Landed in Port-au-Prince a few hours ago. Have had a nap, and a salad, and a tour of where we’ll hold the hackathon. I waited for Marco, our driver (green car), by the hotel’s road, prolonged looks from passers-by and giggles from children. Marco assures me it’s because my hair is so different, not because I am stumbling blatantly in any social way.
I’m here for a gender-based-violence hackathon put on by Digital Democracy – Schuyler linked us up. The call center which Kovaviv has going for victims of gender-based violence, to get them medical and psychosocial and legal help, is in need of some scaling and shoring up. (We’ll be using #HaitiHack for the event.) We’ve called together an international team and a local team to get the work done, housed out of a university with a charming leader obsessed with perrier. I drank coffee out of a tiny cup while we explored the space we’ll have access to, and ran into some folk from NetHope – the social singularities continue even here.
Everything is bright, and covered in hand-painted advertisements, and it is hot. High ceilings and open windows allow heat to pass through, vast empty rooms cooler than the crowded outside. I feel unhappy but grateful for the luxuries of the hotel they have put me up in – A/C (should I want it), hot water (should I want it), and wifi (definitely want that). There is teasing about my wilted demeanor in the heat, and I tell them about Seattle and the overcast and how people wear all greys and blacks and drink a lot of coffee. The traffic is chaotic but predictable, reminding me of driving in New York, but more so. Taps on the horn for communication, not anger. People walk and ride with assurance tempered with awareness.
Flocks of children recently released from schools, far enough from origin to have their uniforms mix together, some bands still holding strong. We talk about how a school uniform means if a student is found but the parents can’t for the moment, the school is a place to return to for safety and waiting. Marco is incredibly patient with me while I try to ask how attendance is determined – based on the ability to pay, not location. Cognitive leaps I barely get away with among native English speakers will not do here.
Guards with shotguns watch soccer alongside students, everyone piled into the cafeteria, ignoring the vista to cheer their team. It seems all the infrastructure (not just architectural, but also social, and network, etc) are either under repair or being built afresh. I wonder if this leads to a predictability which can be assumed, or means nothing is so stable as to built upon (hearts, dreams, and mortar). I imagine I will be in awe either way.
In a few hours, we’ll go to a restaurant-bar quietly owned by the same folk behind an LGBT advocacy group here. While not a “gay bar” (the backlash here would still be too great and violent), it is a safe space and a welcome meeting place. My utter lack in the language and many of the social cues prevent me from interacting much beyond planned meetings, but those few are with people who express mild curiosity and quick smiles. Tomorrow the rest of the crew arrives, but today I’m still trying to get some kegs picked up in San Francisco and my belongings shipped from Seattle to Boston. It is an interesting world.