Driving in Port-au Prince, Haiti

December 18th, 2012

So Heartline has four vehicles I get to drive around Port-au Prince.  One of them is a 1992 Toyota 4runner.  Just like the picture below:

Ad

Except our 4runner “put itself out there” and now doesn’t look (or drive) so nice as perhaps it once did:

4Runner

Other vehicles I drive are a 15 passenger van (stick-shift), a 1999 Montero, and a screened-in box truck (you can see it in the background of the picture above).

Driving is not near as bad as I was expecting.  That’s not to say I haven’t already nearly hit someone (more than once), or that I haven’t knocked off the driver side mirror on the Montero (I did). 

At the same time, I’m not scared of driving here anymore.  Yeah, there is craziness such as motorcycles weaving in and out everywhere, cars driving up on sidewalks, pedestrians milling about continually, gargantuan potholes to avoid, nobody following conventional rules, etc.    At the same time, it is rare to ever get above 30mph, so it’s a lot like driving in a parking lot: slow with lots of tight squeezes (and you have to pay attention), but not nerve wracking.

Some sayings hold true for here:

  1. An inch is as good as a mile
  2. The right of way goes to whoever gets there first – cutting is not considered rude, it’s considered merging (or winning)

At the same time, you never know what will happen next.  Examples:

  1. Yesterday I had a motorcycle both on my left and right when I came upon a massive pothole in the road.  In attempting to miss the pothole I nearly hit a motorcyclist.  So many split second decisions have to be made.  It’s better to bottom out the oil pan than hit a motorcycle.
  2. Today there was a car in front of me reversing in my lane!  He missed his turnoff and, instead of turning around further and coming back (which he should have done), he just stopped his car in the middle of the road and put it into reverse, backing into oncoming traffic behind him.  Craziness.

Intersections are most interesting.  Some have streetlights but most don’t.  They work like round-abouts, except without the round-about.  Everyone enters from each direction in a giant melee and meanders to wherever they want to go (right, left, straight). 

Even at the odd intersection with a stoplight, it’s still a zoo.  Below is a picture I took today (with my cell phone) entering an intersection endowed with a traffic light (note I have the Green signal).

Intersection

Here are tips I’ve learned so far regarding driving here:

  1. Drive deliberately, confidently, and defensively.  Don’t make sudden changes.
  2. Drive taking up more of the lane than you need (ie, drive more down the center of the road).  This gives more options when encountering the unexpected.
  3. When entering a street from a parking lot or side street, nose into traffic.  You don’t need enough room to merge in, you just need enough to get your car in a “hole.”  Others will stop or flow around to avoid wrecking.
  4. When driving through high pedestrian areas (like an open market) keep moving (slowly).  People will part before thee like the Red Sea.
  5. Watch mirrors closely for motorcycles squeezing by on both sides. 
  6. Watch mirrors that they don’t get knocked off!

Other Duties

Besides picking up and dropping off guests at the airport (I was there 3 times today) I also run various errands (from changing money to buying supplies to transporting equipment from one Heartline property to another), also get to work with others on their projects (from varnishing woodwork to brainstorming web design), and work fixing things. 

This last area (fixing things) is much needed.  Everywhere one looks in Haiti something needs fixing.  It’s simply ridiculous (and overwhelming).  The entire country has been farmer-johned with jerry rigs of the mickey-mouse variety.  A lot of stuff “works,” per se, but hardly anything works like it should. 

As a small for-instance, the fan in my room (where I’m writing this) works fine and blows copious amounts of air.  Yet it is missing the grill cover so therefore is not overly safe.  I have it setup blowing right on me while I sleep and am not a little apprehensive some morning I’m going to stick my head into the blades while turning off my alarm clock.  Free lobotomy, here I come.

In America I’ve seen many posters that read, “Safety 1st!”  Here in Haiti they should make posters that read, “Safety 5th!” 

Another thing, workmanship here isn’t always the best.  Some company we hired put up a concrete wall this past week.  It’s like 8’ high and made from blocks with vertical rebar.  But the blocks weren’t mixed correctly and therefore are the consistency of chalk.  I can take my pocket knife and crumble them away.  Many of the blocks already have cracks.  What’s worse, I pushed on the wall in the middle and it swayed back and forth!  We’re going to have to strengthen it.

This morning John gave a devotional from the Church in Sardis.  This is the church where God said he knew their deeds that they had a reputation of being alive but were dead and consequently God told them to strengthen the things which remained. 

We talked about what it means to strengthen what remains spiritually.  John used the analogy of our swaying wall that needs strengthening.  He pointed out how it’s bad the wall is poor quality, but it’s good we noticed it so it can be fixed.  In the same way, it’s bad we are sinful, but it’s good if we recognize the problem and turn to God, who can make us whole through relationship with Him.

Every morning us guys with Heartline meet together to discuss what we’re doing that day, and to look in the Word, and to pray.  It’s a great deal.

Additional Thoughts

My brother Seth recently wrote a reflective post sharing his thoughts and feelings on being in Afghanistan.  Since I read that post I’ve felt I too should write a reflective post about being here.

But honestly, I’ve been too busy these last two weeks in Haiti to be reflective.  There’s been so much to learn, so many people to meet, and so much work to get done I haven’t had much downtime.  Some of that is my own fault, I often do more than necessary.

I did read (in one sitting) a 400+ page Frank Peretti book a couple nights ago, so I guess there is downtime if I want it :–)

But in short, I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be productive and I’m happy to be learning new things.

And at the same time I’m sad about leaving Wichita and everyone back home.  Even feel a bit guilty I’m letting people down by up and leaving.

Ok, that’s the update from this end.

2 Responses to “Driving in Port-au Prince, Haiti”

  1. Krista Says:

    Missing you too but love your updates. :-) I started laughing at “our 4Runner put itself out there”. I’m glad driving is becoming more understandable for you. 😉 Keep up the good work and definitely keep us updated. Praying for you!

  2. Ryan and Melissa in Haiti – Highlights From the Past Month *Lots of Pictures* Says:

    […] Here is an excerpt I liked from Nick’s latest blog: […]

Leave a Reply