Lapli , the Creole word for rain. The gentle afternoon rains that cool a hot day or turn them into steam. The rains that call young children out of their houses to bathe in the yards, the rains that water the small farms that spread up the side of the mountains. Lapli- the rains that come and go and come again but never stay very long. Lapli, lapli. I hear the word when the rain drips off the roofs and from the banana leaves.
But now we have a different kind of rain. It blows and lasts all night. It reminds me of a hurricane. Hurricane is one of the last remaining words from the Taino people who first inhabited this island. Of all the words, of all the customs, of all the people – this word survives and spreads and is used on weather channels and news papers the world over. Hurricane.
When I lie in bed, listening to the storm, I can not help but think about the houses that the many people I know are sleeping in tonight. I think of the walls woven tightly, artistically. I think of the best of these houses; how the branches are woven in intricate patterns to keep the mosquitoes out and let the air in. I have marveled at their design. If the rain fall straight down, I think, then they will be dry but if it goes sideways they will all be huddled in their beds in the rain. I can see that some of these houses are made by more skilled craftsmen than others. I know this island has survived many storms but still I think of the people I love out there in this storm.
I think of the mud caked walls of Melove’s little house. I am sure there is a proper way to line the walls with a mixture of mud and plants to keep the rain out but her house appears to have been fashioned with less skill and so the mud is slapped on the walls without ever really covering anything at all. I have no faith it is keeping the rain out. There are two rooms. One for her and her three children and one for her mother. Each room is barely big enough for a bed and little else.
The floor is mud and I know that it is flooding tonight; that they are on two little islands of mattress huddled together, confident that a day of sunshine will come to dry out all the bedding. It sits on the edge of a gully in a sort of ditch where they cook, wash and spend their days. I imagine that the ditch is a pond with cook pots floating around the house.
Her roof is a tin, splattered with many holes. A volunteer came and hammered up a piece of plastic to keep the rain out but I wonder, as the rain beats down all around us and the wind blows, how much that piece of plastic can hold back.
The night before last, I slept at the fishing village where I am training Matwans. The only road into the village is flooded. I had to take a motorcycle in; getting off and walking part way through knee high streams of water. Yards are flooded and children wade waist deep to get to their houses. When the sun comes out, the blankets are all thrown over cactus fences to dry before the next night’s rain.
At Dafka’s house, they are sleeping, as I write, in one bed; Dafka, her Dad and the two older children. The front door of her house and many traditional houses in Haiti, is covered with a piece of cloth or curtain. They are often made of lace and blow slightly in the breeze on a warm afternoon. They offer privacy and shade. They are, it seems to me, a symbol of Haiti’s grace and charm. In a well built traditional house, there would be strong wood doors and shutters but in most they have long since fell into disrepair. Because so many people wish for a concrete house, they often do not repair the traditional houses and so even if they once were designed for these rains, they are no longer.
I think about all the children who have come to see me with “coughs, colds and fevers”. I think of the fungus infections growing on so many children’s heads. When it rains, they may have to bring their charcoal cook stoves into their sleeping rooms, the smoke making the coughs and runny noses even worst.
When I return from the fishing village and tell of my journey through flooding streams, they say I have walked through cholera water. They say this is the season for cholera because all the waste is washed into the swirling stream where people have to walk. The wells are flooded with the contamination. It had felt good to wade in these streams. It reminded me of wading in my old creek and I liked being in the streams with all the other people. My feet enjoyed the cool water, the round smooth rocks and the squishy mud. I am sorry everyone had to look alarmed and tell me it was cholera water. I can see that this is true, however, and recall the nurse giving talks to the people in the fishing village about cholera. I know it is true but I am not sure how they can get anywhere – school , church, work or market without wading waist deep often through water.
The rains beat hard against the clinic walls and blows the trees. It seems it will never end.
But I know come morning, Melove , and others like her, will emerge from their houses, with determination and a smile. With grace, the sun will emerge as well -from behind the clouds, from behind the mountains and dry the bed clothes once again. Feet will get lost in a landscape of mud puddles. Carts and wheels and hoofs will get stuck and need to be pulled and pushed and coaxed out so that they can be on their way again.
And in the morning, children will emerge with neatly washed and pressed school uniforms and matching bows in their hair. The girls will have socks trimmed with lace and there will be no sign of the considerable day to day effort it takes to survive this stormy season in Haiti.