Junior Jean was 22 years old when he accidentally killed himself from drinking a potion to protect from the werewolves that were coming after him. A bright kid with a lazy eye and an uneasy smile, he grew up in the orphanage in Kenscoff and was my friend. Kenscoff is high in the mountains above Port au Prince; it’s a sprawling compound of six-story buildings that house 400 orphans. Its cold there, so cold you can see your breath it’s a place of gray Soviet block apartments where it rains everyday and dense fog hovers stubbornly. The surrounding town of Kenscoff is the seat of Voodoo in Haiti and its presence is heavy. Juniors death sent a chill down the spine of all of us working in the orphanage and at his funeral Father Rick reads from his journals. In his last days he wrote obsessively many times a day, he was terrified and convinced that a curse had been put on him and his time was coming to an end. At night, he wrote, owls sat outside his windows and he saw werewolves dart hungrily between the shadows of the tall evergreen trees that surround the orphanage. We carried his coffin to the cemetery and buried him last Friday. Father Rick was shaken, in town we stopped to sit with the local Voodoo priest who told us that in the coming fortnight nine other children will die and there is no way to stop it. He told us that the curse was put on the kids because there has been a lot of aid money coming to Haiti but none has reached the people, the kids death will change it and the money will flow. I went back down the hill to Port au Prince troubled, sleeping uneasy with dreams of people who shift shapes and become monsters.
The news was reporting a hurricane sitting off the shore-threatening landfall. In the morning as I sat in the little chapel, rain slammed hard against the stained glass windows, Father Rick sighed and told us a tornado hit Kenscoff the night before and three children died “There is a lot of good out there but there is also darkness and there is also evil so be vigilant.”
I tried to put the whole thing out of my head; there was more work than I knew how to handle. I spent the week unloading endless containers, and fighting for my land deal to be finished. On Wednesday I got a call that a cow had fell in a hole on my land left open from soil testing. I rushed over and ran up to my friend Salomon who was standing on the lip of a 20-foot deep hole peering down. I nervously looked in and saw a small calf crying at the bottom, her mother pacing angrily around us. “We need to get the cow out before Jaco comes back.” I trembled and he took the words out of my mouth. Jaco is the cow herder, a wild-eyed old man built like a fortress, always shirtless, funny as hell but heavy into Voodoo. We have become close in the last 6 months but I don’t want to take any chances: he carries a sharp machete. I climbed down into the hole and began to tie a rope around the kicking calf. A large tarantula ran over my shoe, I yelped then squished it; I was sweating and filthy. After a few hours we finally pulled it out shaken but unharmed. When I finally climbed out of the hole Jaco stood above me blocking out the sun. He was shaking his head; we took a walk. He could see I was sorry that the hole was left dangerously open, he calmed me down and I asked him if I could make it better. Jaco shrugged his huge shoulders, I reached in my pocket and handed him a wrinkled 20-dollar bill. Jaco lit up and became excited and happy he danced a little jig and patted me on the back, thanked me then headed off to the closest bar: curse averted thanks Andrew Jackson.
The next morning more bad news from Kenscoff two more children had mysteriously died bringing the total to 6; we were halfway through the prophecy and had 5 days to go. Father Rick and I went to the morgue again and as we filled coffins with babies bodies, he reminded me of a prophecy my dad had said to him. Someone had told my dad that Haiti was 50 years in the past and my dad had disagreed and said that "This is not the past this is the future, if we are not careful this is where we are all heading. Oil spills, greed, exploitation and intolerance we are on the wrong track." Father Rick had thought about it a lot and knew it was true, he also gave me hope. “A prophecy is a warning but it’s not too late right now to change the outcome.”
That night I went drinking to my friend Anna’s bar in Pettionville. Anna is a drop dead gorgeous girl from Kosovo, she’s a badass who doesn’t even pretend to speak French or Creole; her bar Café Des Arts is my local. Filled with UN, NGOs and young Haitian elite, Copa bands play cover songs and everyone’s lips are tinted red from the fresh Raspberry Rum cocktails. I have a stool at the bar that everyone knows is mine. I like it there; it’s a band of misfits and lost souls. Mercenaries trade stories of Lebanon, Somalia and prostitutes, NGO’s trade stories of orgies at UN camps in Sudan and in the end we all get bleary eyed and Rummy and talk about beautiful women we’ve loved and lost. In the morning I wake up next to Anna who makes me pancakes and ginger tea, she wears only a T-shirt, which reads, “This was supposed to be the future.”
In the morning Father Rick is loading up the truck to go back to the orphanage another orphan has died, we have a funeral for him, 2 in one week is too much. At the mass in Kenscoff the kids are scared, none of them participate in the service. Father Rick tries to use the tragedy as a learning lesson about fear and light and love but the words drift unheard into the valley below. That night as we move huge containers around a field which is to become a new orphanage lightning hits the ground next to Father Rick, all the hair on his arm is singed off, the guys stop laughing and tremble.
Four Americans are killed at the airport, I’m glad my family made it out of here safe. The embassy has placed a travel warning on Haiti; people are hungry and angry. 3 billion dollars donated and 10 billion pledged yet only 2% spent so far. I’m incredibly frustrated with all the NGO fancy cars and big rented houses and boards of directors back home and money being wasted or not spent while people starve. I can’t sleep at night. I’ve been so hungry recently since there is little food that I’ve gone back to my Peace Corps habit of keeping a bottle of vinegar by my cot in my tent to drink from to quell the hunger pangs.
I travel to a lake outside of the city and organize a mobile clinic and food distribution. The villagers are grateful and kind. All of the kids in the village are stark naked and dusty; we bring clothes and water. The people there have to walk 2 hours for fresh water and school; they have nothing. We do our best there, treat some wounds and I give a dental clinic about brushing teeth, we laugh with them as we pass out tooth brushes and mouthwash. On the ride home I’m silent thinking about fancy parties in LA and fundraisers in Rome and nice cars and private jets and oil spills and wasted food and iPads and politicians. I look out the window and see devastation, hunger, thirst, dirty clinics and tarps for homes next to broken schools and I’m sick.
“This was supposed to be the future.” Sigh.