At sea with 44 Haitians willing to get to America at any cost.
Down in the hold, beneath the deck boards, where we were denied most of the sun’s light but none of its fire, it sometimes seemed as if there were nothing but eyes. The boat was 23 feet long, powered solely by two small sails. There were 41 people below and 5 above. All but myself and a photographer were Haitian citizens fleeing their country, hoping to start a new life in the United States. The hold was lined with scrap wood and framed with hand-hewn joists, as in an old mine tunnel, and when I looked into the darkness it was impossible to tell where one person ended and another began. We were compressed together, limbs entangled, heads upon laps, a mass so dense there was scarcely room for motion. Conversation had all but ceased. If not for the shifting and blinking of eyes there’d be little sign that anyone was alive.
Twenty hours before, the faces of the people around me seemed bright with the prospect of reaching a new country. Now, as the arduousness of the crossing became clear, their stares conveyed the flat helplessness of fear. David, whose journey I had followed from his hometown of Port-au-Prince, buried his head in his hands. He hadn’t moved for hours. “I’m thinking of someplace else,” is all he would reveal. Stephen, who had helped round up the passengers, looked anxiously out the hold’s square opening, four feet over our heads, where he could see a corner of the sail and a strip of cloudless sky. ”I can’t swim,” he admitted softly. Kenton, a 13-year-old boy, sat in a puddle of vomit and trembled as though crying, only there were no tears. I was concerned about the severity of Kenton’s dehydration and could not shake the thought that he wasn’t going to make it. ”Some people get to America, and some people die,” David had said. ”Me, I’ll take either one. I’m just not taking Haiti anymore.”