I sprawled in the back and looked around me. I now got to see the interface between water and land from another angle. As we gently pulled out and turned to head north, I could see the modern office blocks backing the harbour and a long row of these bus boats along the harbour. I keep saying harbour, but in fact all this was a long pool protected from the open sea by sea defences. and I could see how boats of various types occupied different parts of it.
Once out in the open water, our captain opened up the throttle and the cruiser tilted to about 30 degrees and pushed hard against the sea. As we accelerated, I kept glancing back and saw the bizarreness of Male further and further revealed. It was like Manhattan in the ocean – every inch crammed with tall apartment and office blocks. Its inshore waters were divided up into the different activities to keep such a maritime city running – I could see a larger container ship on the north west corner of the island.
As we pulled out I could see both ends of the main island and the obviousness of its limited landmass. Nearby I could see several other islands, the one holding the airport of course, but also several others which seemed to have larger populations too. Not just were there evidence of rooftops and the occasional higher rise flats, but also the various masts for communication and entertainment.
So my job was relatively simple; to obtain a map of the lac collinaire, and to find data that could overlay clay soils, arable land and flat land; all three often being present in the same area anyway.
There was a third role I was to play, that of official cartographer for the project, which meant I had to pull together reference maps of the country, location maps of the existing facilities (like the 50 or so existing fish farms in Haiti) and any schematics to help my two francophone colleagues make their points.
The first trip was in balmy May. The UK does not have a lot of links with Haiti and my route meant in had to overnight in New York on the way out. I spent one of those “Wood between the Worlds” nights – arriving late in to JFK from London, hunting for the hotel courtesy bus in amongst the paraphernalia of concrete and baggage carts; a cheery US check in followed by a quick explore of my room, shower and collapse into a very comfortable bed. Next morning an early check in meant an even earlier check out, so only a brief moment to view the Manhattan skyline from the sixth floor of my Jamaica hotel on the edge of JFK’s estate, a stodgy breakfast of pastries and tasteless coffee and then all aboard the bus back to the terminal. Although the hotel was right next to the Belt Parkway, you had to go through several residential streets. In the American scale of things these were probably lower middle class suburbs, generally respectable enough houses but nothing flash, no huge acreage of ground around them, a small yard. But still detached, usually well maintained and with elements of consumerism on show everywhere from the little trinkets in the windows, the shrubs and the well maintained car ports. Considering where I was flying to next this was a peculiar interlude of settledness and calm; a Sunday morning in Queens.
The view from my hotel
About as close as I ever get to Manhattan