Letters From Haiti

The next morning, the morning of the Day of the Dead, the overfriendly and confusing Pierre Estelle Pierre showed up. The guy we were supposed to have met at the airport. He had no problem finding us, since everybody in the area knew where we were. Pierre took us to a huge graveyard. A large group of people was gathered around a man telling bawdy jokes and making fun of others. People possessed by Guede do that. They expose the humiliating details of everyone's life while they laugh and smoke cigars. The high and mighty are special victims, but no one is granted asylum. Death's privilege is to ridicule the living, after all.

That night I ate some bad goat meat and decided I better stay home so as not to be embarrassed. Dan went with Pierre in search of the bambouche again. I woke up when I heard the buzzer. My head was cloudy as I walked the eerily lit halls of the hotel, knocking on doors to find someone to open the gate. Dan said it was very much like the evening before, but instead of a gun somebody threw tear gas or coughing powder into the room and held the doors shut.

The next day, just before we took the bus to Jacmel, I was sitting in the bar because the power had gone out in the hotel, as it did almost every day. I was reading by a kerosene lamp about the Secte Rouge and Cochon Gris, the Gray Pigs, a secret society whose members supposedly eat children, etc. Some guy at the bar was going on about how rich all Americans are, and he wasn't going to listen to anything other than that. I could smell the sewer water so I lit a cigarette. The lights sputtered back on and Jackson was there at our table, showing us what he called his "protection card." It had the Freemason sign on it and the word Tetragrammaton, and some other stuff I didn't understand. Some secret society he obviously belonged to, but it couldn't be too secret or he wouldn't be showing us. Secret societies are big things in Haiti. They have a lot of political and religious power, and are often associated with the dark side of voodoo - the bocors, the practitioners of distasteful deeds. I studied the card with interest while Jackson smiled. Then we caught the bus to Jacmel. Jacmel is a beautiful town on the south coast, full of deserted buildings, old factories, craft shops, and gingerbread houses. There was a bar in Jacmel, a bar to hear rumors in and to drink Barbancourt rum in and chat with the people who drifted through. The Canadian land developer who used to have it good in the Baby Doc days but now things weren't so good, though he was still here and he had a car. The French students who were breeding a new kind of pig because the Americans had killed all the Haitian pigs so they wouldn't catch flu. Some cocaine high-flyer wheeler-dealer who in the past had opened restaurants in New York and had a swimming pool in the hills above Jacmel. The American embassy employee who warned us not to return to Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, for the road would be paved with blood since that was the day the electoral committee would select who could run for president.

There were lots of other people, too, guys who built model ships, guys who did this and that, people who knew things; it seemed everybody always knew more than you did and they took a special pride in that. And there were boats docked off the pier just outside the bar, and you heard stories about what they were doing there. Like first there was the gun-running American sailboat, and then the cocaine-loaded Colombian cargo ship, which incidentally had the same name as the other Colombian ship wrecked on the beach not far from the pier past the bar - in fact, almost right in front of Bizzier's guest house, where Dan and I were staying. A wrecked ship like that is too convenient a symbol. It demanded to be tagged, and it was. On its side was written, "Ki Moun, Ki Responsab?" ("Who is responsible?").

We hung out in this bar on the beach and we had many friends. Indeed making friends with us was probably more financially lucrative than anything else you could do in that town, other than exploiting the land or something. There were Haitian artists hanging out in the bar, too. There are many Haitian artists living in Jacmel. Jacques-Pierre and Jacques-Georges, Nene (our special friend), and Reginald, the bocor's son. We drank a lot of clarin with them. We took coffee with them on the beach in the morning, next to where the fishermen were mending their nets and the boatbuilders were building a boat that once-upon-a-time was going to sneak a bunch of people into Miami. We asked them what the hell they wanted to go to Miami for, but that was one of those cultural impasses where you can't possibly understand the other's perspective.

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