Haiti felt like home, but yet not quite. Portland feels like home, but yet not quite, and yet at the same time too much, and it’s so hard to articulate why.
Portland is familiar in that no one stares when I drive down the street, because they see white people every day and I’m not an anomaly. It’s comfortable in that I can walk out the door and go for a run and weave down random neighborhood streets without it being a thing. It’s familiar in that I don’t have to think twice about being able to communicate with the cashier at the store, I just have to remember that chip cards are a thing now. Portland is unfamiliar in that everything is air conditioned and white people are just weird sometimes, and that there are so many dang choices to be made for everything.
Haiti was familiar in that life there became my normal. I was a ‘regular’ at the barbecue spot, and at Toutarelle, and the supermarket. The guys and I would split a french press of coffee every morning (25/25/50, because I drink too much coffee evidently). Castro would ask when we’re going to Jacmel again, and Mamay would be waiting at the gas station on the orange moto at 4:30 and we’d go drive around. Lionel would wander up and find me sitting on the roof after the sun went down, and they would make sure I locked all six hundred doors each night. They’d yell ‘nou gen kouran!’ up the stairs when the power came on, and we would all go make sure our phones / lights / etc. were plugged in to charge.
Life in Haiti is lived close and loud and warm. Everything is interconnected, to the point of frustrating complexity sometimes, but nevertheless intertwined and complicated. You’re right in the thick of it.
i.e. Monday evening in Haiti: I need to call Mamay in the next half hour so we can go to the store before they close so that I can cook something tonight to have for lunch tomorrow, but wait, we should get gas for the generator too, so we should probably take the truck instead of the moto, but it’s not here, so maybe Castro has it, so we should call Castro, and maybe we should all just go get barbecue instead. But wait, it’s only 7:30, too early for barbecue. Okay, so let’s go to the store on the moto then, and then get barbecue when Castro comes back with the truck later, because that’s a better idea than cooking macaroni for the eighteenth night in a row. Oh, and we should remember to take the gas jug with us so we can have power tonight too.
Monday evening in Portland: hmmm, I think I’ll drive myself 3 minutes down the street to Trader Joe’s to get a salad and a couple Clif bars for tomorrow, and then enjoy eating said salad in my friends’ quiet backyard because it doesn’t get dark till late.
Haiti is hot and loud. It’s bright and in your face, like hip hop and reggae smashed together and blasting at volume 11.
Life in Portland is independent and green and quiet and maybe just a bit chilly. People are in their houses or offices instead of randomly hanging out in the street. It’s absolutely great to see friends and familiar faces and to go wander around in the forest together, but unless we intentionally choose otherwise, life can easily be really disengaged by default.
So tonight in a beautiful smashup, we’re going to get dinner at the only Haitian food cart in town, with some of my Portland friends. It won’t be street barbecue at Toutarelle with Mamay and Castro, and the conversations will be in English, not Kreyol, and I doubt there will be palm trees, but there will be fried banan and sauce and friends and stories, and it will be good. No matter where we are – here, there, or in between – we have the opportunity to share life with the people around us, and that’s where the good stuff happens.