Life here in Haiti is always a rollercoaster of a ride. The ups and downs of life always seem to reach to extremes which can be exhausting but also exhilarating.
I fell down a ravine on Wednesday.
The driver heaved a huge block of ice into the back of the Landcruiser. I wondered how long it would last as we still had another hour and a half to travel, and the air-conditioning didn’t always reach right to the back of the vehicle. Still, we loaded up with ice, drinks and snacks, equipped and ready for a community event we were hosting promoting tree planting in the rural areas.
It was a literal rollercoaster of a ride up into the mountains, driving across the mountain ridge that leads out to one of the most remote communities in which we work. The ice was carefully tied into place after a sharp turn resulted in my colleague getting rather cold and wet! Most of the ice was still intact when we finally arrived, much to my surprise.
A drama group were already mid-act when we entered the community celebrations, with one character berating the other for throwing litter, damaging the environment. The following sketch had a policeman chase a rogue community member off the stage for attempting to cut down a tree. The crowd were roaring with laughter.
Then the tree planting began. Children lined up patiently holding their seedlings ready to plant. Suddenly, someone gave the word and they raced down the steep slope at the side of the road down to where the trees were to be planted in carefully prepared holes. I attempted to follow, but slipped almost immediately on the bare soil and found myself descending the mountainside rapidly, on my backside!
This was obviously hilarious.
‘Blan! Blan! Blan ap tonbe!’ The children shrieked with laughter to watch the white girl slide down the mountainside in the most unorthodox fashion. I was glad to entertain.
I finally made it down to where the tree planting was taking place, eventually going barefoot to get a better grip on the unsteady soil. I leant against a full grown tree further down to take some photos of the events and realised the significance of this activity. The heavily eroded hillside before me was now being carefully populated with seedlings, which would (hopefully) take root and reforest the area, providing valuable protection against landslides for the community around.
When I made it back up to the top of the slope again I thought I glimpsed a slight expression of respect on the children’s faces. I had descended rather ungracefully, but had succeeded in planting a couple of seedlings, and made it all the way back up the slope without falling on my face again. The ‘blan’ had made an effort.
The drama sketches continued, and it became incredibly hot inside the school we were in. I almost fainted in the heat, finding a chair to sit on just in time, only to hear my colleague announce that it was time for me to give a speech of thanks at the end of the day’s events!
An exhausting, but exhilarating day.
As we drove back to the office I thought about the seedlings now settled into their new homes on the side of a steep slope, I hope that they will take root, and more importantly, the message of planting trees will take root in the community. The bare slopes of these mountains pose not only a danger to an unsuspecting ‘blan’ to fall down, but a more serious risk to the community, vulnerable to floods and landslides that cost homes as well as lives.