“T.I.H.” is the term used to explain pretty much all the hard to explain time and energy draining beyond frustrating experiences that most everyone experiences daily here in Haiti. Here is my all too typical day so far. And yes I am venting, but not expecting sympathy because after all This. Is. Haiti.
I wake up at 2am. The batteries died an hour early leaving us without power. The small fan I shared with Esmée in our twin size bed was no longer keeping the mosquitoes at bay. I fumble around in the dark to find the mosquito repellent. Eric meets me in the kitchen with a flashlight. He is after the same thing. I innocently ask why he thinks we lost power early. I get the usual answer, “because we used up too much electricity too early!” I give the usual response which is, “we haven’t used anything!” We dispute about what house members have issue with keeping our tiny refrigerator open longer than the 2 seconds it should take to grab desired food target and of course someone has turned on the cold switch on the water dispenser and heaven forbid everyone wanting to sleep with a fan. I think to myself, I really want a large freezer so I don’t have to go to the grocery store so much and Eric really wants a washing machine because he thinks it will help with laundry soap waste/costs and appease his frustration with that. I wonder how exactly we would run such appliances if we are running out of power on a mini freezer/fridge and a water dispenser? This is 2am talking.
I head to the bathroom to find the toilet has been used too many times. I glance longingly at the shower but dismiss that thought because a plunger, a pile of shoes, and 3 large buckets of laundry are occupying that space. I know that choosing the outhouse experience will surely dwindle all chances of me going back to sleep. I decide to try to sleep holding it. I try not to think about the fact that I am just pushing back the inevitable of waking up to the same situation which will be exasperated by 7 other people in the same predicament. I wonder if the toilet downstairs will actually get fixed today as promised. We have 4 friends coming today and I dread having to direct them to the outhouse on their mini vacation from Port au Prince. I tried to warn them.
Um I guess my level of TMI tolerance has grown considerably.
I go check on the kids to see if the mosquitoes are attacking them as well. They are ok and I head back to bed. Roosters seem confused about waking hours, and dogs and pigs are fighting loudly in the street outside. I eventually doze off thankful that it isn’t too unbearably hot but still longing for the fan.
We wake up to the usual chaos of getting a large family off to work and school. Eric tells me not to use the kitchen sink because there is a water problem. I told him that I tried to tell him that last night after he had crashed on a pillow on the floor because we don’t have a bed. Ethan is brushing his teeth and spitting into the kitchen sink while Evan is pouring cereal all over the counter. I reach to grab Evan a spoon and notice mouse droppings on the silverware. Great. Another mouse. The last one got trapped in a suitcase full of shoes in the girls room. Apparently the girls didn’t need those shoes for a few days and mouse died. Worms found the mouse before I discovered that the smell was not stinky shoes. But that was last week. Back to this morning.
Eric reminds me NOT to use any heating elements because our inverter charge is very low and it will blow the breaker. It has been a few days since I have fixed my hair (need a heating element to do so)…I agree. What’s one more day? I send the kids out the door. The full leg of a goat greets me at the bottom stair. This is the fifth dead animal offering from our resident street dog in the past two weeks. I just stared at it thinking how thankful I was that I was not facing a rat or a chicken this time. I go upstairs to get much needed coffee and take it to my room to get dressed.
I walk into the kitchen to put up coffee cup and notice that the microwave is running. I rush to turn it off saying, “OH NO!” Genise looks up alarmed. She said she thought it was ok to use it because she heard the generator noise. I told her that Eric told me not to use heating elements this morning without turning off the inverter and switch to the school first. I feel bad for yelling. Genise didn’t know. I head downstairs to flip the switch hoping no damage was done by the few seconds of microwave. My phone rings. It is Eric reminding me of his request and informing me that I am responsible for blowing power in two of the school buildings as well. He has to leave work and come home to deal with the problem.
Two guys come over to try and fix the toilet downstairs. I feed the dog, clean up dog poop, change Evangeline’s diaper, then help her parents carry the food and drinks to the elementary building. We are helping them set up a little snack shop business at the school and today was their first day. I think it might be more work than I anticipated and we now have no cooler at home. At least I didn’t have to pack snacks for my kids today.
I start walking home with a fussy Evangeline when Eric calls me to say that if I need money from the bank and groceries from the store I had better go now because Carnival holiday is going to be blocking the streets after noon and I won’t be able to go later. A man on a moto is following me home questioning me (while I am on the phone) about whether Evangeline is my baby and if he can have my number. He speaks good English and I wait outside my gate for him to tell me his sad story. His wife is American and lives in FL. They have five children together but he cannot be with them because he got deported for getting in trouble “because Haiti didn’t teach me not to do those bad things before I went to America”. “They” say he can return in 10 years. He is on year 2. He needs work to support his family. He tells me of the jobs that used to employ him in the states but is willing to do much less meaningful work for any money here. Could he please clean my house? I thought about the state of my house and almost agreed. I asked him if he was a taxi driver and he said, “yes”. I told him I needed to go to the bank and the store and that was a job I could give him today. He said he would wait and I told him I needed to get the baby to sleep and would call him when I was ready.
I finally get Evangeline to sleep and look at the clock. I am supposed to teach my class in 5 minutes. I promised Evan I would be there. But if I don’t break that promise we won’t have anything to eat tonight besides moldy bread and peanut butter. We have company coming in a few hours. I call Genise and tell her I need to go to the store right away. I missed seeing the kids today.
I called my ride but when he didn’t answer after 5 minutes I employed another guy who was eagerly waiting. I hopped on the back of his motorcycle with my empty backpack and HEB keep food cold bag in tow. We wind through a myriad of mud puddles, paved roads, trash piles, and sidestreets. I still don’t know my way around very well and cannot focus enough to see because the dust is killing my eyes. We make it to the bank in 10 minutes. I ask my driver to wait while I use the ATM machine. I try twice but it isn’t working today. Now I have no way to get cash to give to Genise to purchase rice, beans, and street vegetables for dinner. We head to the DeliMart to see what else I can scrounge up for dinner.
The DeliMart is the nicest grocery store in St. Marc. There are 4 small isles. The first isle contains nothing but hair and body products on one side and laundry/cleaning products on the other side. The second isle contains nothing but cheaply made and sickeningly overpriced childrens toys, ugly kitchen utensils, party accessories and paper goods. The last isle contains nothing but alchoholic beverages. That leaves 2 isles in the middle of mostly generic brand groceries that I would never have bought in the U.S. that I will end up paying 3-5 times more for the privilege of buying at DeliMart in St. Marc, Haiti.
I am excited to find two heads of hydroponically grown lettuce that don’t appear to be rotten and decide to spoil the kids by buying them a different cereal than the Haitian brand cornflakes they are completely sick of. $6.25 for kids cereal! Score! My excitement dwindles by the time it takes the cashier 20 minutes to run my debit card by hand because I couldn’t get cash at the ATM. I carry out a full HEB bag (wishing it had HEB groceries inside), a full backpack, and another plastic sack of groceries. Three moto taxis greet me outside the door and I nod at the guy that has been waiting an eternity for my shopping spree in two isles. I don’t know why I tried to explain myself. He took it out on me by driving me through the largest trash pile I have ever seen on the way home.
We arrive at my gate. I hand him 25 gourde (about 50 cents) for taking me. This is the standard rate plus an extra 5 gourde for making him wait. He just stared at me expecting more because I am white and just bought 3 bags of groceries so I obviously have money. A teenage boy sees me hand my driver the 25 gourde and comes over to stick his hand in my face and shout “MONEY”. I ignore him at first and step inside the gate with my groceries. 5 more boys flock to my gate. I start toward the door when I hear “Hey you…Money!” yelled at me again. I turn around to see 6 faces peering at me through the gate eyeing my groceries. I set them down and go outside to face the boys. I explained to them in Creole that my name is not “money”, and that just because I am white does not mean I have money; that just because he saw me give my driver money does not mean I have more money and that if I did he certainly should not be entitled to it. He then mocked me by saying that he knows I work at the school and the school gives us money. I told him the exact opposite is true. The school pays the Haitian teachers but the foreign teachers do not get any money for working. I told him that we have to ask for money too but that I would never ask for people to give me money like he did. I asked him how he would like it if I went to his house and stuck my hand in his face and shouted “MONEY” at him. He looked confused so I asked another boy if he would like someone to do that to him. He looked down and said, “no”. Furthermore, I explained that the Haitian verb meaning “to give” may not be rude in Creole but when it is translated to English this comes off as very rude to say “You give me” time and again as if a person MUST give it. I explained to the boys that foreigners would not be inclined to give them anything if they shouted “hey you…money…give me” and explained a better way to ask and increase their chances of getting. Their ears perked up and asked me how they could ask nicely so they would be able to get more handouts from white people. They all practiced asking me nicely for something to drink and something to eat if I happened to have something to give. I explained that I did not have something to give them today other than water. They all nodded toward my groceries. I told them that I have 5 children living in my house and 2 more children coming to visit tonight and that these groceries were for them. Then they specifically asked me for the box of Pops cereal they could see through the bag. I told them, “sorry, not today.” They were still staring at me through the gate when I went inside and up the stairs. Anger stirred inside me. I was angry at their utter verbal rudeness and trying to take advantage of me because of my color. I was angry because this is what they have been taught by the mentality of most everyone else in Haiti. I was angry because I just want to be able to enjoy getting out of the house for an hour (even if I have to take a moto) and hate being accosted at every turn. I was angry because these groceries will feed my family for no more than 2 days and then I will have to go through this charade all over again. I was angry because I wish I could do more to actually help those 6 boys who honestly don’t know any better. I wondered if they were really hungry or just trying to get whatever they could out of me. I put away the groceries, picked up Evangeline who was crying while her father was napping and her mother still working at the school. Typical. I sat down and choked back tears.
This. Is. Haiti.
All this happened before noon. I think I will have another cup of coffee to survive the rest of this day. Little things like family and friends that send me Starbucks Via packs and who I know are praying for us really help us get through these typical T.I.H. days. I really don’t know how we would survive without you. Thanks is not enough.
P.S. I just learned that the downstairs toilet is fixed. 🙂