A Tap Tap Mishap
More Adventure in Haiti (a long time ago)

Duty called and I, the world traveler, responded to help out where I was needed. Our group of volunteer workers had been in southern Haiti for two weeks at our building project when two members had to return to the States.  Since I had been in Haiti before and could speak a little bit of the language (and to be painfully honest, was not crucial for the construction work), I was the logical choice to take Steve and Brink back to the capital.  I could help them out of any minor problems and also show them the sights of downtown Port-au-Prince.

Long before it was dawn, we left our palm tree - shaded dwelling and the snoring co-workers to take a taxi to the capital.  There are a couple forms of public transportation in Haiti.  In my experience, none of them are comfortable and in this day of travel we used them all.  Some cars are used as taxis and they always have three people in the front (even with bucket seats) and four in the back.  Like I said, it isn't comfortable.  There are also vans and trucks, called tap taps, that hold a whole lot more people.  There is no rule how many people or how much luggage they hold, but no driver ever leaves until the tap tap is completely packed.  And, "completely packed" in Haiti is several more people than completely packed in the United States.

I was so tired and really wanted to sleep.  If you didn't mind squeezed sardine-style conditions, it was even possible to sleep. Our driver was cautious.  Yes, cautious, and this was practically unheard of with my experience in Haiti.  He drove at sane speeds and even slowed down on the mountain turns.  I actually relaxed.

Upon arrival in the capital, I assumed the role of the perfect tour guide.  I directed Steve and Brink to the Iron Market for shopping.  I pointed out where the Presidential Palace could be found -- and the prison behind it. We shopped, ate real pizza, and looked like tourists with the baskets and hats we purchased.  It was a wonderful tourist time, but as the sun started to set, we knew we had to find a tap tap to the missionary's home.

I even had this under control.  I knew where to locate the proper tap tap station.  I explained in my pathetic Creole what we needed and soon we were tightly squeezed into a tap tap, on our way to the mission. 

This form of transportation was unique to say the least.  The twenty of us were crammed into a vehicle built for twelve.  All of our luggage was stored on top of the tap tap with a man up there to protect it.  Naturally, when our tap tap pulled out, there was room for no other people.  The driver wouldn't leave on his route until there was no room left, he had his money, and everyone was suffering.

It didn't take long to see that this driver was going to make up for the wonderful one that we had in the morning.  He roared down the hill, slowing down for nothing.  Soon (yes, almost immediately) I was concerned, but this was nothing unusual for an American in a tap tap.  I told myself to remain calm.  However, when I saw that the Haitians were also concerned, I realized I had a right to be scared

Our driver continued soaring down the gravel road around cars, trucks, donkeys and crowds of screaming people. All too soon it became evident to all that we had no brakes.  We were going downhill completely and utterly out of control.  Yes, my terror was completely justified.

You know what happens next.  There were no fields that we could drive into to gradually slow down.  The only things on either side of the road were ditches.  No, that really wasn't desirable.  But, the only other option was to hit something.  That really wasn't desirable either. 

We did it anyway

There was an unfortunate van in front of us, going in the same direction. We plowed right into it from behind.  Thankfully, this slowed our tap tap down considerably, but then, we started to sway.  Steve claimed that our tap tap only gently swayed and we were never in any danger.  HOWEVER, I was there too and I knew better.  It was violent, and I knew I survived a Haitian prison only to die in a tap tap.  I knew we were going to roll.

As it turned out, our tap tap hit the same van again, and we both swerved into the ditch. None of us in our sardine can of a tap tap were hurt because there simply was no room for any of us to be thrown about.  Besides, we were surrounded by some rather hefty Haitian mamas with lots of added cushioning. (I like to think of them as guardian cushions, er . . .  angels.)  Nope, there was not one scratch or bruise in this accident!

Two things blocked our exit door from the wreck.  One was the back half of the van we struck and the other was one of those big mamas who froze in terror right in the doorway.   I helped the others give her a "helping hand" but it really was more than a gentle shove.  Soon the three of us piled out into safety.  We checked ourselves over to see if we really were all alive, healthy and in one piece.  The next thing we did was to check on our luggage.  Naturally, all of the things on top (including the man) were thrown off while we swayed so violently.  (I think this settled my argument with Steve about swaying.)

Steve and I raced down the road to gather our possessions while Brink climbed up on the wreck to see if there were any things left behind.  By the time that Steve and I located our belongings, the Haitians gathered all the things and put them in the baskets for us.  I left Steve with our treasures and then went back to check on Brink.  I was halfway between the wreck and Steve, when I met Brink running full speed toward me.  I said that I wanted to go back and take a picture to show what we had lived through. 

Brink wouldn't hear of it.

I said, "Come on, how long would it take to get one picture?"  But, Brink could be convincing.  He said that as he climbed down from the wreck, a voodoo priestess showed up in full garb, pointing at him as if the wreck were his fault and stirring up the Haitians who were already stirred up.  I needed no more convincing.  WE RAN TO STEVE, grabbed him and the baskets, and took the first side street we could find.  Then, we told Steve why we were running.

We had no idea where we were but really didn't care.  We were alive, safe, and away from the priestess.  Fortunately, I knew enough Creole to ask for help in getting to the mission.  We made a giant U - turn to get back on the main road but this time we were on the other side of the wreck.  Our journey continued. By this time it was dark and raining, but that was fine under the circumstances.  There was a lot to be thankful for.  We didn't even go back and ask the driver for a refund.

In any other place the story would be over, but we were in Haiti.  As we walked along a boy joined us to guide our trio the rest of the way.  We were calm and relaxed but should have known better.  A block away from our final turn, a policeman drove by.  Police in Haiti didn't tend to be the friendly officers you go to in time of need.  They tended to be the kind of people you want to avoid at all cost.  And, this man saw three while men out after dark carrying luggage and he knew we had bombs.  (Okay, bombs had been going off around the Presidential Palace so he really did have some reason to be concerned.)  He slammed on his brakes, jumped out of his car, and came toward us with his gun waving.  I knew he wanted to search us.  I was so busy opening up all of my luggage that I honestly don't remember seeing the gun.  It was just as well as far as I was concerned. 

The officer didn't know much English (except for a few choice swear words) but fortunately the boy with us was able to explain where we were going.  The policeman told us that there was no excuse for us to be out after dark without a car.  We didn't think it was a good time to discuss public transportation problems of Haiti.  He would learn about the wreck soon enough and we didn't need to be involved any more with that whole situation.  We just said, "Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.  Good bye, sir," and ran up the road to the mission.  

Nothing else happened that evening.  Considering the kind of luck I had with Haitian adventures, an evening with nothing happening was fine with me.

Copyright 2013 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.