I have reverted to my habit of walking home. Lex and Renee and Gama all tell me it is safe, but do so with a shrug that contradicts their words. If they advised against it, I would not walk, as I know they value my safety not only for me but for them; one incident with a volunteer could compromise much of their work. So I interpret their body language as ‘another weird blan thing’ because anyone who has access to a ride in Haiti and doesn’t take it is just a fool, and off I trek.
With the water high I cannot shortcut across the river bed; I must cross at the road bridge. The walk is much longer and takes me through neighborhoods removed from the main axis of MoHI properties. The time does not bother me; I have no after work plans; and the longer walk is delightful.
I am constantly aware of my personal security. Haiti is a dangerous place and as a blan with a backpack, I am a target. A few weeks ago a young woman, the sister of a MoHI staffer, was abducted in Port au Prince, robbed and murdered. She was on a buying trip and had a good amount of cash on her. Her murder was not random, but it may not have been premeditated either. Someone might have seen her, realized she had money, followed her, and the rest is a tragic tale. I am in the country, not in Port au Prince, and even though I carry only a few dollars in my wallet, a potential thief does not know how much I have. The only thing certain is that I am carrying a lot more valuables than anyone I meet.
On the other hand being so obvious protects me. Anyone in Haiti who messes with a missionary suffers severe repercussions. Not from the police, who are notoriously ineffective, but from local vigilantes, who are notoriously effective. A few months back a Haitian killed a missionary a few towns away. Locals skunked out the murderer, dragged him to the side of the public road and burned him alive for all to see. Yes, you read that right, they burned him alive. In many of these towns the missions are the primary source of economic activity. The vast majority of locals want us here and value our contribution.
Neither of these stories bring me joy, they reinforce the reality that if I go walking by myself, I need to be prudent. I remain keen to who is in front, behind and next to me. I am careful not to bump into anyone, which is difficult in this crowded place. I initiate a bon soir or salut to everyone who meets my eye. I do everything short of whistling a happy tune, which any Rogers and Hammerstein fan knows is the surest way to diffuse fear.
I sidestep the zealous tap-tap drivers who try to shepherd me into the back of their trucks (now that seems dangerous). I engage the gang of guys sitting on their motos in front of the machine shop outside of town before they get a chance to look at me with suspicion. I carry a full water bottle with me and offer a drink to anyone interested. They would rather have a dollar, but no way am I going to pull out my wallet.
I turn off the road and follow a narrow path along the dry concrete irrigation channel that some aid organization laid years ago as part of some forgotten scheme. I walk past fields with a scrawny cow and feeble looking corn. It is at least ten degrees cooler off the road, and I love the dense vegetation. There are fewer people along this stretch, so I can greet everyone, and if they engage in chat, I get a chance to practice my Creole. I tell them I work for Pastor Lex and am on my way to Mirlitone. That diffuses tension immediately.
Except the only person who bears any tension on these walks is me. My psyche is braced with horror stories, but the reality of walking through the Grand Goave countryside is that I am welcome. The little children shout ‘Give me one dollar’ out of habit, though they would be shocked if I actually did. Everyone has their story. One guy with a big machete tells me he is looking for work to feed his ten children. I ask him if he knows construction, and when he says yes I tell him to see Boss Fanes. People answer yes to everything here, so I have no idea if he knows construction, or even if he has ten children. He smiles, happy just to have someone listen to his tale of plight. Deep along the channel there is a clearing where a dozen or more young men play marbles with the enthusiasm of a World Cup match, their elegant torsos and long arms arched against the tiny spheres of glass. The blan passing through is no more than a curiosity in their game.
The path merges with the dirt road that goes to Mirlitone. A spry man in a pair of jean shorts, no shirt, no shoes, comes out of the driveway of what I consider to be a prosperous Haitian farm; he has a horse a pig, and four goats. We exchange greetings. He walks along beside me. I offer my name. His is Palido. We walk further. I tell him I am going to Mirlitone. He nods. We keep on. We come over the rise to the gate of the Mission House. He stays in step with me. He walks up to the gate, slides it open and gestures for me to pass through. Theo, Mirlitone’s caretaker, comes to the gate and nods to Palido, acknowledging the handoff of my safe return.
I am sure that it is wise for me to be cautious on my walk, but it seems most unnecessary. The eyes and feet of this countryside are always looking out for me.