Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dusty Roads

Dusty dirt road through the banana fields

During Hurricane Sandy, the bridge on the highway between here and Port-Au-Prince got damaged, and it has been closed ever since. That used to be the only way to get to Port-Au-Prince from here, but recently they constructed a provisional bridge on a detour route.

We were on the way to the airport to drop some people off, and I had requested to go along. It was my first time back to Port-Au-Prince since I got to Haiti, and I wanted to see if everything en route was still as shocking as I found it to be when I first got here. It wasn't. But I'm still not used to the way everything turns into an adventure, even a "routine" airport run.

We got in the tap-tap at 6:30 and headed off. When we got to the turn-off for the detour, we noticed a bunch of people milling around like something was happening. All the buses, semi trucks, dump trucks, and tap-taps were pulled over to the side of the road, and their passengers were sitting on the curb, waiting. The local residents were all standing in little groups, talking excitedly and gesturing.

Someone told our tap-tap driver that the road was blocked up ahead and that no one could get through because there was a manifestation going on. The residents along the detour route were fed up with all the dust that the heavy traffic created, so we were told they had blocked the bridge and overturned a bus in the road and that there were people demonstrating in the street so no one could get through.

Our tap-tap pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. Our translator, Jack, came out to tell us what was going on and explain what our options were for getting to the airport on time. We were trying to make it there for a 10:15 am flight.

"You can wait for the police to clear the demonstration and then see if you can drive through," Jack said, "Or you can walk down this road, take a moto to a footbridge, walk across with your luggage, and take another tap-tap on the other side the rest of the way to the airport."

We considered both of those options and neither of them looked good. Waiting for the demonstration to clear could take hours--or days. We saw one police car drive in to the scene of the manifestation. The people on the street laughed. What could so few police do against an entire angry mob? We didn't expect there was any way for that to happen.

On the other hand, walking across the footbridge with large pieces of luggage did not seem to be the safest option. There were a lot of angry people around. Jack said this was a dangerous area. We were white, and most of us were women. Our bags were huge. We would be obvious targets for robbery.

I prayed a short prayer for God's blessing and direction, and I ended with the request, "Please open the way so that we can get to the airport in time to catch the flights." But even as I said it, I realized that I didn't really have the faith to expect that we could do it. It seemed impossible.

We started talking about trying to re-book the flights for the next day. Jack's friend, Jimmy, said there was another road, but it would take longer than three hours to get to the airport by that way, which was all the time we had at this point. It was another loop that would take us all the way back up through Saint Mark and around to the north.

Jack went to see if he could negotiate a good rate for a tap-tap in case we should decide to walk across the footbridge. He came back almost immediately, however, saying that it was not a good time to try to cross, because there were too many people trying to cross to get to school on the other side of the river. Maybe if we waited for 15 minutes and tried again, he said, it would be safer.

We called one of our staff members in the US and asked her about changing the flights. She said it would be better to try one of the other options. We would wait 15 minutes and check the footbridge again. If that still wasn't an option, then we would wait for the manifestation to clear for as long as we possibly could until there would be no way to make it to the airport on time. In that case, we would try to re-book the flights.

One of the guys led in prayer again, asking for wisdom and direction. I had the confidence that God was going to lead through whatever decision the guys made.

Jimmy came up and said, "I don't think there's any use waiting for the demonstration to clear, because they're saying now that the people have torn up the bridge completely."

We got a call from our stateside staff member, who had talked to someone else, who said they do this all the time, and she always gets through. She said we should just drive up to where the crowd is, find out who the leaders are, and bribe them with $20 to let us through. We were talking to Jack, asking him if he could negotiate this for us, when suddenly someone came up to our tap-tap driver and reported that the demonstration was cleared. Just then, all the trucks roared to life and started going down the road, so we did, too.

How reliable is information that you get from the street? First we hear that they've overturned a bus in the road, then we hear that the bridge is dismantled, and then the news comes that it's open? Quite the telephone game happening here.

When I see this picture, I do a double take. "This where I live!?"

We went on to the bridge, and it was indeed open, lined with heavily-armed police on both sides. They were directing traffic across the one-lane bridge, letting 10 cars or so across at a time in each direction. We got across!
Photo of the bridge from our way home from the airport. The police were gone by this point.

It was obvious why the people disliked the dust. The dirt road had kicked up so much that the banana leaves looked tan rather than green. But I still don't understand the Haitian mindset. It looks to me like they want to stop the problem via destruction rather than productivity. "We don't like the traffic, so let's destroy the bridge," seems to be the prevailing notion. Why? Why not demonstrate to make them pave the road, for instance? There would be ways to do that--wouldn't there?

Can a plant even do photosynthesis when it is caked with this much dust?

Just past the bridge, someone in the tap-tap said something like "Water is coming."

"Water is coming?" we thought.

Then we saw it: a huge truck with a tank of water, spraying it out in a horizontal jet, right at the level of the tap-tap's open sides. The girls all fled to the opposite side of the tap-tap as the water sprayed in, and then had to sit back down on a wet seat. Ahh, the adventure. But at least they were doing something about the dust problem.

How would you like it if this was your house, this close to the road? 
Just from breathing the air through that one trip to the airport and back, the inside of my nose and my respiratory passages were caked with dust, and it took a few days to really completely clear it out. What if I had to breathe that all the time? My hair was caked with dust when I got home. What if I didn't have a shower, or water to take one? The truth is, Haitian people put up with a lot more hardship than most people even know about.

And we made it to the airport on time! Praise the Lord! God answers prayer! Even when you don't have the faith to believe that He will do what you ask, hey, you have nothing to lose by asking! Who knows if he might just show off a bit to bless you and increase your faith?

Port-Au-Prince Toussaint Louverture International Airport (PAP)


  1. I loved the travel but I didn't love the work. I mean, come on, modelling is only so stimulating!

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  2. Gracious, what a time. When I scanned through the pictures the first time I thought it was snow! So glad you got through!

  3. Is the tap-tap like the blue truck in one of your pictures or the white vehicle in front of it? Jill


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