This week I ventured out of my comfort zone to the land of Uncomfortable Firsts, and I am ecstatic to report that I am just fine. I was required to take a Tap Tap from our location here in Pierre Payen to Saint Marc, which in the reality of the U.S. or Canada, this trip is relatively similar to a trip to the local market or grocery store. However, in Haiti, it is different, and from what I have seen, most daily occurrences that us “westerners” would consider pretty much standard or normal are, more often that not, “different” in Haiti.
For those of you who are not familiar with what a “Tap Tap” is, maybe I should elaborate. The public transportation system in our area consists of either Tap Taps or Moto’s. The Moto’s are comparable to a taxi cab in New York City, only worse, and not near as safe because they are motorcycles. There are literally hundreds of them precariously roaming our streets and have taken over the concept of, “having the right of way”. Add to that confusion the fumes and endless barrage of horns and beeps, and you have the perfect storm for traffic congestion in Haiti.
The Tap Tap is a bit safer and a lot more comfortable, however; you must not be bothered by crowds, heat, or body odors of any kind. These are pickup trucks or vans that have wooden bench seating, if you are lucky, or when fully loaded there are rebar hand railings for those that are standing. There are rooftop accommodations as well, and this space is also made available for 50 pound sacks of rice or 2 ft. regimes of bananas, no seating and no hand rails. The bed of the vehicle is enclosed in a metal caging, which I suppose is for the safety of the passengers …
There are no bus stops or subway stations from which to embark on your journey, and you hail a ride in a manner similar to that of waving down a taxi. There are no regular or designated stops, therefore; when a passenger needs to get off, they simply tap the top or sides of the vehicle to indicate they have arrived at their destination. Thus, the name “Tap Tap” is quite appropriate. In a busy, congested city like St Marc the number of stops made on any given day is incalculable, thus a ten minute ride may very well turn into an hour or more.
My first solo trip was uneventful, thank goodness, with two exceptions. My ride into St Marc was pleasant enough, except after the third or fourth stop we were basically squeezed in like sardines. “There is always room for one more” seems to be the way of things, so we did make another stop for a passenger that didn’t seem to mind simply hanging on at the back of the truck. Just as we were taking off, that same hanger-on rider must have lost his grip and off he went, managing a few rolls before we stopped. He got up, brushed himself off, and limped towards the truck; all the while everyone simply burst into laughter like that was the best comedy show ever. Rest assured, this newbie will never be a hanger-onner type passenger.
My ride home was a tad bit quieter. It was early morning, there was a nice breeze, and a few older ladies were making their way to market with their meager wares. One lady told me she was on her way to work at a construction site up the mountain. One lady was proudly sporting her three five gallon water containers that she would pay to have filled. Once we began to get close to my stop, I started looking for the most advantageous place to be let off. I tapped once, we didn’t slow. I tapped twice, to no avail. Several blocks down my newly found friends must have realized my dilemma and they started pounding the roof and laughing amongst themselves. What a joy that was.
I learned a couple of lessons in that one, quick moment. First, when you need to disembark from a Tap Tap, it must be loud enough for the driver to hear the taps, which often times is a chore in itself as the ride can be rather loud with all the noise, horns, traffic, and chatter going on. Second, and most importantly, I learned the value of comradery in unfamiliar situations. Although I am learning more and more Creole every day, these ladies had no idea what I said in English. Our conversations were brief and even though I knew what they were saying to me, most of the time, I am pretty sure their understanding of what I was saying was extremely limited. However, we shared smiles and friendly glances, and exchanged, “Bon Jou, kouman ou ye? Good day, how are you?” We also shared compassion. They shared an understanding of my sincere interest in their daily lives and I shared an understanding that they wanted to help me get off of that Tap Tap. No language barriers, simply sister to sister sharing a ride. As the truck pulled away, I turned and glanced back as my new found friends waved and smiled. Certainly not a first, yet just as meaningful just the same.