Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What am I doing here?

I am on my way back to find the place where I left my heart.

Twenty five years ago, I spent a lifetime in Haiti, in a little house on a hill overlooking a perfect beach. The place had no electricity, and intermittant running water, a thatched roof and screens all around. From the porch, I could see the tip of Cuba. Every evening at sunset, I would pour myself a shot of smooth Barbencourt Rum, and sit on the porch with my invited imaginary friends. We would talk out loud as I dipped my Q-tip into my jar of hydrogen peroxide, cleaning any cut or insect bite that I might have recieved during the day. Infections thrive here in the tropics.

The Haitians, whose drums would keep me awake at night but who passed almost invisibly through the private reserve, must have thought I was quite mad, or at least had some very powerful Juju. I was a woman living alone, something that never happens in Haiti. I was white and did not preach or treat as only missionaries and a few doctors and nurses had penetrated to that area. There was one couple of born-agains in the town of St. Marc two miles away, coming to save the souls of people who ,in my opinon, always seemed to have a very strong and deep connection with God already, thank you very much. I have always had an aversion to religious imperialism.

One evening after my cocktail, I walked up the hill behind the cabin and sat on a rock in a large grove, listening to the nightingales. A small Haitian boy entered and seeing me, stopped rigid, so much blood draining from his face that he appeared almost white. His father came in after him, and I greeted them with a "Bon Soir". The child exhaled his fear, grateful that I was living. Haiti is a place where the living and the dead abide in close proximity.

I was working, in a casual manner, with some old friends Alan and Eva Baskin, who had the diving concession at the resort hotel near Port au Prince, two hours south on the main road. Haiti attracted only the most adventuresome of divers, as we had no hyperbaric chamber, no chance of resuce in the case of the bends and diving was still considered a new and quite risky sport.Occassionaly the divers would bring family who did not dive, wives,mostly, the occassional child. My job, then, would be to outfit them with masks, fins, and snorkels, and take them through the labyrinth that I had mapped out through the shallow reef of fire coral. If you made a wrong turn, your belly and arms would be scraped red and stinging by the creatures who live on the coral. Along the path, two Moray eels would come out of their holes and gape at us, a regular Halloween treat. If only divers came, they would bring me an extra tank and I would tail the dive, making sure no one was sucked into the exquisite beauty of the deep and left behind. I almost was once, when I saw a giant Eagle Ray at 40 feet and followed him down to 90 before I heard the psychic scream in my head from Alan at the head of the dive and turned around.

When I first rented the cabin, the owner kept asking me where I was from. Belgian? Swiss? Canadian? My French was very good but evidently not good enough to be French French. No. America. New York. United States. Why is that so hard for you to believe? "Because you are not badly brought up"

It pierced my heart.

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