Sometimes I feel like my life is one big computer game with the difficulty level set on, “Hard.”
Visiting the bank today felt that way. There were around 50 people in line in front of me, and I waited there an hour and a half before seeing a cashier. Cell phones were not allowed in the line, so there isn’t much to do except try not to pass out. One of the guys in front of me kept kneeling down to try changing position.
You know those little ropes they have to direct a line? Well, they had them at this bank, and honestly I felt like I was a rat in a maze. I tried counting how many twisty turns I would have to make before reaching the front counter, but it was like trying to count how many pews there are in a church: after awhile they all start swimming in front of your eyes. I finally decided I was on the 7th twist back.
All that to cash a check!
The only thing to pass the time at the bank was a large television hanging up front. Thankfully there was no audio, but the movie playing was called Old Dogs with Robin Williams and John Travolta. It was kind of a pathetic movie, and I felt embarrassed for my country exporting this junk. Here I am in a room full of Haitians and I’m the only white person and only American all rolled into one and nearly everyone is watching this movie of a bunch of American white people doing stupid things. I felt there was some irony there. Oh well, our movies may not be all that edifying, but at least our banks are more efficient.
Oftentimes it is hard to imagine how things could be made more difficult in Haiti. John McHoul says Haiti is the land of unlimited impossibilities.
There is also an element of reductionism here too. What I mean by that is things have been boiled down to the least common denominator. For instance, spaghetti here uses ketchup as the sauce. If you think about it, ketchup is tomato-based, and makes sense as the simplest and cheapest option for spaghetti sauce. And the meat? Slice fried hotdogs. And this is the dish I have for breakfast most mornings. Nutrition, nutrition.
There is a Haitian guy I know who wants to start a tap-tap route with his ancient full-size Ford Club Wagon conversion van. Unfortunately, the V8 engine sucked gas like a sieve, and gasoline being $5/gallon here, he swapped out the big V8 engine with a small 4 cylinder diesel and manual transmission. Then he took out the rear seats, removed the windows, took off a door or two, welded in some benches, and told me proudly it would now transport 20 people!
I wondered how well his van was going to operate now with the occupancy doubled and the engine size halved?!
I also pointed out to him it may be difficult for people to get in the back seats because the welded in benches went all the way across. His response was dismissive: “This is for Haitians, they’ll find a way.” I offered that perhaps people could enter through the rear windows? The glass now having been removed, it made since, and I decided to demonstrate the feasibility of this maneuver, using alacrity I’d forgot I had, and afterwards proudly mentioned Americans could get in the back seats too. The American in me did find it worth my breath to issue a caution about all the sharp corners on the angle iron as a safety risk for people cutting themselves climbing over the seats. That ergonomic suggestion fell on deaf ears, I’m afraid.
This afternoon I saw them taking off the side door, so I think the project is almost ready. I was allowed to start up the van and the engine sounded pretty mean. In fact, mean enough that it wouldn’t shut down when I turned off the key! The trick to turning it off (at least for now) seems to be popping the vehicle into gear with the brakes on.
Buying some Bolts
Yesterday I visited the local hardware store called Eko Depot. It’s a spinoff of Home Depot – even with the same colors. However, it’s smaller than even Hupp Hardware back home. I needed a few bolts and nuts. I found these haphazardly sorted in about 20 small cardboard boxes that had previously been labeled with plumbing parts. The boxes now had the plumbing writing scratched through and new writing denoting the sizes of the bolts and nuts supposedly inside. It was all a mess, and I was frustrated by the time I found the few bolts I needed.
Taking them to the front counter I could tell by the look on the cashiers face this was going to be a problem. And it was. To start, the sizes were guessed at by holding the various bolts up to her index finger for calibration. Then she informed me I couldn’t buy just one of each type, I needed to buy at least 6 of one type, 4 of another type, and 12 of yet the third type. I told her these were some of the last bolts I could find and could she please have mercy? No.
So I went back and tried scrounging around. After some success, I was still unable to find more of the bolts of the type I needed 12. I noted the worker in the bolt & nut section wasn’t overly helpful. Upon returning to the front desk and reporting my findings, she wasn’t impressed, and wasn’t about to let me checkout. Apparently, if they only had one bolt left, I couldn’t purchase it, because I had to buy at least 12. Finally I asked if I could please purchase 12, but they only give me 1? With hesitation, she agreed.
Little things like that throw me off.
Or like Noah coming back just now while I’m writing this with juice he bought on the street for me and Enockson (that was nice) but having all three of the straws in his mouth! I understand his hands were full, but that is kind of gross. Straws here are not packaged with paper like the ones in the States so they were kind of dirty to begin with from dust off the street, but at least part of them was clean from Noah’s mouth.
Little things that drive me nuts do tend to stack up. In the afternoons and throughout the early evening there is a drum practicing session right out my back door and windows by the neighbors. Multiple people hitting drums at the same time with no rhyme or reason. It sounds like the drums are right in my room. Unbelievably, I’ll more or less tune them out, even though the sound can be deafening. But after an hour or two, I’ll notice I’m about to scream and ask myself, “Why am I so grumpy this time?” and then I’ll stop and notice the cacophony and think, “How have I NOT lost my mind yet??” Here’s a sample I recently recorded standing at the sink in my kitchen:
Today was the first time I yelled at a Haitian (maybe the second?). I was having my A/C worked on and a pushy windshield wiper salesman came up. After I showed initial interest (because I do need new windshield wipers), I changed my mind after seeing the quality of the new wipers, and given a high price he wouldn’t negotiate on. I told him no repeatedly, but he wouldn’t listen, and kept trying to put his new ones on. Finally I physically got in between him and the car and told him no firmly, but he kept trying to reach around to work on the windshield wipers me so I actually physically pushed him away and told him NO!
At this, he stepped back and I thought he had got the hint so I went back under the hood to see what mischief the air conditioner guy was up to, but when I looked back up a minute or so later Mr. Windshield Wiper had installed one of his new wipers on my car!! I was furious and went over and told him, “No” again but as was just chuckling and not giving me any attention, pulled the wiper off he had just installed and threw it across the parking lot and yelled at him to get lost. He stopped laughing after that and quit bothering me. But there could have been better ways to handle the situation besides losing my temper. I felt bad afterwards.
Being here in Haiti I feel like I’ve lost whatever veneer of holiness I used to think I had. But the truth is I’m really the same person, but under frequent duress means I’m tested more often and, unfortunately, that allows me to see my true colors far more often than I did back home. It’s humbling.
Ok, those are a few random anecdotes from my life!