The Journey Thru Lockdown
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
I've had people texting me in the last few days, wondering if anything in Haiti has changed, and how we are. I feel like have nothing to write, really. Nothing has really changed. It reminds me a lot of the first few months of lockdown in 2020. All the ladies are kind of inside trying to keep on with business as usual, and the men are on the news constantly. It's the only thing they'll talk about, and I'm glad the news is in Kreyol so I can just try to tune it out. It became very clear to me during the Covid lockdown that I couldn't handle hours of news or long conversations about the news. In some ways, I think the Covid lockdown prepared me for this. It was such an uncertain time for Zèzè and I, not knowing when we'd ever see each other again, but it passed and God gave grace. And that gives me hope that this will pass too, and I'm thankful that this time we are at least together instead of apart.
This country has not had gas in the pumps 24/7 for months because of a gang-controlled area of Port au Prince called Martissant. The gas trucks all have to pass through that area when they come with the gas from the port, and the gangs like Ti Lapli and some others have been kidnapping gas trucks. They hold the driver for a ransom, and release him with the now empty truck when it is paid, but they keep the gas. Fewer and fewer drivers want to risk the trip, and now the little gas that is getting through has apparently been from drivers negotiating bribes with the gangs. Police are not equipped to handle the problem or offer security. The gangs have better weapons and tend to retaliate quickly to any police attack. This problem started off months ago with long lines at the gas pumps, which caused traffic jams and some violence, but you could usually stay in the know and get some gas if you were patient. As this problem has gotten worse, street guys have built businesses from buying up all the gas from the pumps and re-selling it at very high prices. We've been buying gas "in the street" as they say off-and-on for a while already, because there can be lots of violence and gunfights break out at the pumps when they try to start selling their limited amount of gas. Plus, you may get a few gallons of diesel and then be stuck in a traffic jam for hours trying to get away from the station, burning all your money and time. The problem with the street gas tho is sometimes they add water to it or use dirty containers, and lots of people are having breakdowns because of bad gas right now.
You would think this would just disrupt the transportation, but keep in mind this country doesn't have reliable electricity either. So hospitals, schools, and banks need generators to run their computers and other equipment. Even the cell phone towers are all running off of generators. As of this week, the banks have all reduced hours to three days a week, which makes violence and crime worse also. My husband went to the bank at 6:00 A.M. the other day to cash his check. The bank opens at 9:00, and he managed to get home by 10:00. But his co-worker sat in line all day.
All in all, it's a dangerous situation for the country. Hospitals, banks, and cell service providers need to function at minimum for people to feel at least a bit secure. And like the Covid lockdown, we have no idea where the country is headed. But instead of discussing where to buy toilet paper, it's always, "Yo man! Did so and so get gas yesterday? And where? And could you hook me up?"
It's a fiasco! And it's affected everyone from the tap-tap drivers, to the market vendors, to the people with high end jobs. You are either struggling to make money to eat, or if you have money, you're in constant fear of being kidnapped. One of my English students says she doesn't even go to church because these gangs have actually started breaking into schools and church services and kidnapped people.
If you want an honest personal report, the last month has been hard. We have been living in faith that Haiti is God's plan for us, that we have a purpose for being here. And in my human mind, being able to send some of the single guys out with our tap-tap to make some money was actually "doing something" for the family/congregation. That vehicle was something we were proud of, even though maybe it wasn't making us a lot of money per se, it was a morale boost to have something that belonged to us. And to have it taken right at the same time of the missionary kidnapping made me really doubt what this life over here was all about. Instead of feeling constant fear, I have actually just felt very low energy - it's hard to get up when there's just not much to do! My online translating job isn't really working because the offices in the country that scan the letters are out of gas. And doing English classes on Zoom is a drag, and lots of people have dropped out. So all that has been discouraging.
This morning we were able to buy 5 gallons of diesel for around $50 USD. But for the last three weeks we've gone out in a vehicle maybe twice. The good thing is, it's easier on the pocketbook when you're not driving a car in Haiti. They're always breaking down or running out of gas it seems like! Life has just gotten very simple for us. Zèzè goes to work in the mornings and comes home around noon, and we go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays on the motorcycle. Otherwise, we mostly stay home.
And the truth is, I enjoy the moto rides to and from church, especially going home in the cool twilight after an evening service. Living in Port au Prince is like country and city life all mixed together, because the city is made up of thousands of little communities, and cutting through back alleys on a moto you see interesting things - ladies braiding hair or giving pedicures, endless groups of young men hanging out, children playing soccer, and many Domino and card games with the loser forced to wear a motorcycle helmet for penalty. The sugarcane on Route Barbancourt is higher than my head right now, little boys walk behind patient cows, going to and from "pastures" which are usually actually trash piles. The neighborhood around church is full of goats, and right next door there is a set of tiny, furry triplets that always have to scramble out of our way. Out on the main road, the Damier market vendors are packed up and gone, and just a few cars are on the road. There is a little restaurant pumping out the music with a few dim lights, but the only other light comes from the scattered fires - people trying to burn their trash and clean up the streets a bit.
After church last night, we walked a few houses down to buy Coke and Pringles from the little boutik. The lady that owns it was playing Domino's with about four other men, but reluctantly came to make a sale. When I looked up at the moon and said it looked like a boat full of dreams, my husband said, "It's only because we live in a poor country that doesn't have electricity that we can see the moon." We enjoyed our Pringles on the porch. And I showed my husband how to make them into a duck bill and we quacked away together for awhile quite happily. He found this American-child-tradition extremely funny.
And so... happy moments do sneak into our days, and we try to stay strong and believe that this is just a season. A journey. It will pass.
even in a season
Like a flickering candle
in a quiet kitchen
The soft song
of wind chimes
on the porch.
Like twinkle lights -
and the face of my husband
as we sing together
at the kitchen table.
Like a skinny black and white cat
washing his paws
like he's King of the World.