About a month and a half ago (yes, I’m slow in telling this tale) a boat pulled up and anchored in front of the mission. This isn’t abnormal. Usually they’re big salt or charcoal boats that pull in for a night or two before continuing on to Port au Prince from up north. This particular boat was smaller than the ones we usually see so it seemed a bit odd, but we just sort of dismissed it.
After about a week of sitting there I started wondering if someone in our area had hit pay dirt and was able to upgrade their tiny little fishing boat for this bigger model. I should explain – this was a wooden Haitian boat, all constructed from rough lumber by hand. The usual type of boat you see here. Not some fancy fishy vessel. Anyway, after sitting for a couple of weeks the boat disappeared for a few days, then came back with a shiny new paint job. They had hauled it up on the beach further down to do the repairs and painting, then put it back in the water.
And there it sat. We wondered if it was there for good. Never saw people on it.
Then one day when Liz and Jerry were visiting I went outside to see Liz who was reading on the deck. I saw the little aluminum boat that often had a few young guys in life jackets buzzing up and down the shore was rowing out to the big, newly painted boat. I made a comment about it and Liz said they had been going back and forth for a while.
Later that night as we were getting into bed we noticed that there were people out on the beach making a lot of noise. This isn’t normal for us. Usually when the sun goes down things go quiet because it’s so freakin’ dark. The people were animated and at first I wondered if there was some community problem and I had visions of public justice taking place on our beach, but as I lay in bed listening I realized that no one was angry. They were all excited about something. I had even heard our guardian in there talking to people which annoyed me and comforted me at the time (he would know what was going on). I tossed and turned for several hours, muttered a lot to myself, and finally flopped over in bed and hit the light on my alarm to find out it was 12:30 am when the noise was just finally dying down.
The next morning Chris went to talk to our guard, Jan Filip, to find out what had been going on. Turns out about 30 people had loaded onto that newly painted boat and headed for Miami. Right off of our beach. When I found out I laughed. I laughed because the day before when Liz had told me about the little boat going back and forth I said, “Hmm, I wonder if they’re getting ready to leave for Miami.” As a joke. I said it as a joke.
Anyone that has some good basic knowledge about Haiti has probably heard about the “boat people”, the people that load into these wooden Haitian boats and sail off in the night hoping to reach the US and a better life. It doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to, but it does still happen. Chris talked to Jan Filip for quite a while about the whole thing. People still believe that they can make it, but often that’s not the case. They either get caught by the coast guard or see a worse fate. Family here have no way of knowing and just assume that they haven’t heard from their loved ones because they’re “busy”. Chris told Jan Filip that it’s probably more a case of them not ever arriving. Don’t you think if you hit America after a month on a boat with no food or water that you would be pretty darn excited to call everyone and tell them that you made it?
We asked Jan Filip to keep an ear open for any word of what happened to these particular people. Turns out they were caught about a week later and returned to Cap Haitian. The boat was sunk – standard coast guard practice so the boat isn’t available to take another trip.
I thought you might like a little window into part of Haitian culture.