Monday, November 8, 2010

Rolando and the Hardware Adventure

Saturday October 23, 2010

A few days ago I had a bad day. I had a whole entry written about everything that was wrong…mostly things related to homesickness, sleeping by myself in a concrete box (I really miss Oscar), and about being alone as an American woman in Haiti. But it just isn’t good to harp on the negative, so I’ve let that day go along with the post.

Saturday October 23 could have been considered a bad day, since pretty much everything went wrong. It went so wrong I spent most of the day laughing. It was quite the welcome to Haiti.

The day began with me heading to the HELP Center in order to meet our motorcycle driver at 8 AM. He was taking me to the hardware store so that I could get a quote for all the equipment I would need for my garden/compost project. First of all, I was already feeling like this would be an “experience” because I was going alone and my Creole is still baby talk. All I knew was that I needed to ask for a “proforma” and ask for a “ti discount de 5%.” (Creole has some funny English words…discount being one of them) So with my list in hand, I grabbed a helmet, hopped on the back of Rolando’s bike, and we were off. [Side note: I really love riding motorcycles; it’s too fun. And I still want a Vespa. Nothin’ like the wind in your face.]

Unfortunately, my joy ride didn’t last very long. We were about 20 minutes into our journey towards A&B Hardware when the police pulled us over. (Welcome to Haiti) I noticed they were pulling all the motorcyclists over and checking their licenses, so I simply stayed on the back of the bike while Rolando (HELP’s motorcycle driver/errand boy) dug around for his papers. Then I thought that maybe the police were giving him a hard time because I was white. Great, I thought, I’d have to try to explain in Creole that he is my chauffeur and that he is paid by my employers, etc, etc. It turned out that wasn’t the case and that I didn’t have to explain myself. But the police asked me to get off the bike and go stand in the shade. At that point I started really wondering what was going on. Was I going to be stranded somewhere in PaP? I had no idea where I was. What would I do? I didn’t even have Garry’s number. (Garry is HELP’s director in Haiti)

Luckily the policemen were nice and spoke French (yay!), and I found out that the problem was Rolando only had a copy of his license. (Welcome to Haiti) Not a big deal, but they did confiscate his bike and keys. I called Linedy, who manages the HELP office and she just said don’t worry. Don’t worry? I mean, I stayed calm of course, but couldn’t you at least tell me if somebody is coming to get us? Whatever, I just went with the flow and Rolando made some mystery calls to mystery numbers from my phone (so as to save himself the credit). He just looked at me every few minutes and said, “Mimi, Garry ap vini, l’ap vini.” That translates to Garry is coming, he’s coming. OK, I was reassured; at least somebody was coming. The next challenge was how long would that take? Traffic is notoriously bad in PaP. (Welcome to Haiti)

I looked at my watch; it was now 10 AM (2 hours after we had initially set out on the adventure). While we were waiting on the other side of the street for Garry, a Tap-Tap (the Haitian public transportation “buses”) broke down right in the middle of an already busy street…only about 30 feet down the street from the police motorcycle checkpoint. And the Tap-Tap didn’t just stall. Oh no, the whole front axel just dropped onto the asphalt. (Welcome to Haiti) The truck wasn’t going anywhere for a long time and in kicked the cacophony of hundreds of horns and honks.

Garry eventually made it through the gridlock to pick us up, and we were back on route to the hardware store. Ahhh, sweet victory! We were going to make it!

A&B Hardware turned out to be a total bust. They didn’t have everything I needed, and not only that, but you can’t pick things up and put them in a basket. You have to describe to them what you want and they get it out of the back for you. This meant there was huge potential for a large margin of error. After hearing “pa gen sa” (don’t have that) one too many times, Garry and I gave up on A&B. (Welcome to Haiti)

We got back in the car, and I just assumed that was it, I’d have to wait another week to get my equipment. But then Garry drove around the corner to a place called Eko Depot (a total rip off of Home Depot…same colors and knock-off logo). This was the place! It was like hardware heaven! They had everything I needed and more! And I could put my stuff right into a basket and take it home with me that very day! I was thrilled. Who knew a hardware store could bring so much joy.

We crammed shovels, wheelbarrows, pitchforks, and much much more into Garry’s little SUV (like an old Rav4 size SUV) and headed back to the HELP Center. I think we finally made it back around 2 or 3 pm. Ahhh, what a day, and it was far from over.

After organizing everything at the center, it was time to head home with Joanna for a quick rest and shower before going out with Conor to hear some live kompa. Joanna works in the NY office and was on her first visit to Haiti. She stayed with me, and it was wonderful! Even though I hadn’t been here much more than a week, it was so nice to have another American female around. Plus, she is totally awesome! (I was quite sad to see her leave a few days later)

Joanna brought some Newman’s Own pretzels with her from NY that we proceeded to devour before going out. Mmmm, a break from fried plantains and beans & rice. We were all tired, but mustered the energy to go hear this good kompa group, Fasil. The venue was pretty cool, although we were seated in the back, and since I wear flowers in my hair, I was placed on the bush-side of the table. My head was literally in the plants, but it wasn’t a big deal because the Prestige made the whole day better.

Prestige is the Haitian beer. It’s very similar to Red Stripe of Jamaica, and even comes in a similar bottle. Add in some groovy Afro-Caribbean beats, and you have a wonderful evening. Kompa is great! It’s pretty relaxed, but also upbeat. I like it. One dances kompa to kompa music, but I have yet to learn how to kompa. Watching all the other attendees crammed on the dance floor was enough for me that night. It’s a pretty sensual dance, so I hope to learn with some familiar people before jumping into a serious dance scene with strange men.

The concert was great, but we didn’t even make it to the headliner because it was already around 1 am and we couldn’t last any longer. The next time Fasil plays I will drink some coffee and prepare for a really late night, full of dancing and hopefully drunken splendor.

Welcome to Haiti! From potential disaster to delightful beer and music, all in a day’s work!