Thursday, December 22, 2005

Good Morning Port-au-Prince: Of Goats and Designer Baby Duds:

Here is what the beginning of a typical “workday” is like for me in Haiti. John and I walk about a half a mile, up a disgusting, garbage strewn hill, past the friendly Haitian National Police to the corner of Delmas 31 and Rue E. LaForet, where we catch a tap tap and hold on as if we’re riding a bucking bronco for the half mile crater-pocked ride to the outpatient pediatric clinic of Grace Children’s Hospital.

John walks into the building to see patients, and I head for the courtyard to read and make notes for these posts. Please note that courtyard, while possibly technically true, is a euphemism. I sit on a concrete slab, surrounded by a field carpeted with dirty diapers, juice containers, rusty cans, and old food bags, which is no doubt a delight to the goats grazing about. Haiti is paradise for goats. Given the diet of the average Haitian goat, it’s amazing their meat is even edible, but edible it is and delicious, too.

Another thing I am confused about is: how does anyone know who all the animals roaming PAP belong to? In a land of hungry people, I would think there might be a property dispute or two about the ownership of the goats. And don’t they wander off? I think it’s a case of some invisible laws or practices known only to Haitians and indecipherable to blancs that applies. These mysterious rules govern other regions of Haitian life, like who decides which routes the tap tap drivers get.

Regarding stealing, though, John has often said that the worst thing in Haiti is to get caught taking stuff that isn’t yours. If you’re going to steal, you better get away with it, otherwise, the painful justice of the streets will prevail. As I’m contemplating these profound thoughts, the sun is rising in the sky, and I scoot closer to the building, which is casting a shortening shadow.

Once in awhile, while I’m reading, writing, or staring off into space, a Haitian will stop and chat. Today a teenager dressed in a Hooters t-shirt and a short denim skirt, holding a portly nine-month-old approaches me for a little friendly conversation. Nadia is polite and smart. She patiently answers my questions put to her in broken Creole. When I don’t understand one of hers, I tell her, “Mwen pa parle kreyol bien.” She slows down and carefully enunciates each word. I ask her if the is a sister of Jaybe, the child she is holding. She momentarily looks confused and says, “No, I’m his mama.” My next question is: how old are you? Only 17. I’m a little disconcerted to learn of her young age, but it is good to see a chubby baby in Haiti. Jaybee is not lacking in the threads department either. He is nattily attired in long shorts with red, white and blue panels and a knit red Polo vest. Nadia doesn’t ask me for anything and after a few minutes, politely says, “Au revoir,” and walks away.

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