Sometimes we have to get to other areas of Haiti for meetings, to pick up supplies we can’t find in St. Marc, pick up our mail through Missionary Flights, Intl., and to connect with other ministries and friends. Sometimes we are able to catch rides with friends heading the same direction. Every other time we are forced to take local transportation if we want to go ANYWHERE. Not having a vehicle is an unfortunate hardship. But this is not at all meant to be a vent session about that. We are thankful for these experiences (though we would be immensely thankful for a vehicle too)! We believe that if we are going to serve in Haiti long term that it is fortunate to have had experiences that help us identify with the common people in a way we would not have been able to otherwise. I remember when I first posted on Facebook that I had taken my first trip on a tap-tap. Long term missionaries and mk’s commented that they had never been on a tap-tap. Some of these have spent more than 10+ years living in Haiti. I know very few foreigners that ride tap-tap to get around Haiti, and absolutely none with families as large as ours. I’m not saying they should. I would not wish the tap-tap on anyone. If we had a vehicle we certainly would not be riding tap-tap either. I decided on our most recent tap-tap trip to Port au Prince that something MUST be done about the tap-tap! Riding tap-tap is generally a miserable experience. Breathing car exhaust, city pollutants and the smell of sweaty bodies piled on top of one another and pushed and shoved until there isn’t a square inch left makes me want to vomit just thinking about it.
Something snapped inside me on my last recent tap-tap experience. As I sat there in utter discomfort I looked around and mourned for the people of Haiti. The manner in which human beings are often treated during a tap-tap experience is nothing short of inhumane. We might as well be cattle. If chains were added to the equation, the inside of a fully loaded enclosed tap-tap (with 23-29 people on one small truck in addition to their bags and chickens) reminds me of the inside of slave ships carrying Africans to the Americas. A holy discontent with this situation for the people of Haiti rose within my spirit. I am praying for someone to campaign for government officials to place and strongly enforce legal limits for the # of people that can be shoved onto Haitian tap-taps and buses. Lord please don’t let it be me! But if that’s why you gave us these experiences then so be it. People should not be treated like cows just so the driver or business owner can make a few extra gourde! I don’t really think Haitian goverment officials care about the tap-tap predicament. But what if there was some powerful media showing the way in which people are treated (not a few people in some remote location but thousands of people every day on the public roads of Haiti)? What if Haitians themselves were willing to say, “I bought a seat but only received 1/3 of it and I’m tired of my family being herded like cattle on the way to get my kids to school”! Maybe just maybe other Haitians would stand up for themselves too. Maybe they could all just refuse to take tap-tap for a few days until the tap-tap owners agree to only selling a humane # of seats. So there’s my soapbox for the week. Seriously, there are many greater tragedies here that surpass the tap-tap, but this is one that is staring everyone in the face every day and everyone just accepts it while photojournalist comment about the merry little trucks that brighten Haiti’s dingy streets. Have those same journalist ever ridden inside one…a very full one? I’m pretty sure they would tumble out as dizzy and nauseous as everyone else thinking “merry”? Miserable.
Not all trips are as bad as others. Every now and then we don’t feel like cattle, but we always feel squished. Just when you think there is ABSOULTELY NO WAY another body can fit inside vehicle, six more bodies will somehow mold in around you.
Here’s a rendention of our personal experience. Genise, baby and I leave house at 5am with backpacks and flashlights in tow. We walk until we can flag down two “taxi” motorcycles happening to drive by in the dark on a Saturday morning. We usually have to walk and wait for a while. Moto taxi takes us to the tap-tap station where we get on a tap-tap van headed toward Port au Prince. We climb toward the back of the fifteen passenger van and pile all our stuff and baby on top of us. When twentysix people have been crammed inside, the van decides to finally take off. Twentyfour of the twenty six people (minus the driver and his money collecting helper who both have seats) have paid for seats. Not all Haitians are skinny. One trip I will never forget I got stuck next to a big mama who was at least three of me. She was tired. Her head kept flopping back and forth and hitting mine hard (because there was only an inch of room in between our heads). I was holding the baby and big mama kept elbowing Evangeline in the head. I eventually exchanged Evangeline to her mother for all our bags she was holding and pushed big mama’s head toward the back of the seat in front of us. That didn’t work at all.
We finally arrive at the muddy stop in Cite Soleil (one of the worst slums in Haiti) so that we could unstick ourselves and pile out to find the next lovely ride. Next up is the tap-tap I described earlier. Fun stuff. Thankfully it isn’t too piled up because we just have to travel a few miles to the bus station.
The bus isn’t usually so terrible IF you catch it very early in the morning and manage to snag a seat. It is always still packed and loud and stinky.
Last weekend we did this same charade toting four kids with all our stuff and left Genise and baby at home…meaning we decided we can finally navigate without a Haitian holding our hand. Exactly two years ago we brought a team from our church in the U.S. to Haiti and visited Cite Soleil on one afternoon. In order to do so it was deemed necessary to have secure vans with tinted windows and two armed security guards accompanying us. Now here we are toting our kids by ourselves in overcrowded local transportation and pushing and shoving and barking in Creole right along with them. Funny how much can change in two years. Not so funny that we drove through an area that had just had some sort of manifestation and UN soldiers had sprayed tear gas. The widows in the fifteen; 26-passenger van had holes in them.
So, now we know what tear gas feels like. Evan had just about had enough by the time we got to the bus station. We missed the bus and had to take a caged tap-tap…the cattle prodding kind. We were some of the first to hop on and got seats. I had held Evan in my lap (because he is small and they don’t count him as a person) on the previous rides. But there was no room to put my bag on the ground and Evan was holding his so he squeezed in beside me. It was already a tight fit. A woman decides she would rather not stand and begins to attempt to remove Evan from his seat and hold him in her lap. This is the normal Haitian culture thing to do. I knew that but also knew that Evan was not about to have any part of this strange women removing him from his hard earned seat and holding him tightly on her lap. Evan said “No” when she motioned for him to get up. I watched Evan’s foot rise up to kick just as she was attempting to ignore his refusal and sit down. I put my hand across the both of them to stop the fast coming scene and told the woman that we would pay for his seat and that there was not room for her. There really wasn’t room for her without her sitting on top of my lap. I had had just about enough too. She stood glaring at us until the tap-tap made its fifth stop and enough people got off for her to squeeze into a seat on the other side. Ethan and Esmée were on the other side (as in across the truck) and we could not see them.
We eventually reached our destination. The kids were very happy to hear that we had arranged rides for the rest of the weekend. The rest of the weekend was fabulous and worth every squish and squash on the tap-taps.
Stay tuned for the merry upside to the miserable getting there. 🙂