A Tap Tap Mishap
More Adventure in Haiti (a long time ago)
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
did it anyway.
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
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.)
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.
hear of it.
"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.
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.|