30 January 2004

take me to the river

They woke us before dawn on the morning we were to depart. I opened one bleary eye and watched small hands unzipping the tent and feeling around near the door. I opened both eyes. They mewed in alternating french, kreyol, and english, Give me your watch. Give me your shoe. Give me your shirt.
      Everything not in my bag was gone, but I more concerned with how I was going to survive the journey back to Port-au-Prince; throughout the previous night, I had continued to dizzily vomit and shit in the vile pit next to the kitchen (coincidence?). I sat up. My guts twisted ominously. Fuck, we have a six hour truck ride ahead of us.
      I choked down juice and imodium tablets. The camion pulled up at 7; it is a very tall, brightly painted 8-wheel flatbed truck with planks and ropes for the passengers to hold on to. All of the children gathered around, holding the things they’d pilfered and waving frantically. BYE BYE! BYE BYE!

      To get back to the city, one must ford 7 rivers because there are no functioning bridges.
      We had forded the second when we got stuck in thick mud getting up the other bank. The driver was either completely confident in his own abilities or he had a death wish. He maneuvered the truck back and forth and I looked out my side and watched the ground get troublingly further away. People stood around and shouted helpfully. the camion shook under me; the wheels on the right side suddenly found purchase, we started to tilt and I felt the bed rearing up under us. the doctor on my left cursed softly to himself. I closed my eyes and listened to the rushing water. breathe breathe breathe.
      When I opened them again we were out of the river bank and I was staring at jungle trees and huts and the two dirt tracks again. leading north.
Here is the river on the way over; we are top of the riverbank that nearly took us later, preparing to ford the river in the landrover:

      Later we pulled over and I was drinking strikingly delicious cane-sugar sweetened sprite out of a thick glass bottle when Pere Kesner, who was following us in his pickup truck (yes the very truck that had borne that boy’s corpse earlier that week) asked me if I was aware that God was with us. Pere, pourquoi etes-vous toujours tel le rhetoricien?
      That wasn’t rhetorical, Natalia.
He told me that the camion had been on two wheels.
      Yes, he said in his unhurried Haitian french, The camion should have rolled—I was very frightened—and then it was as if a hand from the sky reached down and pushed it back to the earth.
      Yeah. sure. God’s here.
…a dusty dead animal crowned a heap of garbage at the edge of the gas station; in the distance the wreck of Port-au-Prince erupted out of the naked mountain sides and filled the air with the haze of the last of the trees going up in flames.

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