Sept. 17, 2003
Thursday, Aug. 28
ou’re back in the car, heading toward Port-au-Prince, toward the airport, toward America, toward a place that seems to be separated from here by centuries, not miles.
A construction crew is out on National Route 2, trying to repair one of the many stretches of road where there’s not much road at all.
The Rev. Gerald Osterman says the crew should keep going, right to the dirt road that cuts through Fond des Blancs, then on to St. Boniface Hospital.
Your driver, Jean David Edume, leans out the window and says something in Creole, passing on the advice to the men.
He smiles. They said OK, he says.
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n Port-au-Prince, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s face stares down from a billboard, as if watching every move within the city.
He looks out on a scene like many others in Port-au-Prince: Traffic is stalled, a pile of trash festers by the road, vendors hawk bottles of soda and bags filled with water.
Aristide does not rank high on the U.S. government’s list of favorite world leaders.
But Nannette Canniff is more kind. She’s been visiting Haiti for 20 years and says she’s seeing new roads and schools built for the first time.
She’s met Aristide several times, sat in his house and shared her thoughts on Haiti.
“I don’t see Aristide as being the bad person painted in our press,” she says. “He has always been a man for the poor. His parish was in Cite Soleil. For the first time, the rich are feeling a pinch. He wants to have taxes. They don’t even pay their electric bills.
“They say things have never been so bad as they are now. If you’ve come for 20 years, you know that’s not true.”
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ou drive past Cite Soleil, the poorest of the poorest slums. A shantytown of tin shacks leaning against each other for support. It seems to go on forever.
Not much later, you’re driving through an upper-middle-class neighborhood. If not for the dirt and rock roads, you could almost imagine the large concrete houses in a town back home.
Father Jerry, as the Rev. Osterman is almost always identified, is looking for a house. A Haitian woman from his parish in Everett is applying for a visa extension and needs a letter from her bishop. The woman who lives here is supposed to have the letter, and the Rev. Osterman is to retrieve it.
You drive up to a heavy, rust-colored gate that hides the house from passers-by. Edume, the driver, parks and knocks, then knocks again.
Someone finally emerges, but Father Jerry leaves empty-handed. The woman does not have the letter yet. He asks her to send it by DHL, the shipping company, when it arrives. Back in the car, Father Jerry sounds skeptical when he asks Edume if the woman understood. He says he hopes the letter will arrive, and soon.
It’s only a short drive to the airport from here.
Edume hands over your bags and thanks you for visiting his country. He tells you to come back.
You promise, at the very least, not to forget.
Karen Eschbacher may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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