On one of my day trips last week I rode visual shotgun in Pastor Lyonel's truck out to a small town(Babancourt) of about 4,500 in the vibrant green country side an hour and fifteen minutes north and west of the capital city. In an effort to keep me on my toes, Pastor Lyonel drove us right through De Cite Soleil, one of the U.S. State Department tagged RED Zones(U.S. Citizens STAY OUT) in the PAP area. The road into and out of De Cite Soleil, or The City of Sun is a variously surfaced narrow road that has a moderate amount of all types of vehicle traffic traveling way too fast to give the road any chance of being considered pedestrian friendly.
As we approached the center of town we were stopped by three large white UN Armored Personnel Carriers that had formed a wedge in the middle of the road. There was a squad of combat strapped Brazilian soldiers manning the checkpoint. When the soldier nearest my window made eye contact, he held out his hand and demanded to see our 'cards'. I extended my open passport out of the window and as he took it for examination I noticed two things. There was a loaded M60 machine gun mounted on top of the APC behind him and he had four hand grenades strapped to his flak jacket. The Brazilian hard charger in full combat gear cleared us through the check point and thanked us for our patience with a nervous smile. When we slowly pulled away Pastor Lyonel told me that on January 12 most of the 5,800 maximum security prisoners in the main jail escaped. Murders, rapists and such. Since then, the police and UN have only been able to round up about 1,500 of those lifers. The UN has rolling checkpoints regularly in Haiti in an effort to find the rest of the serious convicts roaming the country.
Within a hundred meters down the road I looked up and saw two children in public school uniforms riding their bikes directly towards us on what most westerners would consider the wrong side of the road. The children were on their daily inbound Stay Alive to school from a small enclave at the end of the road just out of sight behind them under the mountain in the picture below. Pastor Lyonel slowed the truck a bit realizing that the kids were going to be on the bridge at the same time we were. I was first scared for these two young ones until as we passed, I caught their eyes. Focused, crystal clear and alive not afraid of what could kill them but embracing it as their living moments. CONGRATULATIONS LITTLE ONES! Your gorilla bike commute tactics and true survival skills did not go unnoticed nor will they be easily forgotten. Keep your heads up and always remember that you have the power to see the Demons coming before they do which will give you time to project a different outcome that keeps you safe. You are stronger and more alive than most of the culture that I am surrounded by every day. As that smart fellow once said, "What is real can never be taken away."