a couple of times recently, and though I haven’t been hurt, little scrapes get infected easily here, and that’s more of a nuisance than I need. On top of that, Madanm Anténor would surely worry, because she was expecting me to arrive by 6:00. So I caught a ride up to Petyonvil. I thought I’d try to buy the kerosene at the Texaco there instead.

They too were out. They said they thought that Delma 83 was the only place to find it. I doubted that was true, but I certainly knew no better. So after a brief little sulk, I headed back down hill. I got to Delma 83 at about 5:30. After reminding me that he had said the kerosene would arrive at 6:00-the way he put it made me feel as though I was being scolded for coming too soon-the guy working there pointed to the full-size eighteen-wheel tanker truck struggling to get into the lot. There it was. I should wait.

At 6:00, the driver was still trying to get the truck into the lot. Mostly by yelling at the station attendants. Since his last trip to the station, a Coca-Cola® truck had left a large locked metal box, filled with cases of Coke®. The box turned what was a tight squeeze into the station for a truck as big as the gas truck into an impossible one. After several efforts to move the full box, by manpower and by four-by-four, the attendants busted open its locks with a hammer, and emptied it out case-by-case. Then they moved the empty box.

By now, it was 6:15. The gas truck started to pull in as soon as its driver was done yelling at the attendants. That took a couple more minutes, but soon he was in. It took a few more minutes for him to yell at the attendants enough that he was able to start filling the station’s underground tanks, but really not too long. He started with the diesel tank.

Now it was almost 6:30, there were more than twenty of us waiting for kerosene, and no indication that he would start on the kerosene tank anytime soon. I started to calculate travel time, and I would hardly be able to make it up the hill much before 8:00 even if I got my kerosene immediately. Not very likely.

So I gave up. I took my jugs back down to the office, and headed back up the hill empty-handed. I would, as it turned out, be able to fill them late the next morning. When I got to Ka Glo, the folks were a little surprised at my late arrival. They enjoyed the story I had to tell.

I spent a lot of the three hours between 5:00 and 8:00 thinking about how I was being inconvenienced. I must admit I was feeling pretty annoyed. But I left the station at 6:30 because I figured I could go a night without reading. Others there waiting could not give up-not if they wanted to eat: They would be using the kerosene to prepare their own and their children’s food. What was annoying to me could threaten their health, their well-being.

But I was annoyed. It’s funny how petty we can be.

The Outing

Suddenly there were five naked little Haitians boys swimming in the river with us. That’s when I felt that our group was part of a landscape. I say they were swimming, but they really weren’t quite, and neither were we. The river didn’t offer enough of a space to really swim. At least not in early March, well into the dry season. What they were doing was turning underwater somersaults, jumping around, and splashing. Generally: They were cooling and showing off. We ourselves were relaxing in the river’s strong current of cool water or drying on the warm rocks.
Toto and Jean-Reynald had been talking about the hike for several weeks, consistently telling me how far we were to go and how early we would have to leave. We would take off at 6:00 in the morning on Madigra, or Fat Tuesday. Kanaval would be in full swing down in Pòtoprens, but we would hike away from the noise and the crowd, up into and over the mountains, and down into the valley below. So we woke up at about five, we packed some sandwiches, and went for a walk. There were eleven of us: Madanm Kastra’s son Byton, Jean-Reynald, his younger brother Nikson, two of their cousins, Toto, Clébert, Richard, Erik, my friend Juan who was visiting from the States, and

The most stunning fact about the whole walk for me was the dirt. It’s light or medium brown and rocky around Ka Glo, where trees, shrubs, and grasses flourish. Though Ka Glo is no rain forest, it is pretty lush: shady and comfortably cool most of the time. As we hiked up the hill, through Ba Osya and Blancha, the soil got darker and richer, less rocky. By the time we reached the small high plateau around Grifen and Divye, it was black. This is prime farming country, relatively flat. The peasants grow vegetables here – carrots, onions, lettuce, cabbage – stuff that won’t grow well in the heat down below. These are some of the gardens that stock the markets in Grifen itself, and in Bwa Moket and Petyonvil below. The houses around Grifen reflect what the gardens are worth. They are large, solid stone houses with expensive tin roofs. Many are nicely painted.

But as we walked up beyond Grifen, the soil began to change. First it started to redden. It became lighter in color and harder, too. By the time we reached the near side of the ridge, it was bright red, the red I remember from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Up near the ridge, there were few large trees and very little grass. The shrubs were more succulent, less leafy. The gardens along the steep slope are large, but that hardly seems to help very much. There are few houses, and they are small and weather beaten. Most are made of woven sticks and mud.

As we crossed over the ridge, onto the other side of the mountain, the soil changed again. It turned white, grayish white. It looked like dirty sand, but it was more like powder. We were walking down the road as if through ashes, in places several inches deep. On this interior side of the mountain, there were few plants at all. It was barren, a desert waste. Lifeless gray dust all the way to the plain below. Just as there were few plants, there were few people. But there were a few. Somehow they scratch out something of a life on this unearthly terrain.

And we descended. By the time we got to the bottom, we had been walking for almost five hours. There was a shallow river there, where a few people were bathing and a few others doing laundry. Having crossed over the ridge, we lost the breeze. It was noon or so, and hot. So we hurried across the river to some shade, and thought about what we wanted to do.

The guys had determined to visit Belle Fontaine, where one of our neighbors had once taught school. But when we got to the shady oasis near the river, some market women told us it was another three hours’ hike. They were there trading at a small grocery – the only one for miles around, I was told. They pointed us instead towards Basanble, a small place about 30 minutes away, where the water would be a little deeper and there would be space to play soccer. It would be, they said, a little hard to find, so they assigned two little local boys to walk with us there as our guides. We had a ball and a picnic lunch with us, so the boys were glad to go along.

So we ate and we swam and then started to head back. When we got back to the grocery, there was a truck waiting to leave. We were more or less out of gas ourselves, so we jumped at the surprising chance to get a ride most of the way home – especially since the truck’s route would include the hard climb up through dust back to the ridge above Grifen. It was five goudes apiece, about a quarter these days, for a space to stand and hold or hang on. Baggage – we had none to speak of – would have cost extra, but other passengers brought plenty. For example: The mid-sized pig tied tightly to the truck’s flat bed squealed in pain or fear all the way back. We had to get out and walk a couple of times when the combination of the steepness of the slope with the depth of the dust made the climb too hard, but after an hour’s rough ride we were just above Divye, less than an hour from home.

As we walked, or dragged, back down, we talked. In twos and threes, the little groupings shifting as each of us slowed down, sped up, or took a short rest. Clébert tried to convert Juan to Adventism, using a homemade language, a sort of compromise between his own Kreyol and Juan’s little bit of French. I talked with Byton about his work: He’s an apprentice cabinet-maker. We got back to big and very welcome meals, which we gladfully ate, lots of questions about how tired we were, and cold water to bathe in. It was a great day.