Pastor Akim, one of MoHI’s regular drivers, must like to get up early. He tells me we will leave at 5 am for my ten o’clock flight out of PAP. I ask him to knock on my door in the morning, I have already returned my Haitian phone to Gama and do not have an alarm, but I’m not sure he understands me. No matter. I hear the car horn blast in the pitch dark and hustle out of bed to meet him.
I have a huge heavy bag on my return; I am bringing concrete samples from the BLB roof pour for SGH to test in their lab. I will get a physical inspection at every security point; the massive cylinder in my bag looks ever so much like a bomb to an x-ray detector. I lug the bag down the stairs and into the car. We pull out of Mirlitone in the clear dark night with a breathtaking full moon lingering in the west.
I am really hungry. Last I ate was yesterday lunch, when our hope of pouring concrete for MoHI’s main stairs seemed impossible. But Lex found some cement and the crews found their flow and by ten o’clock last night we created a pair of impressive stairs that will last for decades, though in all the excitement I forgot to eat. I have a sack with some bread, offer some to Pastor Akim and gnaw on a few pieces myself. When we hit paved Route Two I recline my passenger seat and shut my eyes.
Sleep and Haitian driving are not compatible. Gravel swatches have been cut across the road at irregular intervals; we slow down to ford these patches and I can’t help but rouse to sneak a peek at the arcane delights of nighttime travel. There is the nearly empty tap-tap with its sole passenger sitting astride the center bench, staring down the road like a king surveying his kingdom as it slips away. The empty dump truck hugs the center of the road, its back wheels so wobbly they might come off any minute. There must not be a Creole word for ‘alignment’. As Pastor Akim passes the lumbering truck at our peril, a bicyclist pedals along the left shoulder with a huge bundle of sugar cane staked on his handlebars. No light, no helmet, no way he can see where he’s going in the dark with our headlights glaring him down.
I must sleep some because the giant metal hulk of a former mill comes upon us much sooner than I expect; I always consider this ruin to be the portal into greater Port au Prince. The sky is no longer dark. Driving east, a pink band highlights the horizon’s silhouette; the flat line of the sea on my left rises gently across the highway, extends through the settlements on my right and into the distant mountains, like a graph of positive trending indicators. I pull my seat upright to watch the city grow before my eyes. Traffic is still light, though steady. The tap taps are full; people wait on the side of the road in the clean khakis of city workers. The new divided boulevard in Carrefour is impressive in the feeble light. The tiny palm trees planted down the median are only a few feet high, but the shiny new light standards with their integral solar panels extend graceful double arms to welcome the new day. Haiti is getting full of snazzy stuff.
We reach Port au Prince proper before the dust rises and coats the world in grit and grey. The tap taps are shiny clean; a painting of Jesus with thorns on his head and blood glistening from his side is too graphic for my queasy stomach. Driving in the city is more difficult; Pastor Akim passes on the right, the left, the right again. MoHI drivers are as aggressive as any of their city cousins. We pass many, few pass us. The sun makes its first appearance as a blistering white ball hovering above the metal roofs of the main market. It is going to be a hot one. The market is already packed, rows and rows of women crouch before bundles of greens. How early do these mountain women rise in order to come and squat in this squalor all day?
Billboards are sprouting up in Port au Prince like dandelions, thick steel tubular bases telescoping above shacks and tents, capped by rectangles five times the size of the dwellings they cast in shadow. Some of the ads are peculiarly Haitian. One billboard has two cheesy sketches; the first of two young children burdened by carrying water in buckets on their head, the second with the same children upright and proud because of the new black water tank drawn on top of their concrete house. Another is a beautiful woman smiling in front of a wall of rice sacks. But closer to the airport, and the money, the billboards are more sophisticated; insurance companies, Air France, brokerage firms. All this aid is making someone rich.
Pastor Akim drops me off at the airport. There is no line. I am through the first security check, ticketing, immigration, the second security check, the third security check and am in the waiting lounge before 7:30 am, two and a half hours before flight time. Although I might have enjoyed sleeping later, I can understand why Pastor Akim likes to leave so early. The quicker he gets me into Port au Prince, the quicker he gets out. He will be back in Grand Goave before I am even on the jetway.