Every once in a while someone will ask me what I’m most afraid about with living in Haiti. I think my answer sometimes surprises them.
You see, Haiti is a country that has a history of unrest. It’s a country where it’s citizens have had to fight for every last thing that they have. It’s the only country in the world that became an independent nation because of a slave revolt. That ability to rise up and fight is always bubbling below the surface here, and while that can be really alarming, it’s honestly not the thing that gives me the most fear about living here. If there are situations that get “hot” as we like to say, we simply stay home and stay out of it. Once things are calm again, we go about our business. Living in a rural area we’re actually removed from a lot of that when it does happen, and can just keep doing life. I’m thankful for that.
No, the thing that scares me the most isn’t unrest or crazy stuff, it’s getting in an accident. Worse yet, getting in an accident with my kids in the car. That terrifies me because Haiti doesn’t have 911. It doesn’t have quick medical response. There is no ambulance system. The police won’t quickly show up at an accident scene and get to work to make sure that everyone is okay.
Driving here is honestly one of the most dangerous things we do. There are very few rules to the road, and unless you’re stopping at a police check where they make sure your license and registration are all in order, no police officer is going to chase you down and issue a ticket for a driving infraction. This means that people drive as fast as they want (us too, not just Haitians – there are no speed limits) and you hope and pray people will stay on their own side of the road. Yes, we have lines on most roads now (I was SO excited when this happened!) but those are really just a suggestion – it’s not abnormal to see vehicles drive right down the middle of the road, just because.
Just the other day I was going to pick the kids up from school, and I came upon an accident. It had just happened a couple minutes before because people were still dazed and slowly climbing out of their vehicles. Drivers here love to creep out around the vehicle in front of them to see if anything is coming so they can pass, but they don’t just pop out and then pop back into their lane. Noooo, they like to pop out then actually drive there, peeking out from behind the vehicle in front of them, typically some really big truck like a box van. And then the guy behind them does the same thing, and the guy behind him… Getting the picture here? In this case, all that peeking meant that when the box truck hit the dump truck, everyone behind it sandwiched together. Because people we’re creeping and peeking and not driving in a line.
There was a dump truck pulled over on the far right side of the road. Not a problem. But for some reason a box truck ended up side swiping itself to a halt in the side of the dump truck. Then the car that had been creeping out behind the box truck smashed it’s right front corner into the back left corner of the box truck. And the pickup truck that had been behind that car did exactly the same thing into the car. Need a visual? Here ya go…
Yeah, there was one unfortunate car that just drove right into the back of the box van. In case you’ve lost count, that’s 5 vehicles, all crumpled together. Thankfully it looked like no one was hurt, but that’s usually not the case here as big school buses used for public transit go careening down the roads at lightening speeds. Half the time the frame is twisted so the busses are actually driving down the road sideways. People don’t use their signal lights the way we’re taught to back home, so a left flashing signal light might mean the person is going to turn left, but probably not. It will most likely indicate that you should pass them on the left, or that they just felt like turning on their signal light because… I haven’t even mentioned the tap taps – small pick up trucks with benches in the back to carry passengers as local public transit, that typically don’t have working brake lights and that will stop at the drop of a hat to let someone off or pick someone up. And then there are the motor cycles. No, driving in Haiti is not for the faint of heart, and it gives new meaning to “defensive driving”.
I share this to say that driving, is honestly one of the scariest things to do here. And most anger inducing, but that’s another blog post :) My biggest fear is getting into an accident, especially with my kids in the car, and being incapacitated and not able to make sure I get the care I need, or that my kids do. Hospitals are less than top notch here, and the ones that are good, are all at least an hour and a half away from where we live. It terrifies me. Like if I think about it too deeply I’ll start crying terrifies me. And it’s a daily struggle because just driving the 15 minutes to get my kids from school often has me avoiding at least one accident per day. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s being conservative because our parents are reading this.
So let’s talk about today, during the morning drive to school. I was cruising along with the kids, chatting away and listening to music like we do. Normally Chris does the morning commute and I do the afternoon, but he had to make a trip to Port au Prince today, so I was on deck. I was driving along a straight stretch, just before the turn to the kids school, and in what felt like slow motion, I see a full sized goat get the brilliant idea to run into the road.
Oh, I didn’t mention the goats? The dogs? Chickens? Yeah, all of these are present on the highways here too, along with donkeys and cows and horses. And most of the smaller ones are just wandering aimlessly.
Did I hit the goat?
Yes, yes I did. I hit that sucker straight on, dead center, at almost 100 km/hour.
Thankfully, because I was paying attention, I was able to get a good grip on the steering wheel and managed to maintain full control of the car. The goat went right under, bounced off every tire, because it was spinning under us, and flew out the back where it spun to a dead (very dead) stop in the middle of the highway. I did hit the brakes a bit, so there was some slight skidding, but I stayed in my lane and managed to not hit anyone or anything. In a situation like this, there’s no point in stopping because it’s the same as hitting a stray dog, so we kept going to school and I managed to keep a complete breakdown to a little bit of eye misting (thank you sunglasses) and gave a lecture to Little Miss in the backseat about the fact that we don’t start wailing over a goat that was dumb enough to run into traffic and yelling at Mom about it when WE COULD HAVE ALL DIED!!!
This is the first time that I’ve hit anything alive while driving here that I can remember, which I’m very thankful for. I could tell you many stories about other situations that we’ve been in, like following a motorcycle with 3 people on it and watching a dog run right in it’s path, or the time we hit a slippery part on the road during the first rain of the season and barely missed hitting about 10 school kids on the shoulder… My point is, while I worry about all the possibilities of accidents here, I’m also keenly aware of all the ones we actually do avoid, and while I know that not everyone reading this will share my beliefs, I do believe there is a God, and I believe in and have very much felt his hand of protection over us on the roads here. Like everything goes quiet and still and slow motion kind of protection while I watch something not happen than should happen. And those are just the situations that I’m aware of.
So, for today you get a little window into my deepest fears, a glimpse at daily living here, and knowing that if you’re praying for our family, those prayers are much appreciated and needed!