Trip to Thiotte
John is attending a conference sponsored by Future Generations and I am tagging along. I have done so before, but this conference is located in Thiotte
and requires an entire day of motorcycle travel on each side. John works with Future Generations to connect towns and provinces that have previously not used each other as resources to solve problems and trade locally created goods. My Kreyol is not good enough to be of any actual use at the meeting, but I listen and pick up what I can. Everyone is friendly and knows me from the meetings we have sponsored at Sa-K-La-K-Wel. After the conference I have been promised a tour of the dairy and cheese farm. John and I are both encouraged by the fact that the operation seems to be relatively simple and inexpensive. We hope to get the answers we need to move ahead with a small goat cheese operation at Sa-K-La-K-Wel.
I sip my cinnamon spiced milk out of a glass bottle and stare out across the green hillside (a far cry from the hot, dusty, smog choked streets of Jacmel.)
The mountain tops and valleys are covered in lush forests of pine and tropical fauna, like dollops of green frosting over a slice of birthday cake. Out of sight just a half mile away they are stripping the hillside for cement and building materials. A thin layer of red dirt bleeds down the chalk white stone revealed from the unnatural cut made into the mountain.
I wonder what I will tell people about my trip to Thiotte and indeed am having problems finding the right words now. When asked to describe Haiti to people that have not been, most visitors find themselves at a loss, and I consistently fall into that category. I tend to tell anecdotes about the people I’ve met and describe the food and buildings, but that never quite gets the point across.
What is lost in translation are the whirling forces and feelings that dance between the inherent starkness of Haiti that pounds on you like a shoreline every minute of every day. My ride out here further beat the understanding of
this into my head (and body for that matter). Seven hours of off-roading on a 125cc motorcycle that is designed for street use in Toyko; add gear, 3 people and river crossings to that and you have one hell of an uncomfortable trip. The road (and I use that word so very loosely) from Jacmel takes you up over the mountains and back down into the fishing village of Belle-anse where the smell of dried fish lays heavy in the air. In fact, the only thing that trumps the stench in the air, are the voices of venders on our way out of town. They sell their wares completely uninhibited by the dying man whose bed has been set outside for a reason I have not been in Haiti long enough to understand.
I look to my right at one of the most beautiful coast lines I have ever seen just in time to catch the silhouette of three men in a brightly colored boat casting a fishing net out into the blue water. Half an hour later John guns it up the first stretch of paved road we’ve seen in an hour unaware that his oil gasket has burst. Just as we excelorate up the bend our back tire catches the oil and faster then anyone can react we are on the ground. Everyone is ok, and we push the moto up hill for about a half hour until we reach the next village. The houses sit on plots of the same red dirt packed so tightly you can sweep it clean. The rust colored stain creeps up the sides of the white and blue painted cinder block houses. Everyone stops what they are doing to watch a blan (white guy) pushing a moto up the street. The greetings and looks range from sneers to warm “Bon Siors” that they seem to sing more then speak.
Two and a half hours back up into the mountains brings you to Thiotte, a cool tree lined town with all the sophistication of Jacmel. When speaking to those that have not seen and worked in Haiti you have to be careful not to sound crass
or un-compassionate and when speaking to aid work veterans it’s important not to come across like a star-eyed idealist who just hasn’t been here long enough to bare their sardonic scars. Everything is a constant juggling act here, a whirling Yin-Yang that will slap you to the ground if you don’t open yourself and let it pass through. One of the favorite ways I’ve heard Haiti described is “the best nightmare on earth”.
I have come to love Jacmel as a little slice of post-apocalyptic heaven and more then that a proving ground that will lead the way for all of us one day. But… again, this mash up of images and stories doesn’t really capture it.