On Monday we went to Cap Haitien, the “big city” as I alluded to in the previous update. Several hours of motorcycle riding on a short suspension bike with three dudes on the best roads in the world, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. Anyway, arriving in Cap Haitien I was overwhelmed by the sage like insight that I’m about to share right after I type this colon: It is one of the dirtiest places I have ever been. A picture is worth a thousand words. But I wish I could make it worth just one smell. Port au Prince was similar. But they had an earthquake, and therefore, a good excuse. Cap Haitien suffered no such tragedy. This was manmade. A testament to human ingenuity and their dedication to assist entropy in its wanton destruction of all systems of order. To be fair, Port au Prince probably looked the same before the earthquake, just with less rubble and less shanty towns. Imagine the same milling about, community-on-the-streets dynamic as in the smaller villages, only there are about 10,000 times as many people. And every one of those people throw their trash in the street. It’s similar to the American contrast of small towns and major cities. Small towns have a certain vibe, idyllic. Then the big cities seem markedly cut throat. Same here. People move to Cap Haitien or Port au Prince to “make it.” They start businesses, party… and throw their trash in the street.
But the purpose of going to Cap was to pick up a wire of cash from the states, so we could start construction on the security wall back at the clinic. This turned out to be no easy task. Actually, we made it harder than it had to be. The first place we went had a line out the door. And there were two similar establishments on the block. So we went to a second one where a man with socks pulled up over his pants and a shotgun stopped us at the door. It immediately occurred to me that someone who pulls their socks up over their pants shouldn’t be allowed to have a shotgun. My suspicions were confirmed when he gave each of us the least effective frisking I’ve ever seen. I didn’t even have to bend over and cough. It was disappointing.
So we wait in line. Get to the front. Give the lady at the counter the reference number, amount, and my passport. A faint hint of a mile creeps across her face and she tells us she can’t give us the money because the order has been sent to Colten Smith and my passport says Colten John Smith. I tried to explain that we don’t use middle names in the US and that the likelihood of a white person with this exact name, the reference number, amount, and knowledge of who sent the wire coming in here and trying to defraud her was pretty low. I learned that day that the spiteful demeanor of the DMV employee who hates his or her life and found a bureaucratic government job to spread the misery was not limited to the US. She had the exact posture of that person. And everyone reading this knows exactly what I mean. She said it was MoneyGram “policy.” The three name thing, not her bitchy attitude. Though she nailed the role so hard that I wonder if somewhere in the world there is a training program…
So we went to the third place, a modern looking bank with a manager in a suit. Aside from the complete lack of diversity in the bank, standing in there, you wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t a bank in the US. We didn’t even get frisked, again disappointing, as I had grown to anticipate the activity. While standing in the queue, the manager pulled us out and I could tell we were about to get special treatment. Would this be the part where we get frisked? Alas it was not. My translator asked him if the middle name thing was a problem. He kind of laughed at the suggestion as if to say that’s ridiculous. Policy my ass. He processed our order, then I handed him my passport. He said he needed a second ID, a driver’s license. I gave him my paramedic ID card and he said it wouldn’t work. A small discussion ensued, ending not in our favor. We left empty handed again. The DMV lady at the other place didn’t require two IDs. But this bank manager, he said it was MoneyGram “policy.”
Defeated, we went back to the first place, with the line out the door. We didn’t get frisked. Disappointing. There was an oscillating fan that was quite nice. We waited and waited. Eventually it came our turn. We went up to talk to the lady. She did the transfer without an issue. One ID. Three names vs two. Didn’t matter. Gave us our money. Simple. Policy my ass. They even had a bathroom upstairs. I went to see if there would be any sort of frisking. Disappointed. But as a consolation, I still achieved a high level of urinary relief. As we’re leaving this place, my translator, with perfect comedic timing, turns to me and says “We try to economize our time, we end up using more time.” Truer words have never been spoken, Fresnel. Truer words have never been spoken. He was like a Haitian Socrates. Caught up in the gravitas of the moment, I took a few seconds to evaluate the course of my life. I was interrupted by an exceedingly chubby lady in an “I’m too sexy for my shirt” shirt who kind of bulldozed her way through everyone in her radius. My fault. I was standing all the way against the wall at the double doors.
Now that we had much stacked paper in hand, we were off to cop construction materials, like how all the rappers talk about when they rap about their medical relief work in third world countries. I’ll leave the rhyming to them. So we go all through this pristine, city-by-the-sea procuring all kinds of essential items. A god damn scavenger hunt. Wheelbarrows, tanks, cement, rebar… you know… constructiony shit. And then a thing of Tampico Orange, for nutrition and hydration. The whole time I’m skulking around in the shadows, hiding from view like a coward or a thief, because if they even catch a whiff of white person, price automatically doubles. If they actually see you, price triples. And two weeks in to this trip, the legend that is the way I smell has grown considerably. So I’m like blocks away, like this is a stakeout or something. Last stop is a construction depot that we’ve already purchased things from. So we have old receipts with prices that we can hold them to. I drop off my bag, grab my camera and go exploring. My translator and driver take off to god-knows-where. I check in every once in a while to see if they’ve returned. When they haven’t, I head back out.
There’s a gas crisis in Haiti at this time (now resolved) because they get their petrol from Venezuela and Venezuela, selfishly, had some elections going on because their leader, selfishly, died. So no gas boat. This, naturally, causes pandemonium as it does in every culture. If an alien race someday lands on earth after we’ve all nuked ourselves, and they settle in and start excavating, uncovering media materials from the past century, they’re going to look at the images of gas crisis photos and come to the logical conclusion (these aliens use human logic) that we ate gas, that without it we would wither and die. Which, now that I type it, kind of rings true. Anyway, the scenes at gas stations are crazy. Mob-like.
Some would-be CEO’s of American corporations have brought 50 gallon drums to the pump, fill them up, roll them ten feet away, and then charge double for it, triple if they see a white person. Exploitation at its finest. Or what the CEO’s would call “opportunity.” I speculate that once they made their nut, they just poured the rest of the gas into a source of drinking water to keep demand artificially inflated and create new “opportunities” for the sale of privatized water. You laugh. But this isn’t even far from the truth of corporate business practice worldwide.
Standing there with my camera, there was a touchy moment where a few Haitians in line turned and started yelling something at me. While I couldn’t understand exactly what they were saying, I could tell it was malicious. They were waving their arms about wildly. My guess is they were trying to incite a mob to come after me, that way they could move up in line. Genius. I would have done the exact same thing. I listened carefully for the Haitian phrase, “let’s frisk him” but never heard it. So I slowly backed away, never actually turning around until I was at a safe distance from the crowd. Just like I do when I see a bear, or a T-rex. Incidentally, my main motivation to survive this trip is to watch Jurassic Park 3D and the new Arrested Developments. Also, there was this fire. That’s about all I have to say about that.
On our way out of Cap Haitien, we stopped at a hospital. First modern hospital I had ever seen in Haiti. And it impressed upon me that there was hope. We aren’t fighting a completely uphill battle here. At least in the cities, there is some access to quality care. After meeting the director, he passed us off to a man who spoke English, French, Creole, and Spanish. You see, this man had a Cuban father and a French mother, was born in Haiti, but spent 6 years in New Jersey learning to become a master electrician. He had the impossibly awesome name Roger Casanova. And I bet he pulled so much tail in his youth because of it. He took me around the hospital, showed me everything with a pride of ownership, making sure to stop and highlight every unlikely electrical asset they had. Double back-up generators. Air con here and there. Not to mention, 24/7 emergency, competent around the clock medical care, a regulated and well stocked pharmacy, records department, a food program, surgical capacities. More importantly, the hospital was possessed of skilled and passionate staff. The kind of shit dreams are made of. We parted ways as friends. And I hope in the same way that the apostles probably got laid for hanging out with Jesus all those years, I might get some collateral “attention” for my short association with Roger Casanova.
Then we went home. Just three straight dudes rolling on one motorcycle on the “best” roads ever. It was dustier. And my delicate white skin was verging on sunburn. So I tried to make a ninja mask out of a yellow DHL t-shirt I bought on the rough and tumble streets of Cap. But Philosopher Fresnel said “I do not like it.” I was hurt. I had put much effort into perfecting the folds, rolling the collar just so, that the tag wouldn’t show, tying the sleeves behind my head in such a way as to be symmetrical and clean, secured against the wind. But what he meant was that if I was wearing long sleeves and a terrorist mask, the cops might harass us. And in the same way that the price of a wheelbarrow goes up if you’re blan, so too, does the price of a bribe. So I wore it the same way I did the towel in the nativity play when I was in grade school. I didn’t feel nearly as cool. My forehead didn’t get sunburned. But my nose got wrecked. The rest is covered by beard and sunglasses.
This was only Monday. More tomorrow.