Le Singe Est Dans L’Arbre (or, Tie Your Hair Back, Violet)

#2 Miami – Port Au Prince – L’Hotel De Plaza, Champs De Mars.

The hotel wake up call is for 4am local time. According to my body, it’s really 9am. So I’m sure it should feel okay. I jolt awake in a bed the size of an ocean, swimming in white sheets.

Dark and warm, with a wind. Ta ra, Miami.

On the plane. A fluttering as I realise the French parts of the safety announcment are incomprehensible. It sounds like French in places. I glance up at the screen because I have, of course, been half heartedly ignoring it: wanting to be world savvy, nonchalant, cool, of course but lacking the courage to openly read my book and risk the ire of a conscientious/sadistic air steward. Anyway. It’s not French. Creole, I hazard a guess. Oh God. Mon Dieu. If this is the dominant language. My school girl/au pair language fumblings are not going to hold up. Shit. Mon Dieu. Merde.

Headphones in. Dive for French dictionary. Rehearse. Push play on familiar voices. Keep me safe Withered Hand, Billy Liar, Hailey Beavis, Franz Nicolay, A New International and The Starlets. Tie your hair back, Violet. Breathe.

Port Au Prince airport. I’m on the aisle seat, can just make out mountains, haze. Suitcase fine, passport fine, customs fine. None of the usual bumpf of shops, cafes every two feet. It’s efficient. A huge tourism poster for Sans Souci Palace in the North. I’ve read about that one. Pink bricks, placed one by one by slaves with the utmost cruelty. Or indifference.

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And then I’m out. To a small lobby, just concrete and glass, and outside is heat and pale hard yellow dirt, corrugated shelters and an iron rail barrier. And so many people, waiting, leaning, walking slowly.

I search for a sign with my name, hands on suitcase. I’m praying that my details got through to Camille and Rodney, that they made sense, that I wrote them correctly.

Flanked by two faces, one male, one female. They’re professionally dressed, with identification, and they’re adamant that I’m not going outside until I know what I’m doing. They try to persuade me to order a taxi with them. I don’t feel hustled, just a concern. I am so very obviously strange here.

I try.

Merci, mais j’attends quelu’un, je suis ici pour un conference litteraire.

This seems understood. I’m not moving anyway. Neither are they. We all face the window, staring hard at the makeshift signs.

C’est quelle heure? Ah oui, je suis un peu tot. Je vais rester ici justqu neuf heures et demie, et puis…peut etre

I see a pale sign arrive. R….Mc…

C’est moi! C’est moi!

I’m excited. They’re excited. It’s all going to be fine.

The man takes my bag to the car, the driver smiles but is silent. I try some French again but it’s either too horrible, or he speaks Creole. Which is more likely. I settle for silence. There is too much to look at. So many faces. Concrete, thrust through with wires like exposed nerves, tendons. Colour everywhere. A particular shade of blue green, the colour of the sea over white sand before a reef. The streets are rubble.

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The traffic is crazy, and there are no rules although also, miraculously no accidents. The dominant vehicles are minbuses, packed with grave faces. They come complete with carnival armour, welded or nailed on. Mad Max on acid, a fairground apocalypse. Over the windscreen, on the bumpers, a variation on the following phrases.

Vision de l’eternite

Don a Dieu

Madonna

Patience, au nom de Jesu.

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Still fluttering. But it’s going to be okay.

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