Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Solidarity we waste
Today I woke up ready to make things happen. I was all showered, mate-ed and I even ate Joanne's polenta which she cooks with some sort of fish juice by 7:30 am. I would have drank fish juice without flinching this morning I was in such a positive mood. Coming from a vegetarian, that is no small matter. But these days food choices are trivial. So many people have no food at all. The house fell on their motherbrothersisterdaughterauntgrandmasonfatherunclefriend and they are sitting outside cooking food over an open flame on the sidewalk.
At 7:30am I was carrying palettes to the front gate to be ready to receive the struts off the truck.
Today I was supposed to get my shipment. I was meant to ship my get.
Morning meeting was different today, Richard didnt even mention "how fucking hard is it to clean your dishes or bring the bucket back from the shower?? it's not rocket science people!" Which, frankly, was a bit disappointing to me, I really love his morning rants. He works himself up properly and for an english gentleman that can be quite entertaining. No, the focus was on Domes for Haiti for the most part and a congratulatory speech by Chad about how I persevered and was bringing the domes to the compound today.
My airline ticket said I was going to fly to JFK today. I disagreed with it. Oh no you dint airline ticket, no you dint say that and no I am not going. Not going back to Brooklyn empty handed so to speak. Not leaving until it's finished. I was waiting in line for the teller at American Airlines desk at the Port Au Prince airport. Little did I know when the man standing next to me struck up an amiable conversation in perfect english that he was going to turn on me maliciously.
I told him I was supposed to leave today but I was staying longer. He asked what I was working on and I told him "Shelters for Orphanages, geodesic domes" He said, "oh are you from Washington?" I said "No, I'm from Brooklyn" He asked me "Are you working with the government?" I said "Are you kidding? No, I am not working with the government. If I was it would take a year just to do the paperwork" I think I might have hinted at the fact that I am not a big fan of the government. I think that is where he began to get worked up. He thought I meant the Haitian government. He asked me if the shelters were approved for safety. I told him yes, Buckminster Fuller invented the geodesic dome in 1954 and the structure is one of the strongest known to mankind. He started in on me then. "You people think you are helping but you are actually causing more suffering in the long run" That might be true in some cases, I countered, but I am not in that category. he grew more animated and vicious in his attack. He accused me of being patronizing, of not talking or listening to the Haitian people and practically single handedly destroying his entire country. I told him "You dont know me or anything about what I am doing, you are making some serious assumptions, my friend" He then accused me of being rude and arrogant. It's always interesting to me when people accuse you of exactly what they are doing. I told him I came to help. He viciously made quotation marks in the air and said "yes, you are here to Help"
You are tearing buildings down, it's too late for transitional housing." I told him, oh, I guess I should just go home then. I told him I am not tearing any buildings down, only giving shelter to orphans who have NONE. The tents that they were given 6 months ago are torn and destroyed by now.It's not too late for them to get transitional housing, they haven't gotten any other kind, thanks to mismanagement by someone or other but definitely not my fault.
He accused me of not listening to what the Haitian people are saying. He was so way off base. I just spent the last 3 weeks visiting orphanages and interviewing the people in charge and asking what they need the most. I have visited at least 10 orphanages so far and did my best to asses their needs by directly asking them what those needs are. He was blind. He didnt see me but rather only saw his own frustration at the history of NGO's coming into his country and creating dependency and then leaving. I get it. Only he doesn't know I get it. Because he wasnt asking me. I am invisible to him. He was so sure I was evil and had only my interests at heart.
Yes. Apparently basically quitting my job and working for 6 months on a very grass roots level to bring some sort of relief to a few kids living in mud is very self serving. I admit it! I do get alot out of this. I am living in luxury accommodations, for example.
I tried to tell him that he didn't know me or my intentions or history. I suggested that maybe he might consider asking a person these things before he jumped to conclusions about them. He told me he doesn't care about me or my history. That is when the conversation was over.
I told him the conversation was over and please to stop talking to me. He refused and kept on me with more accusations founded on absolutely nothing I have ever thought or done. I said, "Dude, please stop talking to me" He said "Dont call me dude" I said "Dude, I would if you'd quit talking to me, dude" I finally had to tune him out by putting on my ipod and cranking Bob Marley in my headphones. He started talking to the family in front of him in Creole. They all kept looking at me like I was the most evil person in the world. I just had to shake my head. They dont know me and they never will. Furthermore, if the Dude needs a scapegoat, I might as well be it. So go ahead, dude, have at it or me all you want. I'll still build some domes for some kids no matter what you say or think about me.
I changed my ticket for Sept 7th. Somehow, with the change of return flight, everything I saw today sunk in that much more. All of the destruction was even more deeply affecting to me. Every house, every building I saw collapsed in on itself represents unimaginable pain and suffering and death and loss. Even so, the people I see everywhere are way cleaner and more well dressed than me and most of my friends back in Brooklyn.
I walked out of the airport feeling more committed to this country's renewal and regeneration than I have ever felt committed to anything in my entire life. I am here. That is my commitment. I am listening. I am paying attention. What more can I give?
I walked over to the Amerijet warehouse and met Phanio on the street as I was buying a phone card from one of the street vendors. He was smiling and I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. We walked into the warehouse and were greeted by Julio who I met yesterday. We went back into the tiny air conditioned Duon office and there was a large man in there who Phanio handed our folder to. He started talking to me in Creole and I actually understood him. He asked me my name and I told him "Lopi" but had to follow it with "that's my nickname" which is really kind of a lie, it's my actual name, but not on the documents. Ah, the pitfalls of having a chosen name that is different from your legal name. He told me his nickname is "Big" because he is not getting any smaller. I told him he should stay Big.
We went out in the warehouse and Julio was driving the fork and he got all my stuff together and put it outside in the back. The customs official came out and told me to open the trunk. I took out my key and opened it. The first thing I saw in there was a bag that was a bag that was my Mom's full of thread. It hit me in a soft spot to see it. He reached into the bag and fingered the threads coming off the spools. I touched everything in that trunk. I was so happy to see the colorful leather! The sledgehammer, pick axe, crow bars and zip ties! Hello my friends, hello.
Next was the wooden rolling case. Hello Brooklyn. I opened it and saw again the two rolling dollies I had spray painted "Domes for Haiti, Brooklyn NYC" proudly on them. The orange bucket from home despot, case of dr. bronner's soap, the buckets of organic peanut butter, the cases full of nuts and bolts, wrenches, vice grips, pliers and a sharpie! Hello sharpie.
The dude tried to take my sharpie. Oh no, you can't have that.
The other crates were easy. Dome covers. Dome struts. Tools. Done.
He went back into his office and I locked all the boxes back up and went to get some Dlo for Phanio and I to drink. I had a pleasant conversation with the ladies selling treats at the gas station. Ill feit cho, I said and they said oui, m'cho. I noticed one of them had some interesting square shaped scars on her arm. I pointed to them and she mimed falling down and laughed. I knew they were teasing me because you dont really fall and get perfect rectangular marks on your arm. I was sure it was some sort of scar tattoo thing so I showed her my tattoo.
Anyway, I went back into the office and the dude was still puzzling over peanut butter or something and Phanio typed "he is stupid" on his cell phone and showed it to me. We laughed and then I went out and asked Julio if he knew anyone with a truck that would deliver my shipment for me. He said yes and then I met truck dude (i am forgetting his name! sorry!!) He said he needed to look at the shipment to give me the price. He looked at it and said $200 us. I said "$150 and he said "Wi" I asked if he was sure his truck was struck enough and he said "Wi" and walked me out into the parking lot and showed me an enormous box truck with a full lift gate! I got really excited and hugged him.
We went back in and the customs guy gave us the dossier and we walked over to the main Duon over across from the airport. He said there was one more step we needed to take care of before the shipment was released. I was so kontan!
When we arrived, it was break time. People were not sleeping on their desks but eating from syrofoam containers. Mostly rice and beans and fried meat of some sort. One woman had a perfect looking avocado. I was so grengou but I tried not to stare at their food too much.
We were told we needed one more stamp and we'd have to go all the way back to the Ministry of Finance to get it. Ug. Ok, so this time Phanio borrowed a car from a friend and we started driving. Driving in a car takes so much longer than a moto. Traffic is endless.
We went to the MoF and were told we had to go to the Protection Civil again. There we hit a wall. We were sitting in a room for what seemed like an eternity. I was nodding off, having short nonsensical dreams about swimming in fresh water and eating avocados and riding my bike. I kept waking up to a place I did not want to be. Finally a lady gestured for Phanio to come forward and sit in the chair by her desk. They started a heated discussion about my folder which I was not included in because I dont speak the language. I caught a word here and there. Original. Document. Dossier. I decided to try to join the conversation. I pulled my chair up. Both of them ignored me. I tried to get in but the door was shut to me.
The dispute was about the fact that there was an original dossier that contained original documents and the one we had consisted largely of copies. The original airbill that we had triumphantly located yesterday had no weight whatsoever with this lady. The fact that the duon had already inspected my entire shipment down to the last thread and soccer ball meant nothing. We were out of order. We had hit the tilt button.
Then an elderly, distinquished gentleman entered the room and joined the conversation. By this time I was totally chomping at the air, trying to digest words I had no palette for. They continued to discuss my shipment that I had worked so hard to get into the country quickly on a freaking airplane at extra expense and continued to ignore me. Anyone who knows me knows how this would affect me. I tried to remain calm.
Finally the distinguished guy finally started talking to me. He said, "be cool, be quiet"
Not what I wanted to hear. "What is going on, please" I asked, although I think I had gotten the gist. They asked me who the man with the beard was. I balked. He is angry I said.
I said, "it is my shipment, it's shelters for orphans, I have been waiting three weeks" He smiled at me. This went on ad nauseous.
Finally, the man told me that the original documents were awaiting Franchise approval from the minister of finance. He said we would go and get the dossier now. I was momentarily hopeful. It was brief.
We went there, got the dossier but were not actually given it. It turned out that we'd have to wait for tomorrow or maybe the next day or the next. More eternal clouds of the spotted time field.
My mission was absolutely thwarted. We stepped out of the building and walked towards the exit. Suddenly a woman came running out to stop the Civil Protection Man. They went back in. We stood around in the sweating air with the cops with guns that look like a cross between pistols and shotguns. They carry them like sticks. Like they really couldnt blow your head off. Almost like they could be used for a shovel instead.
The Man came back out. He told me Madame would like to interview me about my shipment. I said, sure, anything, ask me anything. Phanio had to go return the car. He said he would come back in a couple hours to get me. We went inside and then Madame said she was Muy Fatique. I was to come back in the morning at 8:30 to be interviewed. My ride was gone.
I called Phanio up and said can you come back? He said Sure.
I went out on the street and a bunch of rastas were getting into a heated argument. I moved away from them and sat under a tree and waited. Phanio came driving up. I got in and looked at him. He looked totally stressed out. I asked "what is wrong?" he said "there was an accident" and pointed to the back of the car. It was smashed in really badly. Shit.
He had tried to help me, and now he'd have to pay for his friend's car. I told him I would help. I apologized. He said it was his fault. He said you will see the accident scene in a minute. I thought we would drive by and he'd say "it happened here" and we'd continue driving. No. He pulled up on the sidewalk and got out. There were police and a crowd of upset yelling men. I retreated to a tree and sort of hid. Apparently Phanio had hit a dude's vending stand. It was destroyed. Batteries, glasses and playing cards were scattered on the ground.
It was getting ugly. I flagged down a moto and negotiated 250 goude for a ride to Jedco. He drove me home. Empty handed. Better than going to Brooklyn empty handed but I am feeling really homesick right now. I miss my cat.
Tomorrow I will try to answer all the questions right so the Madame Fatique will sign the document.
Posted by Lmnopie at 5:23 PM