Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Postcards from Haiti (i)

Our Tracker and Theirs

One very cold night, in the parking lot of a Christian school not far away, someone whacked our little Geo Tracker. Not badly, just a punch in the fender where there'd already been a wrinkle from a bump it took years ago. You know--scraped off some paint.

Years ago, I bought that little car from a man whose daughter, off to college, had used it to drive back and forth to school. It's a ragtop, but he warned me already before I'd ever forked over any cash that it would be a huge mistake to take that canvas top off because, he said, I'd never, ever get it back on. 

It's little more than a glorified golf cart, barely goes 60 miles per hour, so light that should you meet a cattle truck in an Iowa wind, the 18-wheeler just about lifts you off the road.  It's a tin can on wheels, powered by a real-life "little engine that could."  Blessedly, it's not given us a dime's worth of trouble in the 35,000 miles or so it's granted us, and Friday morning, after a week's rest while we were out of town, it popped the moment I turned the key, as if it were some tail-wagging spaniel happy to see us back.

We didn't fix the dent because pulling out a scrape and repainting just isn't worth it on a tiny little car with a permanent canvas roof and a penchant for getting bullied by any truck it meets. Poor thing has cancer too--not a lot, but the body may go before the engine. Still, it gets us to the grocery store, to church, to Casey's, and the gym without a word of complaint. Besides, it's the only car we've got with four-wheel drive.

Honestly, it can't be worth much, and this is no sales job. It's not a wreck, and on a little car like the Tracker a few bumps and scratches seem par for the course.  

There are only two like it in the neighborhood--one down the road in Sioux Center, another here. That's it. Two.  And ours.  Truth is, it's not the kind of car in which you'd want to have an accident, not a car you'd want to drive very for any distance.  It's a tin can with a radio.

In Haiti there are thousands just exactly like it. Geo Trackers are everywhere; and, like almost everything else in Port au Prince, they're in various shapes of disrepair. Thousands of Trackers.  I'm serious. A Tracker is not the vehicle of choice because it can't hold two dozen people like the vans and pick-ups their owners have rigged with stadium seating, but no matter. Trackers are all over.

Makes sense, too. They don't cost an arm and a leg, they come with four-wheel drive; the wheel base is high enough to get over street messes and potholes and sheer rockiness, and there's plenty of glass--you can see all around.  If ours is a good example, they run forever on little motorcycle engines.  

A Tracker is a perfect car for Haiti. If I could send it there, media mail, ours would bring top dollar--whatever that is. On the streets of Port au Prince,the Schaap's Tracker, punched in fender and all, would be class act.

Here, really, it isn't worth much. There it would be a treasure.  

We've just returned from Haiti, never having been there before. For several days, I've been trying to formulate just how to describe it--"a failed state," people say. But I don't think I can describe the place. What I do know is that this tin can of ours, a little tiny car that's served us well but is pretty much worthless otherwise--would be, in Haiti, a treasure.

Start there. 

There's a box in the back room where I've packed, nicely folded, a few sweaters and a pants or two that doesn't fit or just hasn't been worn enough to hold down a space in our new closet. Soon enough, that box will go to Goodwill or Justice For All, whosever bin is closest. 

There are men and women, thousands upon thousands of them, who could make what they might consider a living wage off just that box of old clothes by hanging my throw-aways up on fence or wall and selling them, even though no one on the Haitian streets wears anything close to an XXL.  

One word came to mind after a day in Haiti, a word that stuck there for as long as we stayed--"unimaginable." It was. It is. 

I fancy myself a writer, sometimes good, sometimes not; I've been at it for forty years and have written a bunch of books and countless articles. Honestly, this writer simply doesn't know how to describe it because Haiti goes somehow beyond words. 

But the images stay nonetheless and return when I climb into our old Geo Tracker, 112 thousand miles and still going strong, a scarred veteran of parking lots, some cancer spots spreading every season, but a tin can fortune in a very strange land where so very many have so very little.


jdb said...

Thanks for your willingness to reflect on your experiences in Haiti. Having lived and worked for extended periods in a number of failed states or fifth world situations, I have found myself often in a similar state. How does one effectively communicate about something so foreign to our US lives? Looking forward to seeing how it comes together.

Anonymous said...

Try using a toilet plunger (reverse action) on the dent. We've known it to work wonders! :-)