Journey to Port au Prince

January 28, 2019

Tuesday, January 22


         It’s 58 miles and a couple of lifetimes from the city hall of Petite Riviere de Nippes to the courthouse of Port au Prince. I say a couple of lifetimes because sometimes it takes forever to get there. I have, for example, been trying to make the trip for a little over a month. Gas shortages and political situations have prevented me from traveling even the first few miles. Although I managed to have a full tank in the truck last Saturday, and a full tank is enough for a round trip on a good day, it isn’t enough when the roads are blocked by traffic or repairs or those who thought they had enough gas but didn’t. Parts of the trip are through areas where there would be both danger and no place to stay if we ran out of gas. Last week we once again planned to go but couldn’t. I’m hoping to try again on Saturday.


          Even when there are no gasoline issues a trip to Port au Prince is no laughing matter. The 116-mile round trip never takes less than 6 hours. It often takes 8-10. If you have errands to run in Port au Prince, you are wise to leave early, very early. We’re going on Saturday because I don’t teach classes that day. Unfortunately, it is also market day all over this part of Haiti, meaning that the road in every town and city, large and small, will be clogged with vendors, shoppers, vehicles, and animals. If we leave at 3:30 we will make it through most of the populated areas before the markets get busy. If we wait until later to leave, the one-way trip may take 6-7 hours.


          We really need to make this trip. Hopefully, the gasoline suppliers and the Haitian authorities will cooperate.


Thursday, January 24


          Things look good for the trip on Saturday. There has been lots of jostling and a little fighting in the long lines at local gas stations after delivery filled the stations’ empty tanks yesterday.  Things have settled down, however, and the radio stations, the primary means of disseminating information in across most of the country, are reporting that the crisis has been resolved, at least for now. We’re letting folks in Port au Prince know to expect us on Saturday. Hopefully, none of us will be disappointed.


Friday, January 25, 2019


          Yep, things are still looking good. We gassed up the car a little while ago. Fluid levels? Check. Oil level? Check. Gas tank filled. I’m getting the things together that we’ll need from St Patrick in Port au Prince tomorrow. I’ll brew a pot of coffee and boil a few eggs for breakfast tomorrow morning when I get home tonight. There are no McDonalds or Burger Kings on the road to Port au Prince. We may grab a couple of Haitian pates from a street vendor sometime shortly after dawn breaks. If we do that, we can save the eggs in case we encounter one of the famous Port au Prince blokis (maddening, hours-long traffic jams).


Saturday, January 26


          The day is here… well, the day is almost here. I woke up at 1 AM, my little yappy dog yapping at something unnecessary, and I haven’t been able to go back to sleep. Now it’s 4 AM. Coffee has been made and consumed. I have my lists. I am dressed and packed for travel. I drive to Joe’s gate. No Joe. I text him. No answer. I blow my horn… once… twice… three times. I get no answer. Finally, Lovely, Mrs. Joe, opens the gate. “Tann Joe.” (“Wait for Joe.”) she instructs. I tann for maybe five minutes and Joe comes to the car, pulling on his shirt. The trip has begun with a short delay, you get accustomed to “tanning” (waiting, not sunbathing) in Haiti. I used to be absolutely terrible at it. These days I’m a little above mediocre. 


         Joe gets into the drivers seat I had abandoned when Lovely let me know he was coming. He’s the official driver. I drive for myself anywhere west of Leogane but haven’t yet ventured east of there toward Port au Prince. There are two reasons. The first is that the closer you get to Port au Prince, the crazier the traffic. The second is that my Kreyol is still pretty basic. Given the higher probability of an accident in the crazier traffic and the poverty of my Kreyol, I don’t want to risk the possibility that I might have to argue with another driver or explain my side to law enforcement in the event of an accident. So, Joe drives.


          It’s still very dark and will be for an hour or two. We spend the time in alternate chat and silence, periodically shielding our eyes against the light of oncoming vehicles. I’m pretty sure that someone installs two transportation-related computer chips in the head and the haunch of every newborn Haitian male. The one in his head makes him unable to operate the dimmer switch on the headlights of any vehicle. The one in his haunch activates when said haunch contacts a motorcycle seat, causing his brain to shut down. Whether or not my theory is correct, we face a multitude of bright headlights, growing ever more frequent until dawn arrives. Dawn shows up just before we enter the Port au Prince area. Our plan to leave early has succeeded. We arrived before all the markets opened. We’re even too early for the stores and businesses we need to visit. We track down some coffee at a bakery and a wonderful pate from a street vendor. We sit in the car and munch. Finally, the world comes alive. Businesses open and we are able to begin.


          The business of the day would make a good subject for another blog. Maybe I’ll write that in the future. We were done by 4:00 and headed for home. The traffic leaving town was much worse than it had been when we entered, but not nearly as bad as it might have been. I walked through the door of my house around 8:00 and was unloaded and unpacked by 8:30. All in all, the journey to Port au Prince has gone well. It had been a very successful day.

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