Natural rooster alarms brought me to a new day at Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. I looked forward to the day’s travel through the mountains of Haiti to Jacmel, a port town on the south coast of Haiti.
After a nice breakfast of cornflakes with milk, bread with butter and marmalade and a cup of green tea with two pieces of fruit bread, I, alongside my fellow Cornelians of the Wind Symphony, boarded the coach which contrasted dramatically to the urban landscape. It looked like a coach we would normally board to travel between Ithaca and New York City, unlike the street bus with open windows which we had travelled in for the past few days. At around 8:30am, we loaded our bags underneath the coach and our instruments in a separate truck which was to travel with us to Jacmel.
The journey was a long one, winding up long stretches of road with breathtaking views of mountain backdrops. Mountains spotted with trees with large surface areas of exposed soil stretched towards the horizons. Our window views were met with sporadically spread out, tied up cows, goats and dogs wandering on the streets, along with street markets where goods were primarily laid out on the edge of the streets.
The weak fans on the coach were not ideal and we ended up opening the two ceiling exits to open up the airflow. For the majority of the ride, the heat inside the bus was maintained between 35-37°C and a few of us found the cooling benefits of peppermint oil quite relieving in the heat.
Many Haitians, including school kids on their way to school stopped and watched, perhaps in fascination, at our large coach as we passed them. Perhaps they had never seen a coach pass by before, or, it was a rare sight. I noticed a few universities in the mountains on the side of the road due to their painted walls, however, these are not what I think of when I think of universities. There are around fifteen top Haitian universities a couple top universities and others of differing levels, roughly fifteen of them in Port-au-Prince and fifty in total in Haiti. Seeing kids walking up, and perhaps also across, mountains to attend school made me appreciate my ease of public transport to get to school. I sometimes take things too much for granted and must remember the passion for study and education which is truly alive within Haitians.
The road winded up and down, passing mountain to mountain until approximately three and a half hours later, we arrived in Jacmel, and the last stretch of the road was accompanied with views of a dried up windy lake.
As I stepped foot inside Manoir Adriana Hotel, I was amazed at the architecture and design of the hotel. Beautiful white walls inlaid with neat curved green fenced balconies sat on the left of the balcony view next to the reception desk. Directly below rested a large oval pool holding clear light blue water, framed with numerous potted ferns and trees. It was a spectacular view and to me, it felt like we had entered a town in France as the view was strikingly different to the usual dusty Haitian streets.
After storing away our luggage and bags into our respective rooms, we all headed to the courtyard where five large round tables and a delicious buffet lunch were prepared for us. We had beef burgers, olive, tomato and lettuce salad and also two types of cooked meat which may have been goat and pork.
We rested for a while and headed to the large pool to play a few games and relax. Some members of the band voiced how it felt really nice and very different to be able to swim in an outdoor pool in January. Back in Ithaca, it would be snowing and quite cold now however, in Australia, many people would be visiting beaches and cooling in pools.
At 5 pm, we headed to the streets, having a look at plaza we were going to perform at the next day in front of Manoir Adriana Hotel, and to the boardwalk which was beautifully paved and had a long and pretty wall mural.
The sea side views reminded me of the beach shores in Australia which I would frequently visit during the summer.
As our instruments didn’t arrive that day in the truck, we postponed our rehearsal to tomorrow before our concert. Sometimes, not everything follows to the plan and arrive on time but things will work out. The truck loaded with the instruments came the next day and through my experience in Haiti I’ve learnt how to adapt quickly to changes in schedules and work around unexpected situations.
Further, I was surprised that I have not been bitten by a mosquito and was glad to have been able to comfortably wear shorts and a t-shirt. The small bottle of eucalyptus oil I carried and used had proven to be highly effective in keeping mosquitoes at a distance.
As I reflect back on this day, I am grateful to have the plethora of academic opportunities available to me and to be able to attend a world-class university which is not as easily accessible to Haitian children.
-Mei Zheng, percussion