Thursday, February 10, 2011

Just taptapping along!

For the past year, I've been using taptap several times a week to get around the city. I still walk on average 4 miles a day, but when I need to get to the ravine or to Delmas 24, taptaps take me there and back.

A taptap is the Haitian version of a public bus, though they are all privately owned. There are standard routes that they run, such as Petionville-Carrefour Aeroport or Delmas 65-Portail Leogane and you have to know where each taptap is going before you jump on. They are made out of a small pick-up truck with a covered back and 2 benches that could comfortably hold 4 Americans, but actually hold 6 Haitians. In addition, a passenger or two can sit in the cab with the driver and a few people often hang off the back or balance inside, bent almost double, leaning on the window that overlooks the roof of the cab. Fares are supposed to be specific to each route, but since each taptap is private, you never know when you may end up paying an extra few gouds.

On the one hand, I detest taptapping. It's hot, smelly, full of car exhaust fumes, and I always seem to have a screw or a broken piece of metal frame poking into my back. Traffic is horrendous, especially after 1pm when school starts getting out. And you always run the risk of getting into a taptap whose brakes don't work and causing a rather spectacular show on one of Port-au-Prince's many steep hills.

On the other hand, I love taptapping. Though I get called "Blan" and have people beg from me constantly when I walk on the streets, none of that happens on the taptap. It's almost like passing a test or entering a strange brotherhood - the white lady is suffering through the same commuter conditions as us so we can't treat her differently. Sure, I do occasionally get a shocked look when I jump onto a moving taptap and everyone always gawks when I start speaking Creole, but the gawks and the looks seem to come with a degree of respect.

I tell people that a reason why I love Haiti is the openness of the people, and on taptaps, I frequently see examples of this: people who grab a man's arms and pull him up as he leaps onto a rolling taptap or strangers who offer their lap to someone when there aren't enough seats. I have seen men offer their inside spot to women and children so they can get out of the sun and away from dangerous traffic. I have seen people pick up kids to help them on and off, and I've seen people lift large sacks for someone who is climbing off and can't carry everything.

One day, I was sitting in the very front of a bench when a woman got on. There were no more seats, so she moved to the front and balanced by holding onto the window ledge facing the road ahead. In one of her hands, she held her cell phone and it kept her from gripping the ledge tightly, so I reached out and, without saying a word, took it from her. Five minutes later, a seat cleared and she sat down. I handed her the phone and she nodded thank you. It was nothing and felt completely natural to me, but when I thought about it later, I realized that if I'd done that in my home town of Boston, I probably would have been arrested for theft!

Today, I waited nearly 10 minutes before a taptap swung to the curb and the driver peered through the crowd of hopeful passengers and looked right at me. "Miss!" he called. "C'mon," and gestured to the only open seat on the taptap, the one in the cab beside him. When I got in, he explained why. Not my skin color as I'd assumed, but because, "When the earthquake happened, I kept bringing victims to you on the field at Delmas 91 and you treated every single one of them." I do not remember him at all, but he remembered me and gave me a free taptap ride home.

I don't have rewarding interactions like those every single day, but I do have them often enough to put up with the obnoxious parts of taptapping and even enjoy myself.


Lauren said...

reason number 65979374096985 why haiti (and you) are amazing :)

The Carrolls said...

i love this story. im having trouble figuring out how to describe how awesome it is that the Lord is using you to impact Haiti. this story proves it. love you!

Alex B said...

beenin haiti 7 months so far, nice job capturing the tap tap experience!