Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mirabalais to Leogane

When I got picked up in Mirabalais Monday morning I was greeted by the familiar face of Roosevelt the carpenter who works just outside the gates of the CDC/Notre Dame Residence Filarose in Leogane. Jean Marc Brissau the director of the Notre Dame Haiti Program sent his driver to come pick me up in Mirabalais and Roosevelt had joined just for the hell of it. He had once cut his finger on a wood lathe/saw and sought my help when it got infected. I had gotten my first aid kit and helped some of the nursing students I lived near clean it out for him. It’s a little crooked looking now but he told me it’s fine. He had made the journey roundtrip to Mirabalias from Leogane in the passenger seat just to see me. He was excited that I remembered his name and the cut. This was great. It addressed my biggest insecurity about returning to Leogane. He reminded me that despite my 5 year absence, I still had friends who missed me and were excited that I had returned.

The journey was a long one. We passed through Port au Prince on our way through Leogane. We drove through Champs de Mars where I had been stuck in traffic when the earthquake had hit. I tried to recall which exact tree I had hugged that night but we zipped by without any significant traffic this time. The country’s White House is still in ruins. The national cathedral ruble is still being removed. The part of PAP that we drove through had less garbage and better roads then I remember however. We continued down Route Nacional #2 where Jean Marc and I had hitchhiked and walked on our way back to Leogane the night of the quake. I saw the UN base, still there, where I had tried to gather information from a Brazilian who had been just as shocked and confused as me. We drove past a newly rebuilt and improved Anacaona high-school, which had collapsed in a pancake fashion and killed many of the students, on our way into Leogane.

Leogane was more or less just as I had remembered it prior to the earthquake. It was hard to find any rubble that hadn’t been removed. Most of the streets were paved with drains. Hospital St. Croix stood in the same place with the bar, “Masaje” re-opened just across from it. Belle Negresse which had been one of the few restaurants in town was back open right where it used to be. The only startling changes were that the cathedral in the city center was gone with a crane standing in its place.  Also, the government had refurbished the town’s central square and added solar panel street lights which stood out.

The staff at the residence was the same. Max Rosemund, Ti-Gary, Carl Henry, and the cook
Janelle all pleased to see me. “konton we ou”’s and “se long tan”’s were flying with big smiles. I put my bags down and headed out to explore the city and look for my old friends on Rue la Sousse. It didn’t take me long as I recognized Ti Bouchon’s house and found Geraldi and Naldi sitting in chairs around the side. Soon I was chilling with the Zoyon club on a curb practicing kreyol and planning the evening’s street soccer game like old times.

Problem was that they didn’t have a ball. I couldn’t believe it. These guys love soccer and used to play everyday and none of them could produce a ball. So Bitten and I set out to the market in search of a ball.

We all decided that the game would start at 5:30pm because traffic would be less. Bitten explained that all their balls pop and do not last very long so they regularly wait for someone to want to play bad enough to purchase a new ball. (an organization here called “one world balls” makes Haitian Street Soccer balls that are tough enough to last I heard) Anyhow, I was just the guy. Bitten and I walked to the Residence Filarose so I could get some money and throw on some shorts. We then walked to a small confessional booth-like wooden structure down the street painted in yellow and blue called the “Bureau de Change”. We slid my 20$ US bill through a plastic barrier and received 900 goude back. I was expecting 880 at best because sometimes there’s a large fee … ( 1 US = 44goude) but Bitten explained that he wanted my business back so he gave me a full reimbursement plus 20 goude. Describing a market in Haiti requires its own blog entry…. in general they’re fascinating and chaotic. We found our way to the region of the market selling clothes, watches, and non-food related items. No soccer balls. Even Bitten said something to the effect of “mwen pa konne kote jwen yon boule, nou bezwin chache anpil” – I don’t know where to find a ball, we are going to need to look a lot” Ultimately we found a vendor who had 3 soccer ball options – small, medium, large-normal sized. We decided to pay 320goude after Bitten scolded him for asking 500 for such a shitty ball with no real seams and questionable material. He stood by his assertion throughout the game later and emphasized that it wouldn’t last the week. I got it anyway because we didn’t have time to keep looking.

Haitian street soccer games are the most exciting variety. Instead of complaining about the width of the field/street, motos and cars driving through the field/street, curbs and front yard obstacles, the guys just enjoy the leveling effect that these unpredictable obstacles have on the game’s outcome.  One cement block is stood on its side on each end of the designated playing space. There is no traditional goal or goal keeper. Walls, front porches, curbs, puddles, etc…, are in play.  In order to win you must pass/shoot the ball into the brick and knock it on its side. Our team was myself, Baby Chill, and Naldi. (yes his name is Baby Chill, and he used to be one of the best soccer players in Leogane and had a shot at the national team in his younger days I’ve heard) We played a couple of the other local guys whose names I don’t know. It was a war of attrition with both sides requiring substitutions from anxious younger neighbors so they could rehydrate. There were no injuries, car accidents, or fights. I ultimately scored the game winning goal which surprised some of the onlookers. I went home drenched in sweat to drink a liter of purified water, bath, and eat a big plate of rice with beef stew poured over it. This was pretty much my afternoon routine in 2009. It was fun to re-live it.

That night I met a 2010 Notre Dame grad and fellow student of Karen Richman – Dustin - who is working for Engineering to Empower. E2E is a new University of Notre Dame affiliated nonforprofit started by some ND engineering professors who hope to introduce a new housing alternative to Haitians and to study the current paradigm that exists between families, architects, and contractors. This is what I understood after discussing briefly, but their website would be a better resource. Dustin, Jean Marc, and I had a great conversation about the political situation in Haiti, Jean Marc and I’s experience in the Earthquake, and the distant but looming threat of Ebola.

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