Wearing Flip Flops in Haiti

My own version of #tbt…finally putting up stuff I wrote months or years ago. This was originally written on September 5, 2013.

I wore flip flops in Haiti.  Maybe not the wisest decision I’ve ever made, but it was so stinking hot in Port-au-Prince that the thought of putting socks and running shoes on my sweaty feet made me squirm.

At the same time, my footwear choice meant I was constantly terrified that one slip, trip, or misstep would send me plunging up to my ankles or worse in the foul brown watery sludge running through the open sewers along the streets.

Drew and I spent part of Saturday in Petionville trying to do errands.  Everything we tried was a huge fail.  A local SIM card didn’t work in my Dominican phone. The bus station was closed so we couldn’t buy tickets for our ride back to Santo Domingo.  After an aggressive pat-down by an armed guard at the bank, one ATM was out of order and the other just refused to give me money.  Things don’t quite work right in the DR, but they don’t seem to work at all in Haiti.  The DR is disorganized in a way that’s kind of funny. Haiti feels disorganized to the point of chaos, lawless, on the brink of eruption.

Our new friend Phil ushered us around, steering his car smoothly in between oncoming motos and trucks and speaking, to our ears, masterful Kriyol, arranging for a driver to pick us up at the border and finagling the table with the best view at the mountaintop restaurant where we went on Friday night with some other blan (foreigners of any color), mostly NGO workers. Like me, Phil is a returned (never say former) Peace Corps Volunteer who was posted in rural DR for two years. “Don’t you miss speaking Spanish?” I asked. He said he did, and admitted that the last time he spoke Spanish was with a Dominican prostitute in a Port-au-Prince strip club who was offering him 30% of her returns if he would pimp her out to his friends. We wondered aloud why, with Dominican-Haitian relations as bad as they are, any Dominican would come west at all. Phil explained that this girl had come over after the earthquake, when a huge influx of new NGO workers meant a vast increase in the number of people in Haiti who can afford prostitutes.

People kept telling us how resilient Haitians are, but all I saw were outstretched hands and dead eyes. The first phrase we learned in Kriyol was “I don’t have any money,” though Phil’s roommate Mackenzie maintained that “Sorry, maybe tomorrow” was more effective.

We wandered through the market near Phil’s house, dusty lanes crowded with fly-covered chicken, shriveled vegetables, and both women and men balancing the most improbable things on their heads. No one returned my tentative smiles except for one girl, about 6 years old, all pigtails and big ears. She was perched in the maze-like indoor portion of the market, where the murmurings of “blan!” started to sound threatening to my untrained ear, and the lack of exit made me short of breath. Back outside, I gasped audibly as we watched a young man bend over to wash some utensils in the water I was so careful to avoid stepping in.

I don’t know what blan-Haitian relations are really like beyond the snippets we heard.  Phil’s friend Colleen was robbed when a man jumped into the passenger seat of her car. Alexis’ husband was arrested, prompting them to leave Haiti for New Orleans. They told stories of another friend who returned to the States with his young son, leaving behind the “crazy” Haitian baby mama.

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