We passed over the last of 4 rivers with Adrien at the wheel, hands at 10 and 2. He was sitting astute in the drivers seat, on full alert. It was half past midnight.
“That was the one I was most worried about.”
We’d made it to Cayes, said our goodbyes and jumped on the closest bus that was about to leave. There was room, just enough, to squeeze on.
If you’ve ever been on a rollercoaster, that’s what a public bus in Haiti is like, except there are not safety bars or seatbelts. You rocket down the country’s only blacktop road at death defying speeds. A young woman next to me is cradled into her seat like a baby. She’s singing a Christian song in Creole. It’s peacefully familiar.
It’s pitch black. And you are crammed in. A man’s elbow was in between my shoulder blades for most of the 4 hour trip. When his elbow wasn’t in my back, his hand was on my head. The smells are absolutely intense. There is no air-conditioning, except for when the exit door opens. The Haitians slam it shut immediately, and all possibilities of fresh air are snuffed out, because it’s October, the rainy season, and they consider this to be cold weather. I’m sweating. The bus jerks to the right and to the left, and you all slam into the side of the bus as if you are one. You’re all touching, shoulder to shoulder, and so when one falls we all fall. My stomach starts to churn. I’m thinking,
‘Dear God, If I puke here, it’s going to be in my lap, which means Patchouko is going to puke, and the guy next to me, and the girl in front of me...we’ll have a nasty, nasty chain reaction and the most memorable bus ride of our lives...’ It’s 3am.... Your head bobs every direction, you drift in and out of consciousness.
We finally arrived in Port, and somewhere around 4 we pulled into the bus station. Patchouko jumped off to go to the bathroom and then popped his head in.
He’d found a taxi.
It was dark and soon as we got in, the man raised the price. We went from 60 Haitian to 80, which was more than even the bus ride to cross the country.
“No thanks.” I said, and we got out. Patchouko kept telling me,
“I think this is good. We should go back and take it.”
It was dark, there were people all around.
“We should go back.” He said again.
“Doesn’t it bug you that he raised the price like that?” I said.
“No. We should take it. It’s good.” He was acting a little anxious.”
“.....Ok. If you think so.”
We got in and off we went, down back alleys, completely dark roads, zigging and zagging through the No-Man’s-Land in the middle of Port-au-Prince. I kept my eyes on Patchouko, watching his reactions. I remember thinking if we were being kidnapped, I had no clue where we were. With all the lefts and rights I was turned around. There were no longer any landmarks, just rows of shanties, little shacks as far as you could see. A man could disappear in there. The Haitian sitting next to me kept staring at me, but then when I’d look at him, he’d quickly look away.
I was reaching the limits of my ability to remain calm, rehearsing in my mind what it would look like to jump from the car, and just at the right time, the driver turned on his radio and began flipping through channels.
Creole station, Creole radio-talk show, Creole Jam, Creole Rap, French news......and then came one song, in English, Christian, which was exactly what I needed. The words came across the speakers.... “He is Near.”
I took in a big gulp of air and let it go. I smiled. The rest of the ride was peaceful, so much that the Haitian next to me probably thought I was high.
We popped out of a side road, and there was the airport. The driver brought us directly to the police station across the street and told Patchouko we’d be safe there.
As we walked into the station all relaxed and casual, the policemen inside were all exactly the opposite. They were on guard, tense, and very uneasy.... with me!
Alot of dialog passed between Patchouko and the officers.
“What’s the problem?” I said.
“They are very nervous because of your machete. They are a sign of violence in Port, and he can see the handle sticking out of your pack.” He said.
“Ohhhhhh! Whoops. Sorry. Didn’t know that little bit of information.” How crazy, to come all the way across Haiti from our small village, and now that I’m at the airport waiting for my family, I’m going to get thrown into a jail cell. What an idiot I am! Can you imagine walking into a police station in the States with a 44 mag? Same results...
Patchouko explained to them that I came from a small rural village outside of Cayes, and we all have machetes there. :)
“Cover it up.” The officer told me.
“Yes Sir.” I snapped to, wrapping my rain coat around the hilt.
Patchouko breathed a little easier, so of course I did too, but the policeman just kept staring at me. Other officers would come in, and he’d tell them I have a machete, so every officer that came in that morning would turn and look at me from head to toe, sizing me up.
“You know back at the bus station?” Patchouko casually mentioned.
“That was a very dangerous place. It was unsafe.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yes, that’s why I wanted to take the taxi.”
“Brother, I really need to know that kind of stuff. I had no idea.”
Patchouko just smiled. Of course I have no idea.
“What about that taxi ride?” I said. “I was half-thinking we were getting kidnapped until I heard that song.”
“Oh no. I knew where we were. I felt like he was from God, because right when we got off the bus, he was there, and taxis don’t run that early. I could tell right away he was a professional, experienced driver.” He said.
“So I pretty much don’t know anything. Good to know.” I said.
Patchouko just smiled. I began to imagine seeing my wife and kids and Mr. Todd Boote, coming out of the airport. Just 2 more hours, and...can it be....ahhhhhh yes, the sun is rising.