Take Me To The River/Like A Unicorn, The Beer Turns Up

Daniele felt bad about what had transpired in the field – the crowd, the shouting, our unease. When we finished weeding and planting the rows he offered to walk us down to the river at the end of the path. It was very beautiful, he told us, we really should see it.

As getting down there meant going even deeper down the trail and away from the village I didn’t feel great about it and I think some of the other volunteers were uncomfortable, too. But it would have been rude to refuse so we packed up our tools and bags and headed away from the houses and down the well-worn footpath through the jungle. It was pretty. A lot of people had either staked out their livestock or were letting them run loose back there. There were a fair amount of skinny horses tied out, most without water. Some of the other volunteers pointed out their backs. Like Nicaraguan ferreteria* horses they had huge, open harness sores. Some had them on their noses as well, probably from the same chain bridles. In defense of the Haitian horseowners these ones at least had their gear removed and were being allowed to graze, albeit hobbled in one spot.

I am not a horse person – I know Dr. Tom handles saddles sores and I’ve watched him do it but I’ve never messed with one. All I’ve ever done is draw up the meds that they use. Thus again I feel completely impotent. It also occurs to me that the other volunteers might be expecting me to do something for these poor beasts. But while I could Macgyver a linty aspirin out of a day pack for a burnt dog, I have nothing for a horse. Not even enough horse sense to keep myself from getting kicked in the head if I decided to try to take a closer look, which I won’t.

The path is reasonably crowded with people coming and going, some bearing laundry or herding cattle. While it’s better populated than the field was I still feel hyper aware of everything going on around me. It’s a nice day for a hike but truth be told I’d much rather be headed back towards the village, to the church with its masses of people everywhere. I’m still shook up. In small groups some of the volunteers speak in hushed voices about what happened but we don’t have a big conversation about it. The consensus was everyone felt jarred or unsafe because of it and we need to sit down tonight with the whole group and have a conversation about making sure it doesn’t happen again, make sure all of our concerns about communication and safety are being handled.

When we finally get to the river it is pretty – wide, shallow with lush green hills on the far side. Kids are splashing around, some naked, bathing and playing. Some folks are doing laundry. About a hundred yards upstream there’s a bulldozer. I don’t ask what it’s there for. I stand a bit apart from the rest of the group on the rocky banks, have a cigarette and feel disconcerted and tired. I don’t think I’m alone because no one goes in the water and within a few minutes everyone is ready go.

We thank Daniele for bring us down here and start back up the path. We pass a friendly older man with a walking stick, an older teenager herding a well-fed cow. Someone asks what it’s name is and he looks at us like we’re insane. It’s name, he tells us, is Cow.

By the time we get back to the church everyone seems tired and drained. I take a bowl-of-water shower and try to get the grit out of my hair. Some of the other girls clean up as well. We’re all sitting on the porch when Daniele, who had parted ways from us when we got to the village, turns up clutching a paper bag.

Beer. Seven brown squat glass bottles of Prestige, the Haitian beer. It’s not cold – in fact it’s kind of hot. There’s a hunt for ice and someone finds some half melted in a cooler. The beer is shoved in there. Everyone’s mood changes with the arrival of the beer. A little bit of home comes back. Normalcy. Work in the garden, have a beer. Nevermind what happened in the field. Nevermind that there are seven of us and only seven small bottles. Never mind that I don’t like beer. We are now just a group of folks sitting on a porch after working outside about to have a beer.

I’m pretty sure the church folk wouldn’t fly with this but no one says anything.

Cooling the beer lasts about ten minutes. Which means it’s not really cool at all but the anticipation factor is so high that people start cracking the bottles open. I take a sip and it tastes like…..warm watery beer. I offer to split mine with the Occasional Smoker so there’s more to go around.

By the time RoseDanie turns up and claims one everyone has mellowed out. The field incident is mentioned but everyone seems to have lost the courage of their convictions in regards to what happened. I forget exactly what she said but the general take on it was yeah, it was scary but nothing happened and we shouldn’t have been handing out the toys. We talk about another project tomorrow – going up the mountain to work on the same school they had been at the day I arrived.

I excuse myself to go read. I’m not really functioning at top speed – my skin feels a little warm and I’m queasy. This doesn’t really concern me – a mild sunburn will make you feel warm. I am Queen Central American Iron Gut. It’s a point of pride that I have never had Montezuma’s Revenge, Delhi Belly or anything else. I’m sure it’s just from being a bit dehydrated and maybe the beer.

Until the next morning when I wake up dizzy and exhausted, my skin burning and really, really needing to puke.