BY BEE SCHINDLER
The road winds as the truck lurched forward - Eddie dancing with the steering wheel like a tango partner, swaying around cars and people and stray dogs. When we left the car rental facility we knew we had a good 30 minutes to traverse the roads and find the hotel before dark. It felt like we floated to our destination - the motos zooming and the side of the street markets flowing. The driving area only about the size of a car width or so, which means dodging and waving and braking and honking. We ended once at a dead end road - a construction site with people lingering, watching us do a many-point turn and stalling out before getting back on track. I tried to capture the hand painted signage scrawled out on concrete buildings - the pictures ending up as a beautiful blur across my phone screen - one a pale pink and mint green; reminding me of old-time Miami. Still beautiful, even in its imperfection. Petion-Ville is amazing and much fuller than any neighborhood in Pittsburgh - people hang out and laugh and play on the corners where the warm breeze keeps them in a communal space of constant hellos. We see lots of men hustling to help us park, mostly teenagers in gym shorts who like my nephew who shovels snow in the winter, just want a couple of bucks to take their girl out for the night. I am not opposed to engaging in that entrepreneurial spirit. At the Hotel Karibe, my traveling headache catching up with me, I down half of my glass of a tangy grenadia punch - made with fruit I never had, and pop two Tylenol to ease the fog. The hotel is posh and grand and clean. The staff are cool, smiling and saying bon swa to the guests from all walks of life who arrived on a Saturday night to have fun. We chose to celebrate our first night by eating at Papaye, a five-star delectable restaurant with decor that was thrilling and food that nourished us for hours. The shabby chic whites mixed with modern touches would put my favorite restaurants to shame. As we talked and poured ice cold Prestige beer into frosted glasses, a group of friends took to the side lobby - fifteen couples whose laughter brought my eyes to their side of the divide. I was enthralled by their connection to each other - the language one that I didn't know, but it didn't matter. They were celebrating and dressed to the nines. Hair done and shirts pressed, the men and women were stunning - like a page from the Hamptons Magazine. In the bathroom, a white and gray striped bench welcomed visitors to stay and relax in privacy, while a separate dining room adorned its walls with a pale blue and white Chevron design. And I'm so wonderfully pleasantly surprised by the ambiance of Haiti thus far - it's magical. I am hooked.
With food and beer in my system, I sat in the passenger seat as Eddie whips around corners, stopping first at Jet Set where the music blared and the beer was cold. A couple of UN or Red Cross men played pool while single women in strappy dresses sat by themselves on stools. They tapped their feet until someone would ask one to dance - making eyes with new patrons who made their way to a table. Hello they said without speaking. I noticed a Miley Cyrus song and a Katy Perry song playing, their voices dubbed into a Creole voice - it worked well, and I enjoyed the space, but I took my beer with me and we next hit The View - a posh bar high above the city streets - the view of twinkling lights thrilled me. Again, I felt surprised at that height - I could clearly see solid infrastructure - a road, cars driving, streetlamps, a dog barked. Was I at home? The illusion of what I thought I knew about Haiti was dissipating as fast as my beer.