What to Do on My Day Off?

Many aspects of Haitian life are intense.  Sometimes Haitians drive their cars like maniacs.  Sometimes they worship the Lord like maniacs.  Today I had the opportunity to witness both.

It was technically my day off.  Last time I had one such it was spent sleeping through the entire thing (and the next night), getting in nearly 36 hours total, only arising to eat, the effort of resting having worked up a special appetite, as I recall.  This time I should have done the same… especially since I’m sick with a cold.  Instead, I decided to go a-visiting and a-exploring. I have my whole life to sleep, but who knows how long I’ll live in Haiti?

This morning I availed myself to the cultural experience of walking around downtown.  One nice thing about Port-au Prince is that, for the most part, people leave you alone.  Downtown here doesn’t have much tourism… which means not many tourists… which means the locals aren’t naturally tuned in to the “bugging foreigners” setting.

I kept an eye out for street kids, of which I saw a number.  I’ve heard that many of the kids who sniff glue live in the Port-au Prince cemetery, so I visited there too.  One of the friendly gate-workers gave me a tour.  I was proudly showed Papa Doc’s tomb, of which only a remnant of busted concrete remained.  No doubt at one point there was an imposing monument on that base. 

Around (and in) the cemetery are shopping stalls where one can buy long-wick candles and voodoo dolls and such.  A massive tree in the cemetery had a great number of just such dolls pinned to its trunk.  Not sure what the significance was, guessing to torment ones enemies in the afterlife with the tingly-winglies.  In retrospect, I should have asked my tour guide.  Instead, I remember telling him something like I’m a Christian and don’t believe in that pokey-needle-jazz.

Later, I drove onwards to Carrefour to visit my pastor friend Watson and his family.  Twas a pleasant afternoon getting caught up, the timing of my visit being particularly fortuitous.  For one thing, turns out he was preaching a revival meeting this evening.  I attended that, driving his family to the service, saving them tap-tap rides, for which they were grateful.  The service was lengthy, the worship was heartfelt, and when Pastor Watson got up front to speak, he first called me up to say a few words to the revival-ee’s.  Ugh, hate when they do that.  Don’t you love being put on the spot in front of several hundred people?

I’ve attended quite a few Haitian services now, in diverse locales and denominations, and though I haven’t understood a word yet (because I don’t speak Creole), I do notice most the sermons are delivered in the same emotional tenor: imagine Tony Evans speaking Haitian Creole.  Except that he’s on steroids. 

By the time all the hoopla with Church was done, it was night time, and I was still in Carrefour, a long way from home.  After driving Watson and Co. back to their ranch (think Silver Springs Apartments with none of the amenities, comforts, or niceties) which included navigating a few tight alleyways on a steep gravel road, I embarked on the pilgrimage home, which turned out to be eventful in its own right.

For starters, there were three police checkpoints I went through.  Two were relatively painless, but at the third I was forced to negotiate with the law quite some time. They were threatening to give me a ticket because one of my headlights was burned out.  I wish they would have been decisive, just giving me a ticket or giving me a warning. Instead, they hemmed and hawed around hoping I’d give them some money. Rather than money, I gave them my solemn promise to fix the headlight first thing.  One policeman began openly asking for a bribe.  Then another came up and wanted to throw the book at me, which I didn’t appreciate.  Then a third policeman came up and the question was asked, “So what do you want us to do to you?”  How are you supposed to answer a question like that from an officer of the law?  I thought, then replied something to the effect, “Just give me a warning and let me go.”  Eventually they did. Ask and you shall receive.

Crossing downtown Port-au Prince at 8pm is an eerie time.  The roads are clear enough of traffic you can move along, like 30 mph.  That’s just fast enough to jar your teeth out when you hit the potholes. However, tons of people are still out.  In fact, at one point I passed a mob of perhaps a hundred or so running down the street en masse.  They were yelling, and some were carrying torches.  I gave them a wide berth and kept moving. 

Another hazard are manholes missing the covers. I narrowly avoided rolling into several of these… though a car directly in front of me was not so lucky and may have wrecked its suspension. But the real road-hazard doozie for today was at one point on the way home I was surprised upon suddenly coming upon a concrete barrier across my lane!  As it loomed from the dark, I stopped just in the Nick of time, as is my custom.  If my attention had been diverted even a second, the 4runner would have been “totaled toast.” Never in my life has something similar happened in America.

There was more too, but I’m getting tired, and this is getting long, and tomorrow is another day, and I’ll try making my next post more spiritually edifying.  Just wanted to get a few notes jotted about the day before I forgot everything.