Tap Tap Mishap

Ever the Boy Scout     Duty called and I, the world traveler, responded to help out where I was needed.  Our group of volunteer workers had been in southern Haiti for two weeks at our building project when two members had to return to the States.  Since I had been in Haiti before and could speak a little bit of the language (and to be painfully honest was not crucial for the construction work), I was the logical choice to take Steve and Brink back to the capital.  I could help them out of any minor problems and also show them the sights of downtown Port-au-Prince.  

Long before it was dawn, we left our palm tree - shaded dwelling and the snoring co-workers to take a tap tap (taxi) to the capital.  I was so tired and really wanted to sleep.  If you didn't mind seating conditions like a squeezed sardine, it was even possible to sleep because our driver was cautious.  This was practically unheard of with my experience in Haiti.  He drove at sane speeds and even slowed down at the mountain turns.   I could actually relax.

When we arrived in the capital, I assumed the role of the perfect tour guide.  I directed Steve and Brink to the Iron Market for shopping.  I pointed out where the Presidential Palace could be found -- and the prison behind it.   We shopped, ate real pizza, and looked like tourists with the baskets and hats we purchased.  It was a wonderful tourist time but as the sun started to set, we knew we had to find a tap tap to the missionary's home.

All Good Things Must . . .   I even had this under control.  I knew where to locate the proper tap tap station.   I explained in my "fluently broken" Creole what we needed and soon we were tightly squeezed into a tap tap and on our way to the mission.  This form of transportation was unique to say the least.  The thirty of us were crammed into a vehicle built for twelve.  All of our luggage was stored on top of the tap tap with a man up there to protect it.  Naturally, when our tap tap pulled out, there was room for no other people.  The driver wouldn't leave on his route until there was no room left, he had his money, and everyone was suffering.

It didn't take long to see that this driver was going to make up for the wonderful one that we had in the morning. He started off roaring down the hill and didn't slow down.  Soon I was concerned but this was nothing unusual this an American in a tap tap.  I told myself to remain calm.  However, it was when I saw that the Haitians were also concerned that I really got scared.  We were zipping down this gravel road around cars, trucks, donkeys and crowds of screaming people.  All too soon it became evident to all that we had no brakes.  We were going down hill completely and utterly out of control.  I now felt that terror was justified.

And You Know What Happens Next     There were no fields that we could drive into to slow down.  The only things on either side of the road were ditches.  That wasn't desirable but the only other option was to hit something.  That wasn't desirable either -- but we did it anyway.  There was an unfortunate van in front of us going in the same direction.   We smacked right into it from the rear.  This slowed our tap tap down considerably and we started to sway.  Steve claimed that our tap tap only gently swayed and we were never in any danger.  HOWEVER, I was there too and I knew better.   It was violent, and I knew I had survived a Haitian prison only to die in a tap tap.  I knew we were going to roll.

As it turned out our tap tap hit the same van again along the side and we both swerved into the ditch. None of us in our sardine can of a taxi were hurt because there was no room for any of us to be thrown.  Besides, we were surrounded by some rather hefty Haitian mamas with lots of added cushioning.  (I like to think of them as guardian angels.)  Not one scratch or bruise!

But two things blocked our exit door from the wreck. One was the back half of the van we struck and the other was one of those big mamas who froze in terror right in the doorway.  I helped the others give her a helping hand (or push).   Soon the three of us piled out into safety.  We checked ourselves over to see if we really were all alive and healthy.  The next thing we did was to check on all of our luggage.  Naturally, all of the things on top (including the man) were thrown off while we were swaying so violently.  (I think this settled my argument with Steve about swaying.)

Throw in a Little Voodoo      Steve and I raced down the road to gather any thrown items while Brink climbed up on the wreck to see if there were any things left behind.  By the time that Steve and I located our belongings, the Haitians had gathered all the things and put them in the baskets for us.  I left Steve with our treasures and then went back to check on Brink.  I was halfway between the wreck and Steve, when I met Brink running full speed toward me.  I suggested that I wanted to go back and take a picture to show what we had lived through.  Brink wouldn't hear to it.

I said, "Come on, how long does it take to get one picture?" Brink could be convincing.  He said that as he was climbing down from the wreck, a voodoo priestess showed up in full garb pointing at him as if the wreck were his fault and stirring up the Haitians who were already stirred up.  I needed no more convincing.   WE RAN TO STEVE, grabbed him and the baskets, and took the first side street we could find.  Then, we told Steve why we were running.

We had no idea where we were but really didn't care.  We were alive, safe, and away from the priestess.  Fortunately, I knew enough Creole to ask for help in getting to the mission.  We made a giant U - turn to get back on the main road but this time were on the other side of the wreck.  Our journey continued. By this time it was dark and raining but that was fine under the circumstances.  There was a lot to be thankful for.  We didn't even go back and ask the driver for a refund.

It Ain't Over      In any other place the story would be over but we were in Haiti.  As we walked along a boy joined us to lead us the rest of the way.  We were calm and relaxed but should have known better.   A block away from our final turn, a policeman drove by.  He saw three while people out after dark carrying luggage and knew we had bombs.  (Bombs had been going off around the Presidential Palace so he really did have some reason to be concerned.)   He slammed on his brakes, jumped out of his car, and came toward us with his gun waving.  I knew he wanted to search us.  I was so busy opening all my luggage that I honestly don't remember seeing the gun.  It was just as well as far as I was concerned. 

The officer didn't know much English (except for a few choice swear words) but fortunately the boy with us was able to explain where we were going.  The policeman told us that there was no excuse for us to be out after dark without a car. We didn't think it was a good time to discuss public transportation problems of Haiti.  We figured that he would learn about the wreck soon enough and we didn't need to be involved any more with that whole situation.  We just said, "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Good bye, sir," and ran up the road to the mission to collapse.   Nothing else happened that evening.

Copyright 2000, revised 2012 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.