Airports are bland portals scattered across the world. It’s really when you step outside, walking down the cattle-chute ramp that’s lined with well-wishers and people holding up hand-written signs – it’s as you emerge, blinking into hot haze and the smell of moist, marinating diesel hits you, that’s when you know you’re somewhere else.
Our bus is a glorious, battered, curtained-fringed affair. I loved it instantly, its inside dotted with gently exhaling air conditioner vents, and the crack on the windshield buttressed by a large suction cup. We learned right away how grateful we should be for her (how can a bus with swaying fringed drapes NOT be a “her”?), because we didn’t even make it out of customs before other aid workers were asking for possible rides to Jimani. We had so many wonderful bags and boxes of medical supplies (Thank you! Thank you! You know who you are), that we had to say sorry and wish the ride-seekers luck.
After a red-eye with 4 possible hours of sleep, we each re-folded back into the coach origami position to sit barricaded by boxes and bags, with Jesse, our local coordinator, perched on a cooler in the bus stairwell. And so the 3 hour trip just to reach the outskirts of Santa Domingo began.
It was urban density after urban density, and the kinds of insta-reflex, hair-thin near-misses that make 880 on Friday at 70mph look tame.
The sun set, the houses right against the freeway thinned and it was the kind of headlights-only dark you can’t find in the States any more.
We stopped at a shockingly pristine, open-walled “market” for supper. Food was served cafeteria-style. As we left we saw an empty, nearly identical competitor right across the road, advertising Chinese and Creole food.
Mopeds with helmetless riders (and sometimes whole families) darted like mosquitoes around lumbering, gear-griding buses, even as the hour crept to midnight. A massive UN convoy passed when we stopped for fuel, car-carriers loaded with SUVs with UN painted on the sides, a massive flatbed with a mountain of lumber on the back and 3 container trucks, and 2 Security jeeps.
After midnight, in what felt like the middle of nowhere, we stopped at a massive, opulent hotel that was completely deserted – no other cars, no other guests. We slept in beds, showered in cold water and had a quick breakfast served family-style of fried chicken, stewed goat, plantains, eggs and rice. It was two minutes down the road, as we went through the 2 sequential wrought-iron gates that make up the DR and Haiti border (every inch between the gates a market stall, many of them selling bags of relief food), that I discovered that as I had been standing on the sidewalk outside the breakfast restaurant as we loaded our final two members of our group, my iPhone had been pick-pocketed.
My iPhone never made it into Haiti…