Haiti is not nearly so dark as it used to be. The electrical grid in Grand Goave, which ran maybe four to six hours per day during the year after the earthquake, now operates about twenty hours a day and sometimes provides power for a week or more without a blackout. Off gird locales still depend on generators, but fuel is more plentiful than it was, so the generators run longer; and the fuel is purer, so generators break down less often. A year ago the generator at the mission house ran a few hours each morning and evening, if it ran at all. We shut it down by eight, and by nine everyone was asleep. This trip the generator ran all night, lights burned and air conditioners hummed. Then on Wednesday night it broke down, leaving us in the dark.
I love the dark. I love how our other senses rise to our aid when our overreliance on sight is compromised. I love how I ease my way along the path from my room, across the veranda, down the steps and through the chaucoun to the beach, guided by the faint glow of the starry night, the aroma of dinner’s rice and beans and the steady pound of the surf. In light I speed down the stairs, but in dark I engage each tread and monitor the pressure in my hands and feet to make sure I always bear two points of weight. Darkness heightens my consciousness, so I do not trip.
I slept well when the generator blew. Instead of the external rumble of the generator and the steady beat of the air conditioner’s breeze (Gama loves air conditioning), the sounds of the night filled our room; the sea, the random dog bark, the roosters that crow too early in the morning, and the church bells that peal moments before our 5:00 am alarm sounds. Without competition from the generator, the pageant of nightly sounds filled our ears and induced solid slumber.
Darkness is a wonderful luxury, but when work presses and we lose the race to complete it under the Caribbean sun, we yearn for light’s extension. Thursday was my last day of work and after the crew left at four o’clock we had a long list of To Do’s to review on site and then update on our computers. By 5:30 the shack was dim and the single overhead fluorescent burned out. Gama sent Franky, his guy Friday, to get another bulb on his moto while I propped a flashlight over my keyboard. Franky returned and inserted the new bulb but nothing happened.
Now it was completely dark and the flashlight wavered. Gama called one of the electricians who came right over (we should get such responsive repairmen in the States). The tradesman brought a temporary light that gave us all a warm glow. Gama and I typed away while the electrician climbed on the table where we worked and fiddled with the socket above. He intermittently turned off the main power switch and we each worked as best we could under the guidance of Franky pointing the flashlight here and there. Gama began to sing. I could have been upset, or at least annoyed, but instead I felt a flush of giddiness, hunting and pecking in the darkness. The situation was unthinkable in theUS, and if it occurred it likely would have welled into anger, but inHaitiit just added to the zany sense of adventure.
Ultimately the socket was fine. The replacement bulb had broken as Franky’s moto jostled up the hill. The electrician returned everything to its original condition took his light and left us in the dark. Gama and I completed our work by flashlight, sent out our final emails, turned off the generator and headed home.
Darkness may induce soothing calm or thwart efficiency, but in a world where so many of us are accustomed to light on demand, darkness thrust upon us brings new appreciation for not only the dark, but also for the light.