Beaches Beyond Mountains
So far, my perspective of Haiti has been pretty limited. Our car is in Haiti, but it’s not properly registered yet with diplomatic plates and local insurance, so we can’t drive it. Every time we go out to the Embassy parking lot, we look at it longingly. I’ve become very familiar with the shops, potholes, and landmarks along our daily commute in the Embassy shuttle. Beyond that, without our own wheels, I really haven’t seen much of Port-au-Prince.
But last weekend we were able to switch up the scenery and get a ride with several people to the southern coastal city of Jacmel. It was a total change of pace from the frenetic capital. Jacmel is much smaller and calmer than Port-au-Prince. The southern coast of Haiti is beautiful, with warm Caribbean water. The hotel was great, the food was delicious, and it was fun to make new friends.
The only downside was getting there and back. It takes about 4 to 5 hours to get from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel. The first 2 hours are just getting out of Port-au-Prince and through the bottleneck at the sprawling suburb (if you can call it that) of Carrefour. Once you’re through that, you take a sharp left and head south over the mountains to the coast.
As I mentioned in a previous post, in Haiti, proverbs are very popular. One of the most popular proverbs in Creole is “Deye mon, gen mon” which literally translates to “beyond mountains, there are mountains.” At least it’s one of the most popular proverbs among expats, because Tracy Kidder wrote a widely read book called Mountains Beyond Mountains. It’s the story of Paul Farmer, a Harvard doctor who founded a clinic in the mountains of Haiti and has also founded the sister organizations Zamni Lasante (in Haiti) and Partners in Health (in Boston). The proverb is often interpreted in this way: “once you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, so you go on to try to solve that one too. “
The proverb works on many metaphoric levels to describe Haiti, but just taken quite literally, it fits too. Haiti is very mountainous. The roads wind back and forth, with curves that fit the definition of hairpin turns. Buses barrel down, old trucks filled with people and produce struggle to climb up, and impatient SUVs try to pass when they can see for more than 20 meters. It’s high-stakes, high-adrenaline driving.
There is a lot more to Jacmel that we didn’t get to explore. The town is known for its papier-mâché masks and art galleries. I’m looking forward to our next trip there. No. Actually, I’m looking forward to being there again – not so much the trip.