The Boat to Jacmel
We walk through the dark night along dirt paths illuminated by the near-full moon. It is February and the air has cooled off to a balmy 80 degrees. My backpack is more than slightly crooked on my back, and I’ve fallen behind the group; at the last minute, someone mentioned the likelihood of the boat capsizing. Now ,with the laptop wrapped in two plastic bags inside the tilted, heavy backpack, I totter over to Rob.
“I don’t know if it’s wise to bring the laptop, I hear the boat might sink.” I mutter.
“The boat might sink and you’re worried about the computer? Stop spreading propaganda!” He says
“It’s not propaganda, its hearsay” I tell him.
“Yeah, well that’s worse. Anyway there’s a lot more to be concerned with if the boat sinks.”
Like what. I think. Oh…!
My instincts are generally good, but sometimes I lose perspective. I’ve been called a survivalist before, but that was during my time at Occupy Wall St. Survivalism looks a lot different in a deforested landscape in Haiti: in a place where the people speak a language you barely know, where a fire has to be built in order cook your meals. I am no mountaineer, but when it comes to survival in unknown territory, my ability to connect with others keeps me afloat. Except right now I am feeling more and more isolated, with the bitter flavors of frustration and confusion.
We reach the port where dark masses of moving bodies are collecting at the edge of the waves. Tough men lift passengers on their shoulders and carry them through the waves to a wooden boat a few hundred yards away. It will be an eight hour boat ride to Marigot. My eyes are bugging out of my head. I had no concept with which to have formed an expectation. I am sure anyone could see them reflecting the beach bonfire with fear and awe.
At the edge of the water, a man hoists me up by my ankles. Balancing me on his shoulders, he takes a step. I immediately lurch and wrap my feet around his armpits for balance. He stops moving and slaps my shin with more and more agitation until I uncoil. I stretch my legs forward and lean over his head with my arms out like a zombie to counterbalance against the oncoming waves. Halfway there the water laps up to his chest and he has to stop. I sway, feeling our fragility as a temporary statue. At the boat, two men pull me onto the deck and I try to stand, but the backpack wins. I crumble under the weight of my bearings. This is all too real.
(I'll tell you something, on the boat back to Anse A Pitre two days later, when I stepped onto the boat I did a great job. Then I took two steps and fell into a pit. From across the boat you would have seen my silhouette drop out of view in perfect slapstick.)
I couldn’t see it from the shore, but the boat is packed. I stumble over legs and bodies I can’t discern from blankets and bags. I head toward the back where I hear someone calling my name. I set down my sack not fully understanding that I will have to lie on it all night. Somehow between me, Feli, Meredith, and James, we manage some comfort. I am not well versed in meditation, but for the sanctity of my sanity, to protect my mind from splintering with wild fears and anxieties, I go on a psycho-nautical journey for inner-peace.
In the meantime, my legs are outstretched in a pool of other legs. It’s a raw, intense game of “footsie” as we all juggle and compete for a comfortable position. There is so much yelling in Creole, my head aches. It’s as if all sound is magnified in the open water. My white legs openly offend one particular woman. Eventually two women position my feet for me by their hips, and it’s not such a bad spot. Then, something strange takes place: my legs begin to energetically blend with all the many legs. I feel us merging into one spiritual body.
On a more physical level, my teeth are grinding to the loud booming of a man shouting nonsense for hours. I clench my mind into a vice of emergency meditation. I look up. The stars are brilliant, and I spy a shooting star just before the motor kicks on and we leave the port.
IOff the side of the boat, bioluminescent creatures glow in the water. Around three in the morning, clouds pass overhead, the waves get rocky, and rain falls hard and fast. From one side of the boat to another, people send over a massive tarp that vaguely smells of piss. I didn't realize how comfortable my situation had been until that moment.
Feli pushes my head off her lap as she heads for the edge and calls for air. When the rain does stop and the tarp is taken away, everyone erupts into song. Feli vomits behind me into a zip-lock bag. From then on my head is in my knees, and my spine cries out in agony for all the strange positions I’ve been posing all night. I focus my gaze on the moon, praying I don’t fall seasick.
Before I know it, we’ve reached the next port and people are disembarking. I know the drill by now, and when a man sets me down from his shoulders onto the beach, I smile and laugh with tremors of relief.