The Ups and Downs of Getting to Haiti

We crossed an international border illegally in the bed of a truck with supplies to build twenty latrines in the mountains of Haiti.  We knew our destination, but not the route.  We knew we would get there, but we did not know when.  We knew we would cross the border, but we had no idea where.

We’d spent the day waiting.  The plan was to leave in the morning, but morning came and we were already a day behind, so we waited.  Just when we thought that we were going to be delayed another day, our contact with Children of the Border showed up at our hotel in Pedernales in the Dominican Republic.  She came with a truck full of supplies for the latrines we were going to build in Haiti.

On the truck, on top of the supplies, ready to go to Haiti.
On the truck, on top of the supplies, ready to go to Haiti.

It was 5pm, a couple hours until dusk, and we had no idea how long the journey would be.  Still, we threw our bags into the back and jumped on after them.  We arranged ourselves on the 2x4s and headed for the border.

Since we were not crossing at an official border crossing—no stamps for our passports—we did not know when the border was crossed.  There were a couple possibly official possibly unofficial stopping points.  Each time there was lots of discussion in rapid Spanish.  Each time one of the men would come to the back of the truck, greeted us, and shake each of our hands.  Turns out that none of these stops was the border.  The border was a dry river bed that we crossed unceremoniously later.

After about an hour and a half, at dusk, we arrived.  We arrived at a building standing alone in the mountains.  It was a large rectangular concrete building with a huge cement pad in front.  It looked more like a storage facility than a home, because it was.  We unpacked all the supplies and discovered that this was just a halfway point.  Another truck was supposed to meet us and take us the rest of the way.  It had already left.

We waited.  Our first truck left.  There was no telling when the second truck would return.  It could be an hour or five, that night or the next morning.  I leaned on the supplies piled on the concrete and watched the stars.  I saw a dozen shooting stars.  The others tried to befriend a puppy that was wandering around.  Several Haitian men met us there and they taught us some Creole words in exchange for English ones.  They built a fire and threw corn cobs directly into the flames.  When the leaves were burned they pulled them off and threw the naked cobs back in the fire.  When a cob was deemed done someone would hand it to one of us—straight from the fire it was too hot to hold.  We had to juggle them from hand to hand until they were cool enough to eat.

After dinner we put on extra clothes to lie under the stars and go to sleep.  At 3:15am the second truck arrived.  So we packed the supplies and jumped in.  This time the road was bumpier than before.  This time the turns were sharper.  This time the hills were steeper.  This time there was no room for sitting.  This time we stood hanging on to the metal frame over the bed.  This time we dodged low branches and grabbed low hanging fruit off the vine.

Around 5am we stopped—seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  I could see no sign of civilization except the unpaved road we were parked on.  But we disembarked.  Finally we were there.  A house emerged from the darkness as we began to unload the supplies.  The strongest among us carried the wood, zinc, and concrete into the house and yard while the rest of us lit their way with our headlamps and flashlights.

I was ready for my bed.  But instead of my bed I was given bad news.  Again, we were not at our house, we were at the mason’s house.  We still had to walk to our house and we were waiting for dawn to get started.  I don’t know how long we waited—I slept some in my chair at the dining room table—but we didn’t wait for dawn.  We put on our packs and started walking without any idea how far we were going or how long it would take.  Turned out our house was the 45 minutes away on the next mountain over.  We had to descend into a valley and ascend the next mountain.  By the time we got there the sun had risen.  We went to bed about 8am and slept until lunch.

The day was long, uncomfortable, full of changed plans, and it was wonderful.

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