Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Drink

Funny how two glasses of "vin rouge" at the hotel montana helps a little to take the edge off a stressful day. I tried cleaning my insides with alcohol after cleaning my outsides by scrubbing down with hot hot hot water and plenty of soap.

You see, on the way back from Gonaives today, we fell into "the drink."

The "drink" as I call it, is the lake of water you hit just before entering the city. It's an endless sea of murky, dark, eerie water about thigh high in some points, created by the recent floods that killed more than 1,500 (the numbers rise, depending upon whom you ask). There's a lovely smell to the water, an interesting fragrance of Eau de Rotting Corpse of both human and animal, and Eau de Sewage. Everything nasty is in this water, plus once in a while you see a few cacti fragments in it.

To cross this "drink," you have to hire a guide. You see, you cannot see the road and if you fall off, you fall deep. There's a channel that cuts alongside the road. Along the way you see the stranded carcasses of dead buses, etc. that didn't make it.

We made it there okay, after Ben patched the bullet hole in the driver's side that was still there when C got shot earlier this year. (Don't ask me WHY the staff couldn't have patched it by now). He taped it with electrical tape so the water wouldn't gush through. And there we were, driving very very slowly, water sloshing up to the doors, past the door, up to the headlights... a bit nerve wracking, but we made it okay.

Did our stuff, which I will mention in a later blog when I'm not counting internet hours at a Haitian hotel, and then got back to the "drink" for the return home crossing.

Hired two guides. And we drove off the road.

Years ago, I tipped over in a canoe and got trapped beneath it in a flood for just a few seconds. But those few seconds were enough.

This experience rivaled it. Our trusty Montero tipped and sagged sideways. I felt that gush of panic that we were going to tip over and fall on the side.

And drown in water that many people already drowned in. Not a nice image.

We didn't tip. But we had to get out to try to figure out how to right the vehicle.

We were wearing boots, but it didn't matter. The water seeped in past our boots, up to our knees. The smell was oh so lovely. Standing in water consisting of raw sewage and decaying corpses. Not a nice way to spend an afternoon.

And we waited, helplessly, for SOMEONE with a winch, a rope, something, to help tow us out.

The UN passed by. They made a peace sign. Several trucks passed. They ignored us and gave us the international peace sign. After the fifth truck passed, I gave them MY international sign. Middle finger, screaming at them in English to do something. I think I shocked myself, lol.

So here we are, standing in the water for 45 minutes and who rescues us poor blancs, the whites from America? The Haitians in a dumptruck. They had a rope, it broke the first time, and then they set to it with dermination, wading waist deep into the water to attach it to the Montero, and pulled us free. Poor C, she was standing there so long and she's not supposed to be on her feet that much and here she was, stranded.

Anyway, we got going again, started to cross the lake and in the middle, hit a traffic jam. It's 4 p.m. I'm thinking, "Okay, it's going to get dark in 1.5 hours." We've hit a deep part of the lake and water is pouring in through the bullet hole. It's sloshing around our ankles. A bit nerve wracking, sitting in the middle of this. Finally the traffic jam gets going and we pass....

A UN tank that ran off the road! Stuck.

I gave them the international peace symbol, ha ha ha!!! You must understand part of my frustration...it's not just because they ignored us. We passed a food line in Gonaives where, when we asked, the people had been waiting for SIX hours in the hot sun. At least 500, hungry, desperate people, some of whom had not eaten in 10 days. Since the floods. And we saw a truck of UN guys with guns, just sitting there. Taking photos. Like they took photos of us, stranded in that awful water.

Now I know what it feels like to be a poor haitian, ignored, begging for help, passed by an oblivious world. In a really stinky, awful situation. And who helped us out of the drink? The poor Haitians.

Of course when we hit dry land and I'm singing "Thank you God!" we see that the UN has directed men to pound in these markers to mark the road's edge. They are only doing this AFTER one of their own has driven off the road and gotten stuck. And then we passed these huge container trucks with food, guarded by a convey of armed UN guys. And I thought, NOW you come with the food? These people are ready to riot! Why didn't you mark the road before?

Because as bad as it was for us to go into "the drink," I would hate ten times if one of those container trucks to do it. You see, I returned to my hotel. I showered, scrubbed and got the nasty water off me. But those people are hungry. They're starving. They have no clean water, no food, nothing.

In the end, better for us to have gone into the drink, nasty as it was, then a UN truck loaded with food. If they managed to get there without being hijacked. But that's another story.

I think I need a real drink now. The kind that will numb me to sleep.

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