Sunday, November 13, 2011

an extended account of my journey to bainet

my journey to bainet began by catching a local bus from a few blocks away from kel's place across town to port au prince bus station... i was lugging an enormous bag with 5 soccer balls and 20 cones, my runners, clothes, books, bedding and other necessary junk in it. the 'bus' was a beaten up tarago, with 10 passengers and a very passionate driver. the rear view mirrors still had most their glass, and were wired on in a solid utilitarian fashion. my seat wasn't actually attached to the vehicle, which made for a far more entertaining voyage. the sliding door remains open for all bus journeys around port au prince, so that passengers can jump in at will, adding a certain gritty freshness as the rain began. it took about an hour and cost 20 gouds (50c) to get across town.

port au prince bus station looks like a market with a bus parking lot behind it, filled with fabulously colouful painted buses, and the more ordinary minivans, which i am assured a far safer to travel in. there's no schedule as such. individuals milling about attempt to corral you onto their bus, and once on you sit there and wait till the bus is full (19 people - more impressive than you think for a minibus). it's a hot and sweaty wait, with dozens of hawkers selling their wares through the open windows, a few obligatory beggars, and possibly a random dude who seemed to chant some kind of long and melodious blessing, or perhaps a curse, over the bus. any luggage must fit into your seat space with you, so my enormous troll bag had to sit awkwardly up under my chin, slowly cutting off the circulation in my arms. the moment the bus is full drivers take off, running the gauntlet out of the 'station'.

the drive out of port au prince is beautiful, and saddening. we hurtled past markets and tent cities, rivers of rubbish, ravines stacked with make-shift houses, fields of cane and corn lined with banana and mango trees, mules, wheelbarrows, piles of rubble and teetering, decaying structures, with the sparkling blue of port au prince bay winking at me between cinder block buildings. the bus takes me through leogane - the epicentre of the earthquake, then up into the mountains, past men and women carrying enormous baskets of bananas, packed with protective palm leaves and reedy grasses, past goats and rather splendid looking roosters, and always small boys playing on the roads edge.

i didn't actually time the leg to jacmel, long enough to lose feeling in my arms and one leg - maybe three and a half hours. at the station (another parking lot - market affair, although slightly more convincing as a bus station), i haggled with moto drivers, then got a moto ride to l'eglise wesleyenne - the wesleyan church, where i met pastor robert.

there is a curious phenomenon centred around the wesleyan church in jacmel. it's a strange kind of time vortex, in which everything slows down and any sense of urgency is sucked out of plans or minds. i sat on a rock under an elephant ear plant, and read a little while non-urgent tasks were completed around me at a mesmerisingly non-urgent pace. (and i'm pretty solidly known for my lack of task orientation, and my inability to complete things quickly, so the wesleyan church is somewhat mind bending for me, makes me feel a little like neo at the very end of the matrix, like i'm moving so amazingly fast through this world that other things could appear slow to me).

eventually, after a meal of fish, fried plantain, pikliz, and maybe rice, and a ceremonial deflating of the soccer balls, we wandered out towards the street to discover the moto driver hadn't turned up. we walked up the road until we were able (i think) to hail his friend, and then finally our driver arrived, and strapped my behemoth of a bag to his bike rack, leaving just enough space for the three of us: driver, pastor robert and i, to snuggly squeeze onto the bike.

the ride was hilariously fantastic. it's a dirt road, often closely resembling a creek bed, winding its way up through the mountain range which runs along the south coast. often the road would be covered in rocks, sometimes it would be slabs of solid rock, sometimes cut with deep fissures, sometimes just like a washed out dirt road, which our driver tackled with a maniacal ferocity. i was launched respectable distances into the air many times over, with the good pastor grabbing my knees at times to anchor me.

we stopped somewhere near the top of the mountain range (possibly to stretch our legs, i'm not entirely sure), and it was beautifully cool. the road continued in a tunnel of cool green. tall trees with lianas, plants with huge leaves; the light spilling down gently through the green. it was damp and misty and felt a little like a montane cloud forest for a while. and then, abruptly, we shrugged off the shade cover, and came careening out into the bright sunshine, with utter disregard for goats and small boys, or anything daring to get in our path. before us the fabulous blue of the caribbean sea opened out, the mountains fall away so steeply in wrinkly folds - straight down to the ocean - that we felt suspended above it all. the road was a white slash along the tops of the spurs and ridges, winding sinuously down between precipitous drops. the ridge was at times knife edge, sheer either side. (when i commented on the amazing view pastor robert yelled back at me in a wind whipped bellow: 'good place to see, bad place to visit', reinforcing the obvious: going over the edge wasn't an ideal outcome)

we coasted down violent grades, bouncing exuberantly over the stone strewn surface; skidding around tight blind corners as the tortured road bent back on itself. i was grinning like a maniac, filled with that exultant feeling of absolute freedom, and the joy of the splendid notion of being alive.

we dropped down toward a bay nestled in between white bluffs and fringed with coconut palms. the town of bainet feels like a fishing village, clinging to the hillside, by the water. a river borders either side of the town, and the mountains rise up steeply behind; roads quickly giving way to goat tracks.

there was lazy afternoon light warming the crumbling facades as we pulled into town, and it seemed the most beautiful place i'd been since arriving in haiti. we walked through the school yard of the wesleyenne college, and up a steep hill to our quarters. from the balcony outside my room i could see the ocean through the palms.

i went to bed that night (after fried fish, fried plantain and pikliz), with all the warning signs of a migraine. during the night it became full blown, and by early morning i was vomitting pretty heartily. the power in bainet is on roughly from 4pm till midnight, so it became an obstacle course in the dark: trying to make it to the split level bathroom without running water, through all the water drums, basins and buckets, and to the toilet in time. it only lasted 36 hours, which was a relief, but trying to explain to a haitian that food was not in fact the solution, proved surprisingly tricky.

at a meeting with the soccer girls, i suggested a 6:30am start time. there was a huge amount of intense discussion about this in kreyol, the outcome being that 6 was good. when i clarified this i understood that in fact we'd decided to meet at 5:50am each morning, to walk to the field together. i quite like early mornings, however considering school starts at 1pm, this felt a little excessive to me. still, i nodded as if it was the best idea i'd heard nonetheless. i tentatively requested the girls wear shoes they could run around in, not knowing what they would own.

the field, when we arrived, was occupied by 4 donkeys, grazing on the little grass there was, wholly unconcerned with our plans. there was a liberal distribution of rubbish, rocks, various large hunks of concrete, and makeshift stakes to tether the donkeys. one whole corner of the field was the road, and another a creek washout with a sort of delta of rocks and sand, making corner kicks a perilous business.

my footwear request had been rewarded with a great assortment of flip flops (thongs), court shoes with socks, bare feet, and runners - carried carefully to the field in a plastic bag, worn for the rough pell mell of play over stones and rubble, and then equally carefully returned to the bag for the journey home. most the court shoes lasted part way through the first drill, and then only socks prevailed. one girl determinedly kept hers on for the entire session, except that they would fly off whenever she kicked the ball. this always seemed like a cunning (and slightly alarming) diversionary tactic.

despite the early hour, half the town turned up to watch, mostly boys and men and apparently to laugh and yell whenever the girls did anything... they were tough, feisty girls. the terrain did nothing to diminish the ferocity of the play, and the spectators had no obvious effect.

on the last day i was there, we had an afternoon session at school as well. this was conducted in the yard, which was entirely composed of a jumble of rocks of varying sizes. for some reason, this was deemed a good idea, and my girls trained while the rest of the school looked on.

you can see in the photo above the goalie has abandoned her shoes, choosing instead the sock option, and the boy on the roof is retrieving one of the practising striker's shoes, which flew off when she took her shot (she's also on the roof offering moral support...)

i met a small boy on the beach one afternoon (actually, i met a lot of people on the beach most afternoons - being the only 'blan' in the village really drew the crowds)... we had a chat about football (in kreyol - it was a pretty limited conversation - i can explain the reason i'm visiting is to teach soccer, that i like bainet, that i don't want to buy a fish, and no, he can't have my flip flops, or my watch, or my pen, or my drink (actually to be fair that was the man draped awkwardly at my feet - and no, i didn't want to be his boyfriend either) - kreyol is seriously the easiest language i've ever encountered...). anyway, after this boy enthusiastically chatted to me on the beach, not seeming to grasp the limitations of my kreyol, i met him again in the street a few days later. he grabbed my arm and implored me to play football (he was yelling 'foutbòl, foutbòl' at me)... i was running late getting back to school, but his attire and the ball were worth a quick photo... he was wearing long socks pulled up to mid thigh, jocks, and a singlet, and the ball was something very lightweight, almost like a balloon, wrapped in plastic bags... it looked like so much fun...

in the afternoons i was able to explore, and spent a lot of time wandering along the beach, up the river, and finding goat tracks which ambled their way up the mountain... these were very steep and rocky, and after climbing for a while i was occasionally surprised to discover little old ladies, climbing in their crocs... everywhere i went there were donkeys and mules (and chickens and goats, and often pigs). all through town there are twisty little back routes, running between peoples' houses and tents (everywhere in haiti, there are still people living in tents). initially i felt like an intruder, or some kind peepingtom - because i'm essentially walking through their back yards. but these are the routes they all use, and if i walk nonchalantly, i see a whole different perspective - and get invited over to have fresh coconut, or a drink, and chat in a clumsy fashion...

in the afternoons the fishing boats come back in, and a swarm of people descend on the boats to buy the fish (it doesn't look like a swarm in this photo, but trust me, within seconds that number had quadrupled). i attempted some reflection time down there most afternoons, perched on a driftwood log, amid a tumble of white rocks, seaweed and refuse. i would drink a la benedicta - a cider from the dominican republic, and try to jot down some thoughts. mysteriously a crowd would appear almost as soon as i started writing, and happily stand around, very close. some of them would show me the fish they had just purchased, and many of them wanted to chew the fat, despite not speaking english, and unperturbed by my lack of kreyol.

this lady cooked for the quarters where i was staying. i'm not entirely sure who slept there - some teachers and some students i think. i never heard her speak to anyone, she just smiled. she was tiny, and some days wore this fantastic colourful summer frock, that you'd expect to see on an 5 year old. under her head kerchief, which she never removed but once momentarily, i glimpsed grey dreads. the kitchen where she cooled was a free standing lean-to, with three partial walls of mismatched corrugated iron. the cookfire was straight in the dirt, and chickens roamed through that structure more boldy than seemed wise.

this is that stencil i wrote about, condemning this structure...

pastor robert informed me we were leaving bainet at 5am on saturday morning. i was ready a little early, so i sat on the balcony and read... by about 5:45 we wandered out towards the street, where once again our driver failed to show. after a number of phone calls, and a good bit of standing around he arrived, and promptly began to oil his chain with what looked like sump oil. it was fabulous riding out through the town at that hour, the smell of morning cookfires hung in the air, and the world looked particularly beautiful. i was just contemplating this as the chain came off... the driver repaired it, and we made it a solid 400m up the mountain before it came off again. i sat on a pile of rocks and watched some very young goat kids gamboling about, making, i'm sure, the silliest noises they could... the driver's moto had a sticker on it which said something like 'pursue the knowledge, enjoy the life', except it was somehow clumsier... it was good to sit there in the early morning sun, enjoying the life.

(sunrise the morning we left bainet)


  1. Si, si mas! mas! (Can get a acute¡¡)

  2. so good to read again skids...your pictures are amazing. can almost visualise all you describe. hope there's no more migraines. love you. xo

  3. Aaliyah just said "Can we have a look at aunty kylie's catalogue? What if she's done some more? I'd be so delighted."

  4. i was going to go to bed, but i wrote a post just because of aaliayah's comment... in the words of a very great friend, it warmed the cockles of my heart...

  5. Love this post. Love the Bene picture! :) Benait looks beautiful. I need to check that place out asap!

  6. Hey Kerry, I'd be keen to check it out with you!!