Ben has his first set of meetings here, starting with the green architect, Regine.
She has “won” a fairly large contract, which she and Ben initiated almost 6 months ago, after his first trip. It is funded by a German NGO and is a school complex for Special Education kids. The process has been arduous to say the least, to the point of Ben having “written off” this opportunity. Yet, they recently resurfaced and Regine has been leading the charge in getting this program to closure. After several months of internal review, they are finally ready to go, and of course, now there is significant pressure to “go, go, go”…
So they are huddled in Regine’s architect studio, figuring out how to best address the now urgent requirement for bamboo material.
By lunch time, I welcome Ben’s sudden appearance as he says triumphantly “I’m done, I’m taking you on a date”! How can a girl refuse? right? A date in an exotic locale indeed. We wait for the taxi for forty minutes and then because there are no other options we take the most abundant form of taxi… a motorbike. Ben had told me about his daredevil motorcycle rides in Port au Prince, but I didn’t quite think I was going to be doing this on my first day in Haiti!
First, I am sandwiched between Ben and the Haitian motorbike driver, until we get to a steep hill and he declares that we need two bikes. Drop Ben off where a bunch of guys are waiting with motorbikes and we each have our own driver.
Holding on for life, the driver tells me in the only English word he has, “relax” (yeah, sure!) we speed up and down hills, weave in and out of traffic (and there is a LOT of traffic in Port au Prince) and over pothills past slums and tent cities.
Thankfully I have good yoga muscles and breathing techniques! What was supposed to be a fifteen minute ride, takes forty five minutes.
Quite an original date! Although I think Ben forgot that I am not one for roller coaster rides.
Impressions of Port au Prince…
There are sections, like bands of areas that were heavily impacted by the quake, sometimes due to reasons like the sandstone that is not great for building on, or the poor construction techniques. The rubble is being cleared daily, and as a result, there is a constant cloud of dust everywhere. In addition to this, there are horrible traffic jams. Ok, that is one huge benefit of being on a motorbike, as they whizz in and out between the cars and off they go.
Tons of new SUVS in the streets, with the reminder that Haiti might be the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but there is a sector that is the wealthy upper class. There are nice restaurants with good (but expensive) food. The promised “date” materializes in the form of an open air, “posh” restaurant.
After lunch we walk around the streets and spend some time talking to kids and people on the periphery of the nearest tent city.
Some of my encounters: a little girl just home from school, still in her uniform and doing her homework with her mother. Three more kids happy to have their picture taken. A beautiful woman with a three month old baby.
The city is very polluted due to all the traffic and all the dust. There are people everywhere living out their lives… children in beautiful uniforms coming from school and going home to their tents, the little girls have huge bows in their braided hair, lots of entrepreneurial types who are selling fruit and other wares.
There are tent cities all over, but in between these, there are regular houses and street activity.
Ben wants to keep walking and “exploring” the area… past the fruit street and the artist “street coop”…
But, it’s starting to get dark and we need to get home.
Am not sure I am up for another motorbike ride especially in the dark. My muscles hurt and I am fully aware of the danger entailed in this kind of adventure.
So I tell Ben I am going to hitch a ride for us from one of the many SUV drivers, who are stuck in traffic, so seem rather easy to approach. Ben is dubious because Regine’s house is quite a distance and not easy to find. I proceed nonetheless and on the second try, hit gold.
A very kind man who is a Haitian from NY, here visiting family for a month, takes us completely out of his way to the nicest hotel in town where Ben has set up a final meeting for the day.
Kevin, who is a builder (natural materials) is joining us for two reasons. One, he is holding a seminar for NGOs tomorrow on the theme of bamboo constructions, and Ben thinks that it’s useful context for Blake, who will be writing an article on bamboo in Haiti. But also, Ben is delivering the infamous bamboo seeds and the little plants we have schlepped from Nicaragua, past multiple rings of customs agents. Kevin will plant these and be part of an effort to test out if and where guadua plants will “take” on the island.
The hotel is an older mansion, really beautiful with original woodwork and a live band.
Today was a full, full day.