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52 Steel Reinforcing December 2011–January 2012 There are two routes from Boston to Port-au-Prince. American connects through Miami or Fort Lauderdale; Delta connects through New York. Most flights leave early in the day so the planes can deposit folks in PAP and then hightail it back to the States; airplanes do not layover overnight in Port-au-Prince. Florida connections are preferable; the airports are newer, the on-time stats positive, but I fly whichever is cheapest, and JFK’s weathered grit has its peculiar charms. My challenge with flying is that planes move faster than my psyche’s ability to process the cultural shift from staid Boston to chaotic Port-au-Prince; routing through New York puts me in a Haitian state of mind. The gate for PAP throbs with disorder. People press against the check-in counter more than an hour before takeoff. Multiple rollies , backpacks, purses, and shopping bags burden many passengers , but when the clerk suggests checking them they look away in bland detachment. People flying to Port-au-Prince are not average Haitians; average Haitians cannot afford to fly. Still, the crowd ignores the tacit rules of air travel, as if JFK is a buffer zone where American norms and Haitian behaviors collide. It takes nearly an hour to board the plane. Swaggering guys in embroidered fedoras jive toward the gate; frail old ladies fumble through their purses in search of boarding passes; and elegant men with distinctive goatees, shiny suits, and neon acrylic ties approach the jetway as if processioning to a coronation. Everyone crowds the gate at the first call; the idea of boarding by zones is an affront to the Haitian penchant for disorder. 53 Steel Reinforcing My flight leaves on time, almost. Flight attendants rasp over the mic: Take your seats, let others pass; we cannot leave until everyone sits down. They plead in English, in French, in haste, in anger, and in exasperation. No extra points for customer courtesy—they’re simply trying to get us to move. Attendants rip rollies away from end-of-the-line souls; the overhead bins bulge. Eventually we settle in, more in spite of the attendants than in response to them. The instant the plane lifts off the runway, people pop out of their seats. I’m in the exit row opposite a beautiful French flight attendant who becomes so frustrated she finally tells a young woman: “It is dangerous to be up and walking around, but you’ll do whatever you do.” These petty improprieties amuse me, the endless itch to thumb one’s nose at order and authority, however trivial. Haitian pride of place in this world as the first black republic supersedes any acknowledgment of the tragic battering their country has endured for the past two hundred years. They are simultaneously victims on the world stage and survivors of the highest magnitude. We will board as we like; we will sit down as we like; and we will get there when we arrive. A few minutes either way won’t matter; Port-au-Prince will be the same. The first person I see in Grand Goave, of course, is Jenison. He stands outside Mission of Hope’s gate as casually as if he had just happened by, as purposefully as if he hadn’t moved a muscle since I left him in May. I open the pickup truck’s door, reach down, and scoop him up. He was endearing when we first met, pixyish and smart, with a scary facility to mimic English. Now the sores and blisters of a life lived out of doors mark his body, and his rudimentary begging is more insistent. He moans that he’s hungry, which he probably is, and pleads give me one dollar. Since my heart is more practical than soft, I get him a plate of rice and beans rather than the peewilly (that odd Creole term for lollipop) he craves; and I don’t even acknowledge his gambit for money. Mystery surrounds Jenison’s circumstances. Word is that his mother died, and Michelle, the female carpenter we built houses with after the quake, adopted him. When I ask Jenison about his mother, he makes a somber face, pantomimes sleep by rolling his head onto a pair of prayer-positioned hands, and whispers maman dormi. After a pause that stabs my heart, he flies his hands apart, 54 Architecture by Moonlight tosses back his head and yowls like a...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826273321
Related ISBN
9780826220394
MARC Record
OCLC
900223848
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-15
Language
English
Open Access
No
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