Haiti. The ’70s.
“The grass will only grow…”
“…if we water… we need lots of water. And lots of black dirt,” he says.
“If we use our cistern water, we’ll have to stop bathing as of right now. It’s not enough. Either bath or grass,” I declare, standing beside him on our terrace, hands on my hips, overlooking what somehow wanted to become a garden.
“Pfffff, this looks horrible. It’s not a garden, not anything, it’s just…and we need…,” he retorts, scratching his head, staring at the mounds.
Hmm, well, yes. Right. The construction work left us with yellow-grayish heaps of dirt and stones piling quite high around the house. It’s November in Haiti, rainy season just completed, and four dry months are laying ahead. If we are lucky, we’ll get a shower or two around Christmas or New Year. Defying all naysayers, we moved into our new house on a mountain top, proud of the achievement, even without the green grass.
Only a year ago, we discovered this hidden, lonesome mountain edge. We purchased the land from an old spinster selling off her possessions before someone could claim them after her death. Never giving one thought to the inevitable challenge of building a house on a steep, inaccessible, dry, rugged site in a country where heavy machinery could not be found, and work was done shovel in hand.
We didn’t care. The beloved and I were beyond fascination by what we had seen.
“But…there is no road.” His father breathed out deeply, “how will you get us up there? Walking? No!… and building? What about material, the blocs, timber, how to get water to mix concrete?” His questions were endless. I opened the doors of the 4×4 and cajoled him to get in. “We acquired this Jeep exactly for this purpose. Get in, you’ll see.”
On a winding goat-path leading up, one wheel or the other hanging over the edge at times, we inch upwards. I glance at our parents. Road fear written all over their faces, they don’t dare to glimpse to the side. The one acting coolest is my mother-in-law. Stoic-faced she looks ahead.
Last curve. The beloved and I grin at each other, anticipating.
“Oh, oh-oh, ohhhhhh.”
“Do you see that…?”
“…I don’t believe…”
We laugh out loud.
“Yes. We had the same reaction on the very first day.” I cannot stop giggling.
Before us spreads the most incredible view spanning from Port-au-Prince to the neighboring country. The capital snuggles up to the sweeping seashore on our left, embedded by mountains. An immense, green, lush valley with its sugar cane fields stretches below. Some sparse villages send thin spirals of their charcoal fires straight up into the sky, and the blue lake to our right marks the border to the Dominican Republic. Beyond the plain, a long chain of mountains with a small, turquoise lake at their feet. Heaps of white Caribbean clouds adorn the mountain tops and the bright, sunny sky.
Dèyè mòn gen mòn. Behind the mountains, more mountains.
Maman, the builder of multiple family houses, nods. Twice. Her husband still shakes his head. My father, born and raised on German flat lands, is fiercely walking through the thorns and thistles covering the ground, then stops and remains still, taking in the view. My mother, speechless.
“You are a bit crazy.” I knew my dad would say that. He knows about construction.
“Yes, yes. I agree, they are both quite a bit nuts,” the other father chimes in.
“But it’s all worth it.”
“Yes, it is.” They all nod, without turning from the view.
We knew they would be as spellbound as we are.
Yesterday, we brought the last pieces of furniture up our unpaved, bumpy mountain road. It took longer to enlarge the goat-path than building the house. Meanwhile, I learned to turn around my little Honda midway, then drive it up backwards to negotiate a 90-degree bend into our yard. The only way the car could make it. I don’t mind. The view is gorgeous. No city water, only cisterns. No phone lines. But recently we got electricity, which we consider—beside the view—the greatest luxury of all.
“Let’s collect and filter our sewage water. We’ll build yet another cistern,” he starts off. I quickly catch on, “yes, to water the greens, the trees, the bushes we only can see now in our imagination.”
“And the grass will not only grow, the enzymes will make it thrive, I believe,” the practical beloved throws in.
With a smile we sigh, tenderly bumping shoulders. It will grow, the grass.