After being in Leogane for almost 15 weeks, I finally decided it was time to take a break. So on a Saturday afternoon, I piled into the bed of a pick-up truck with Jessica and seven other people, and headed south to Jacmel. In order to get to Jacmel, you must drive through the mountains, with many hairpin turns and steep drops down the mountain side. The trip can take 1.5 hours or more, depending on traffic and road conditions (e.g. mud slides). Given that I have a tendency to get car sick, I wasn’t really looking forward to the trip. But the drive to Jacmel turned out to be more breathtaking than nauseating.
Once we arrived in Jacmel, we drove a bit outside the city limits until we reached Hotel Cyvadier, located directly on the Caribbean Sea. Over the next four days and three nights, I enjoyed delicious food (including ice cream), hot showers, flushing toilets, sleeping on a real mattress (versus a half-inflated air mattress), a bank with electronic credit card machines, a tour of Trinity House (a home for boys), and artwork from Kolektif Atis Jakmèl. On Tuesday morning, I thought of staying an extra night in Jacmel, but realized I was only delaying the inevitable. So I packed up, hopped on a moto with Jessica, and we headed to the bus station in search of transportation back to Leogane.
The bus station in Jacmel was a little chaotic, but we managed to find a bus to Port-au-Prince, and instructed the driver to drop us off in Leogane. We paid 15 Haitian dollars each (less than US$2), and boarded the bus. The bus we got on was a Blue Bird school bus with no air conditioning. It was packed! Three people sat on each seat, and people sat on benches in the aisle. People even sat on the steps leading inside the bus. I ended up sitting on a bench in the aisle, sandwiched between an older woman in her 50s and a young woman in her early 20s. Jessica was two rows behind me. Given the number of people that were crammed onto the bus, it was quite hot and smelly.
Right as the bus started to inch out of the station and on the road toward Leogane, I felt incredibly claustrophobic and began to panic. I wanted to get off the bus – and I almost did – but after a couple of deep breaths (and a quick prayer) I managed to calm myself down.
Before we even made it a mile from the bus station, the bus started making a jerking motion every time the driver tried to accelerate. This continued on for the next few miles, causing the young woman to my right to lift her head and shout, “Uh oh. Nap danse. Nou pa peye pou danse konsa.” We’re dancing. We didn’t pay to dance like this. I chuckled to myself at her reference to the bus’ jerking motion, which caused the passengers to jerk along with it, as dancing. Because it kinda was like we were dancing.
Once the bus warmed up and we were on our way, the driver started speeding through the mountains and around the curves. I looked back at Jessica a few times like “what have we gotten ourselves into.”
As the drive continued, I became increasingly nervous and scared; so much so that I began thinking of ways to either get the driver to slow down or just get off the bus altogether and find another way back to Leogane. Jessica tried to rationalize that all bus drivers in Haiti drive with such reckless abandon, to which I responded, “No, he looks crazy. I can see it in his eyes.” But just to be sure I wasn’t overreacting, I asked the older woman next to me if she thought the driver was going too fast, and she said yes. I received further confirmation that I wasn’t overreacting a few moments later when Jessica tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned around, I saw the man next to her pull out his bottle of rum and take a swig. Apparently, others saw it too, because the bus erupted in laughter. It was hilarious. I immediately regretted leaving a half bottle of Rhum Barbancourt at the hotel, and thought about asking the man if I could have a nip of his rum to help calm my nerves too.
Soon after that, the driver’s phone rang. And he ANSWERED IT!!! And he STARTED TALKING!!! Here we are speeding through the mountain, narrowly avoiding falling off the side of it and running down children walking home from school, and this fool wants to talk on the phone?!?!? In the words of Whitney Houston, “Ah hell to the naw.” I yelled out in Creole, “Sir please. You can’t talk on the phone. Slow down. You are driving too fast.” Other people started yelling too. Then the driver got into an argument with one of the passengers about him talking on the phone. So instead of focusing on the road and looking ahead, he began looking at the man while he argued with him, which only made things worse. The older lady next to me started singing church hymns. The man next to Jessica crossed himself. Someone cried out, “Nap mouri.” We’re dying. And someone else kept saying “Oh Jesus” over and over again. As if that wasn’t enough, people started vomiting – presumably due to motion sickness because the driver was going so fast. At that point, the whole situation became so incredibly ridiculous, yet funny, that I started to feel like I was in one of those poorly scripted Black movies like Kingdom Come or something.
When we finally arrived in Leogane, I was relieved. I couldn’t get off of that bus fast enough. Any sense of calm and relaxation I felt when I was in Jacmel had disappeared. I’m all for adventure and immersing myself in the culture, but that experience was a little too much for me. The next time I go to Jacmel, I’ll go via private car and driver. I never want to set foot on another Blue Bird school bus again. Ever.