Friday, February 19, 2016

Haiti Lite – Ile à Vache

The next morning we woke after sleeping like the dead.  The calm waters, the first we’d had in over a week were heavenly… but wait.  The boat was bouncing again.  The wind had come up and from the only direction that would bring waves into this anchorage… the north.  The Norther’ that had made it so important for us to arrive here sooner than later had found us.  Having no wi-fi to get my weather apps to work was inconvenient. 

Fishing boats slid silently past us on their way to "the office"

We got up and got busy finding cleaning rags and supplies so that we would be ready when the army came.  I made toast and eggs from the food we bought yesterday and we were just finishing up when we heard a bump on the hull… it was starting.

They began asking for water early on.  Probably the cleanest water they see!
Suddenly there were boys everywhere.  Their boats were tied off the stern and they were here and ready to work.  I got out my list and started looking for their names.  Several had skipped school to come and work. 

I was not really happy about that. Those kids were on our list for coming after school but they showed up in the morning instead.  Well it was too late now.  How would we handle all of this???  Some of these kids spoke only Creole and a few words of English. 

My foreman... Justin
I quickly saw a way… Justin, one of the older boys spoke good English.  I asked him if I could make him my manager.  That wasn’t one of his words… but we worked it out and he understood.  He listened to what we needed done and our wishes that each boy would have a part… We agreed at $5 per hour each, and then we set a limit of two hours work.  We would only pay for two hours. 

This is one hard-working kid!
I made a list of the names of each boy and checked it against my list from yesterday.  There were only a couple of names missing.  Good boys must have gone to school.  I told Justin that only the people on the list would be paid.  We had a deal.

Everybody got to work
He fired off orders in rapid Creole.  The boys listened to him and set to work when directed.  I think this is going to work!!! 

Bruce handed out rags and scrubbers and brushes and directed the work like he wanted it done.  He showed the boys how the stainless polish was to be done and kept watch.  I brought up buckets of boat soap and dinghy cleaner and a mix to clean the sun shades. 

I also brought up some water, Coolaid and cups for the boys.  They drank quickly and got back to work.  It was a frenzied time.  We were everywhere, answering questions, keeping an eye on things… Two hours is a long time with ten boys on the boat. 

Sadly he let out a tiny whimper when I flipped the shades over for him to do the other side...

Polishing stainless

They did an excellent job scrubbing the dinghy

We hadn't even mentioned the dirty fenders...

Looking busy...Employees are the same the world over!
I began to notice that a different boy was cleaning the same area that another one had already cleaned…  I had to re-direct them and finally consulted Justin again to let him know where they needed to be cleaning so everything would get done.  Two Hours… that’s all! 

I almost laughed as I would walk from foredeck to aft and see the boys catch my eye and quickly start rubbing on a spot…  I guess it’s the same the world over… when the boss walks by… everybody look busy!!!  The work was slowing down a little bit so we needed to make sure all the jobs got covered.

We're used to seeing dinghies trailing from our stern...THIS!
Several times I noticed that one of the smaller boys was sent to bail water out of the boats off the stern.  Can’t let them sink! 

Moving the dinghy into the water
Kiki arrived and we set a group to clean the dinghy.  Kiki was hired to patch the leaks but the dinghy needed to be cleaned first.  When that was done, the boys put the dinghy back into the water so Bruce could air it up.  They needed it to clean the hull-sides. 

Two or three in the dinghy made short work of washing the hull and I was amazed that everything was pretty much done at the end of the two hours.  We hoisted the dinghy back onto the foredeck and then adjourned to the cockpit.

My heart was singing as I looked at the circle of faces sitting in my cockpit.  I passed up drink and cookies to their reaching hands.  But there was also the nervous hope in their eyes that breaks my heart.  It’s time to hand out the cash and they couldn’t wait to set eyes, and hands upon it.

Justin wanted us to give him the money that he would divi up ashore… No way.  I wanted each boy to leave here with his earnings in his pocket. 

It isn’t that I didn’t trust Justin… well, maybe it is.  A vision came to mind of (I don’t remember the name of the story) the English boys in old times, sent out onto the streets of London to pickpocket and steal… then bring their loot back to the head man.  Surely this wasn’t the case here, but what if it was.  I wanted these boys to have their money.

Drinks and cookies for all!
We gave them one’s, five’s and tens.  The disappointment on the faces of the recipients of the ten-dollar bills was priceless.  They asked for smaller bills and Justin barked at them, but I said it was OK, we had one’s for them.  Their smiles were exquisite. 

As suddenly as they appeared, they now disappeared.  The pack of boats tied to our stern scattered.  Only Justin and Kiki remained.  We gave Justin his extra share for managing and our many thanks.  He left and Bruce went to the dinghy with Kiki to get started on the patches.

I retired below to try to get things cleaned up again.  I have no idea where all of this energy was coming from, but I needed it.  We would be leaving in the morning and couldn’t have stuff scattered everywhere like this. 

I couldn’t really see what was going on with the dinghy.  I didn’t see any container for mixing the two-part glue and questioned it.  Kiki told me he knew what he was doing and Bruce just let him continue on.  I knew that the small vial that activated the glue was still in the bag… and that the glue wasn’t going to hold without it.  I just let it go.  Maybe Kiki does know what he’s doing…

Finally he was done with the patching and Felix came to get him in the bigger boat with the outboard.  They would come back and get us at 4:30 for dinner ashore at Justin’s hotel.  I really was very tired and wished we hadn’t agreed to it.  The winds had continually built as the day progressed and the boat was bounding hard in the rolling waves.  I knew it would be a wet ride both ways…  But oh well… I really did want to go ashore and take a little walk through the town.

The two lobster brought to us by Odelim were much bigger!
We had about 2 ½ hours until they would come for us.  I made a big pan of bread pudding out of the fresh eggs and day-old bread we had got from the boys.  It turned out delicious!  I prepared a plate to take ashore as our gift to our host’s and we got dressed to go. 

Paddling furiously against the wind and waves!
As we were dressing, we heard shouts from across the waves.  We popped our heads out of the hatch and saw that Doux Doux was paddling furiously in our direction.  It seemed impossible that his little boat would ever make it with the big waves and wind against him.

There was a young boy holding our laundry bags in the boat.  He clutched them and did his best to keep them dry.  Finally when Doux Doux could reach our gunwales, he lunged one last time and took hold.  His relief was palpable as was mine for him.  I felt so badly that he had such a hard time bringing our laundry back. 

Somehow with no words between us, we realized that the clothes were not washed.  “Madame say soap bah!!”  She hadn’t liked our home-made laundry soap and so did not do the laundry.  I didn’t really care as I had begun to wonder if their water would be clean enough for my taste anyway…   He said no when we asked him how much we owed… We gave him the money anyway.  With no words his face thanked us as he let go of our boat and blew back to shore.

See our boat bounding in the background?
Time was closing in so I put on a long skirt and clean shirt… Bruce just went as he was.  Promptly at 4:30 Felix and Kiki arrived to fetch us.  Getting into their little boat as it bounced at our side was quite an accomplishment… especially with the plate of bread pudding I had brought as a gift to our hosts.  So was keeping seated as we buzzed over the waves powered by their sickly outboard motor. 

We were whisked off to the World Treasure Hotel for dinner-for-two!

They made us feel very special, like Royalty, as they brought the boat to shore and parked the bow close enough for me to take a helping hand in stepping over.  I was able to stay dry as I hopped onto a rock, then terra firms.  

My legs didn’t feel much inclined to hold me as the ground stopped moving…  The world tilted but soon I felt things settle down as the boys took the boat back out and anchored it in the shallows.

We gazed out to the anchorage and couldn’t believe we had made that distance almost dry.  We watched the boats heave up and down in crashing waves.  The wind was still blowing here but at least we were still for a while. 

Walking on the hotel grounds
We turned our eyes to take in our surroundings here on shore.  The “hotel” was a cinderblock building with new construction extending one side.  There was a rickety table and chairs arranged between the building and the shore where there was some shelter from the winds.
Ferocious winds!

The view from the hotel

It must be perfect with prevailing easterlies...

Kiki bringing our food from the kitchen
The old flowered tablecloth was held at the corners but continued to flutter, almost lifting the plates.  This would be our spot for dinner.  Felix took us on a short tour to see the hotel room.  Inside were two full-sized beds, neatly made… and a tiled bathroom with open shower, sink and toilet.  That’s it.  No other furniture.  The wooden table and chairs outside on the grass between the porch and the beach would be the place to spend your time in prevailing winds.  Today it was scoured by the wind.  The view was still good.  Felix skirted the question when I asked him how many guests he’d had…

We walked the short distance back to our table to see Kiki bringing food to our table.  He ceremoniously carried each dish and laid them out on the table as if they were lavishly laden platters instead of the simple dishes for two.  Our repast tonight would consist of fried plantains, a spicy cabbage/tomato/pepper salad, three pan fried chicken legs and two fried fish, with a huge pile of white rice and a thin sauce with onion and carrots swimming around the bottom of the bowl. 

Everything was perfectly seasoned and uniquely flavored.  The salad was the most surprising as after teetering on the edge at the initial taste, it grew on me and I ate more of that than anything else… forgetting momentarily the warnings I had read to eat nothing that wasn’t cooked or that I hadn’t peeled myself…  Everything tasted so good and we had forgotten lunch again, so were ravenous. 

Fishermen returning home from work
The boys left us alone at our table to soak in the sights that surrounded us.  How is it that the two of us have come to be eating at this small table in a windswept anchorage in Haiti?  How? 

As the sun prepared to drop behind the mountain, we talked about our day and how perhaps we had been swindled a little bit… but at least we gave the boys some work for their money.  We had given away a few things as well… Bruce cleaned out his drawers and if he hadn’t worn a piece in the past couple of months, he placed it in the bag to be given to the boys.  We wished that we had brought the used sails that are sitting in our attic back in Texas.  These people could have used them.  We were almost ready to let go of our doubts and fears about being here alone and were even making plans to return!

While we were eating I had unwanted thoughts enter my head.  The food that we were eating may have been meant for someone else.  I wondered if this much was served to the children we had seen playing at the fence earlier.  I felt badly about not finishing every bite, but then maybe someone else would.

After we finished eating, the boys came back.  They had been hovering outside the kitchen giving us our peace.  We asked if we could take a walk along the waterfront to see the town and they offered to take us.  Felix’s wife came out of the kitchen as we stepped up and was introduced as Beatrix. 

She beamed as she accepted our many thanks and complements on the meal we had just finished.  I asked her if she liked the bread pudding we brought and if she had shared it with the children.  She assured me that they had all had a piece…

I have to mention the kitchen.  It is an outbuilding made of sticks woven horizontally through vertical sticks stuck into the ground.  We weren’t invited inside and I didn’t want to pry, but I did catch a glimpse inside and it was very neat and looked clean.  It was sort of what you might find at a long-term camp site. 

We followed Felix along the path at the water’s edge, all the while talking about life here and back home.  Felix and Kiki greeted others as we continued on and stopped here and there to meet their family members.  We came upon several boats in various stages of repair… Felix said it was OK to take pictures of the boats and of some of the buildings, but he explained that the people didn’t like their picture taken unless they gave permission. 

It was so hard not to just go wild with the camera and I know that I could have brought home some truly wonderful glimpses into the lives of these very poor but seemingly happy people.  One old man was sitting on the step of a simple home with three large baskets at his feet.  I’m not sure what he was doing but his weathered face and the color of the baskets were the same.  He wore only a cloth around his groin.  National Geographic came to life for us today. 

There were several buildings that Felix pointed out to be bars.  They weren’t very busy but had women hanging around ready to take our order should we wish to have a drink.  We passed and continued on.  The path was well worn and lined with seaweed and some flotsam and jetsam.  There was some trash around the outskirts of the village as well but the part where people lived was very clean. 

There was mostly dirt but some bits of grass.  Large trees giving cool shade covered the entire area.  The mountain also shaded our walk making it very nice.  

The community center built by the government
There was a community center and a deserted playground, courtesy of some charitable organization or the government…  Most of the homes and the church were very plain, some painted and others not. 

Pride shows
We could see people off the path going about their business.  Kids played everywhere.  Some of the little ones were barely dressed… One tiny boy wore only a shirt that barely hid his little privates… another walked by with a bucket on his head… yes.  A bucket on his head, just like in the magazines!!!  He wore a pair of underwear with a shirt tucked in. 
The playground

Homes in the background
We stopped to look at a rickety old rotted boat that was being repaired.  Three girls and a little boy ran up smiling shyly at us.  I knelt down to ask the boy his name while the girls watched to see how this developed.  The boy told me his name so quietly I couldn’t make it out.  He was so sweet. 

I stood up and the kids ran off giggling.  I asked Felix about life here.  He said that people who wanted TV had it.  There is programing from nearby Les Cayes with network shows.  I asked him if they got The Bachelor and he laughingly said that they did. 
Looks like a write-off to me but they were working to repair this old boat

Fishing nets made with floats using discarded shoe parts. The building in the background is a church.

He seemed very proud of his people and wished that more could go to school.  He said that the boat boys who could come out and work for us were the only ones who got our money.  The others, maybe those who needed it more, didn’t have any way of getting it from us.  Kiki had told us earlier that Michael Bean was his boss.  Maybe when we get to Wi-Fi we can look up ways to donate that will insure that the donated items get to where they are most needed.  It’s heartbreaking to see so much need and not have a way to help them all. 

Kiki's boat.  I am not a rich man
But what we didn’t see… were frowns.  The people all seemed to be happy and laughing as they greeted one another and went about their lives.  Several times while on the boat we heard laughter from the shore.  It makes me glad. 

We stopped into Sammy’s Place and saw an artist at work.  The workspace was dark but clean.  There were several canvas paintings in progress and had there been one finished we would have bought it.  They told us that the artist would work through the night to finish one for us if we wanted, but we declined. 

The strangest thing was a gift shop. Who would be shopping at a gift shop here??? It was not like any other gift shop you’ve ever seen, it was a rustic building with things hanging outside on display.  I recognized the guy who came to our boat to sell us a Haitian courtesy flag (made of a bandana). 

I would have gone over for a look but on old man came out and mumbled something to us taking my hands and staring into my face.  I had no idea what he said… maybe some Voodoo curse.  His hands were cold and dry.  Very unsettling.  

Felix said something to him in Creole and he left me alone… Kiki said the guy was just drunk…

We turned back headed for the hotel.  It was beginning to darken and we wanted to be back at the boat before night.  The waves were still crashing as we stood on the shore saying our goodbyes and paying our tab.  Bruce tipped well and it was wonderful to see the look on Beatrix’s face as Felix handed her the money then sprinted back out to bring the boat to shore for boarding.

There was a dugout boat beached there, Kiki said it was his boat.  Bruce asked him what the name meant.  He smiled and put his hand on his chest and said “It means: I am not a rich man”. 

I was handed into the boat again clutching my plate, now empty of bread pudding.  Bruce boarded and the boys too… They pushed us off from the shallows and started up the engine.  It took a few tries. 

Getting back onto our boat in the heaving surf was a challenge but with help, Felix literally put his shoulder to my rump and when the wave lifted the small boat, he gave a push that launched me onto our deck!  Awesome!!!

We were only a little damp from the ride and were so happy that we had made the trip ashore.  So many times we miss the best parts of Cruising by being to lazy to go ashore.  In the morning we would leave this place.  We were glad we had come.

It gave us a lot to think about and even if it isn’t like the rest of Haiti as Kiki said… it sure isn’t like any other place we’ve been.  I guess it’s kind of like Haiti Lite.  It was the perfect "first experience" in a foreign country and probably the closest we will get to any country as poor as this.

All of our fears and reservations were gone.  Yes, we had probably been taken advantage of a teensy bit by some of the boys... but it wasn't anything that we would not have given freely.  Our minds are full of this experience and we will be mentally processing it for some time to come.  It's difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that this place is in existence such a short distance from the thriving United States.  And the people here are just that... people.  They have hopes and dreams and maybe some are desperate for things that we take so much for granted.  But who could blame them?

We must leave tomorrow but in both our minds, plans to return are being made.
Fishing boats at anchor tossing in the surf


  1. Sounds like a great experience .. makes you feel grateful for what you have. So nice that you could provide some work for some of the locals and gang out with them. We enjoyed the DR locals .. as you said, they are poor, but happy and kind. Our country could learn something from these folks!

    1. Very true. We were so nervous about coming to Haiti but reviews of Ile à Vache seemed like it would be safe enough. We are SO happy we came and just wish we had all of those used sails that are cluttering our attic back home. We are still working on figuring out how to get them to the people who need them so much in Haiti.