Today, I'm hoping against the odds that I can find an ATM or some other way to get cash. I definitely under-budgeted my cash and have almost completely run out after giving Ralph $300 for my half of our 4 day car rental. Things here are surprisingly expensive. Although a US-imposed trade embargo was lifted more than 5 years ago, political unrest, two devastating hurricanes and the recent earthquake have kept the country in an almost constant state of disruption since then, and the old black market system is still the dominant retail culture. Although the minimum wage is $2 per hour, most things seem to cost the same or more as they do in the States. I spent 6 hours yesterday on the middle hump of the back seat of our SUV, driving the rocky, hilly, unpaved roads/riverbeds to and from the mountain town of Fond Verrette, where one of Eddie´s schools is located. We got a flat tire in a small village about 15 mins drive from the school and it was a thrill to sit still and talk/interact with the locals. I gave $20 bucks each to two school boys who were sweet and spoke to me in English. It's bizarre and difficult to process the sight of someone living in such extreme poverty holding US currency, then walking, then running, presumbly back to their homes to give it to their family. I wonder what they will do with it, how they will even exchange it for Haitian Goudes, with civilization so many miles away.
After 2 hours waiting while the locals work to fix the tire, Eddie pays two guys on mopeds to take us the rest of the way up the mountain. It is a thrill -- three of us to a bike, speeding up the rocky path, Janis terrified we will veer right and fall off the cliff to the dry creek bed no less than 10,000 ft below. The pictures and video are priceless! :)
When the bikes have gone as far as they can safely travel carrying so much weight, we thank our escorts and hike the last 30 minutes through the mountains to the school, saying bonjour to the local farmers in their rice and bean fields along the way. emaciated cows, goats, pigs and dogs sit in the fields, looking as though they barely have strength to walk.
The visit to the school is incredible and surreal. We give our rain boots to the children in each class with the best grades and take pictures of each class on the school steps. I want to pluck the smallest boy and the smallest girl right up from the steps and put them in my backpack. For the first time, I have empathy for those Baptist missionaries. :)
Today we're going to buy food and supplies for the kids at the site in Port Au Prince, which Eddie hopes will be his next school. He says we will have our hearts broken before the day is done. I believe him, as what I've seen of Port Au Prince already is unimaginable, nevermind that I have seen it with my own eyes. Think of an imaginary intersection between Iraq and the Congo -- thousands and thousands of homeless people living atop mountains of debris and trash and waste. Craziest of all is the sound of children laughing and playing amidst it all. I hear them now as I'm writing.
Like every other incredible thing I've ever taken a picture of, my pictures are sure to be disappointing to me, but still amazing for anyone who hasn't seen it themselves.