The Gauntlet

It’s only been three months? It felt like six. I just wrapped up a few pressing matters and so I have a moment to write.

Anyway, if you remember, in the last episode I had just left the airport “terminal” and used CIA mind bending, deception, and self control techniques to get past “customs” and into the “fresh” air of central Port au Prince.

I stepped out the doors and I was immediately assaulted. Apparently there is a growth industry in Haiti centered around travelers and luggage. I’m not exactly sure what the name of the industry is. But it’s possible that the genius of the operation is so elevated that it defies labeling. Banks have essentially bankrupted our nation and made themselves rich while doing little to no actual work. But they have nothing on these guys. The moment you step out the door, 70 or 80… it could have been 1,000… men in grey uniforms will bull rush you in an effort to place their hand gingerly upon your luggage. Keep in mind that all this luggage is on a luggage cart. There is no real exertion necessary to transport the cart down the path. It’s paved. Wheels in Haiti function as they do in other places, making it a nearly effortless endeavor. But there is some unwritten rule that if one of these guys has their hand in physical contact with your luggage (while you push it) for an uncertain and probably arbitrary period of time, they have “helped” you with your luggage and are therefore entitled to monetary compensation. In history, it has to be the least amount of work ever performed to actually merit an entire constituency of uniformed people who consider themselves to be employed. Take notes banks. You’ve just been beaten at your own game. These guys probably don’t die of stress related heart attacks at 43, either. Murdered, starved, or die from cholera maybe. But not stress related death. Well, actually, all those things seem pretty stressful, too.

So where pushing a functioning cart down a paved sidewalk would normally be a mundane , non-life threatening experience, in Haiti it is an activity fraught with peril, where you have to be constantly vigilant and if your attention wanes for even a split second, you could find yourself having been “helped” and owe. And some of these guys are true artists, reeeeaaaaalllll Da Vincis. They will walk next to you, talking to distract you while one hand hangs slack, grazing the side of the luggage as they pleasantly engage you in pleasant pleasantries. This is a particularly deft maneuver because most people who come to a new country want to be friendly with the locals. So there’s a psychological element. It elicits light feelings of guilt when you have to slap someone’s hand and yell out “NICE TRY! I DON’T THINK SO, NOT THIS TIME SUCKA!” after having a few seconds of gratifying conversation with them. I mean, I guess I didn’t have to call the guy a “sucka.” But what’s done is done.

There was one guy, you could tell he had been there a while. He had a certain aura about him, like the most respected guy on a prison block. You could tell that he had been around and that it wasn’t just brawn and seniority, he had brains. This was evidenced by the fact that his approach to his chosen career was rooted deeply in a solid understanding of quantum mechanics. I watched him “help” a man and his wife or mistress or whatever with their bags-on-cart. He touched so delicately that it would have required an electron microscope to actually verify contact. But it counted. The man had actually harnessed the power of subatomic particles to earn a paycheck. I would have felt bad for them except they were missionaries, clearly obnoxious, and had on matching t-shirts presumably so they could be easily identified by locals as good candidates for future robberies. The screenprinting was horrible.

Naturally I was a bit apprehensive. Having never been to Haiti, I was unsure about the social policies regarding the use of machetes on travelers who don’t settle their debts. I maintained control by shoving my cart in the general direction of travel, jumping on belly first (think orcas at sea world sliding onto that platform of shallow water so they can pose for pictures) and flailing my arms about wildly while screaming something that I’m pretty sure turned out to be arabic. After about 100 feet, nearly falling off the curb, and even though it defies conventional logic, thwarting the attempts of 300-400 baggage helpers (they do have a high population density), I made it to my next intermediary destination. It was a small patch of dirty concrete that kind of had shade but offered a wonderful view of the parking lot. I’m not being sarcastic about the view either. I mean, the parking lot itself sucked. But the view was still amazing. I’m a people watcher. And if ever there was a more fertile ground for that activity, I haven’t found it. In a 3rd world country, the place where white people from the 1st world initially interface with the population of the country that they are invading, um, I mean traveling to, makes for a high incidence of entertaining social interactions. I couldn’t wait to get to watching.

So I laid down on my all my shit and took a nap.

We were waiting for the rest of our team to arrive, as we were all traveling from different places at different times. For the sake of historical accuracy and honesty, I guess, it should be mentioned that my luggage victory was not a solitary effort. There were 4 or 5 of us who had been on that flight. And our fearless leader had been in country for days and was there to help us make it to our concrete patch without losing any vital limbs or the couple bucks they were trying to swindle from us. It was a coordinated effort of all of us running distractions and button hook patterns and what not to get to where we needed to be.

A guy can only sleep on dusty concrete in midday, tropical, July, sort-of-shade in the parking lot of the busiest airport in a country for so long. And when he wakes up there will be new things to write about.

I just hope it doesn’t take 3 months.

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