Sunday, January 3, 2016

First Impressions of Haiti H#1

It is always difficult to arrive in a country late at night, after a long day of travel, after a flight is delayed. My first impressions of Haiti, especially in the back of our driver's car, half understanding Tony's conversation in French, was: this is a land of darkness and light.

On our flight, the young Haitian in seat C was an educated man returning from a dental convention in Manhattan. He was kind, jovial and bright eyed. When we landed, he exuberantly half-shouted, "My country, my country."

Previous to our trip, I had asked an old and dear family friend about Haiti. Raquel was born in Haiti and left during the time of Baby Doc Duvalier's corrupt government. The terror and money abuses caused a diaspora of good Haitian people who had the means "to get out."

Raquel gave some very specific instructions: Hire a driver, do not eat the skin of soft fruits, and make sure water bottles are sealed. The first night, we were thankful we'd hired a driver.

Our first walk through customs was smooth and uneventful aside from the grumpy and overly-serious officer who signed our passports for permission to enter his country. Three Americans from North Dakota, on the escalator down to collect luggage, told us they were approached by a man who took them to a room, collected ten dollars each, and signed their passports--but when they reached the real immigration, they learned the first man was a fraud. All this before reaching the short walk to immigration for passports etranger. Foreign.

Tony and I, just hours before in the Atlanta airport, had debated whether or not to hire a driver or take our chances with an airport cab. Tony's argument was that an airport cab cost half the price of a hired car--supposedly.  I felt we'd been warned and arranged for the driver service Raquel had recommended.

I have always found that third world countries at night, lack adequate lighting. We are used to blazing street lights, but the infrastructure is missing in poor nations. Just outside the Haiti airport building, it was dark and confusing. There was no orderly taxi service like JFK's or really any American airport. It was a free for all of darkness and confusion. We confidently strode behind our driver and skipped the accosting we surely would have had. When we reached the car, a small older man rushed in and grabbed our bags, shoving them in the car, and followed Tony to the side of the car insisting for his dollar. Our driver said, "Shut the door," but I had a dollar out of my pocket and Tony handed it through the barely open door.

The US Embassy in Port au Prince had also issued a warning about airport security, and had strongly advised travelers to have their parties meet them at the airport. There had been  62 robberies of US citizens in the minutes after leaving the airport--3 of the robberies resulted in death. I had a good argument for paying double money for our taxi.

The ride through Port au Prince was all I'd imagined except the devastation left over from the 2010 earthquake. When we pulled up to the Marriott, armed guards let us in. Outside the hotel grounds was a melee of activity. As we stared from our seventh floor room, it resembled footage of a country on the verge of a coup.

When we stood at the check in desk, the young man was kind and happy. All our dis-ease of the previous hour was put back into perspective. Moroni Charles, a young Mormon man informed us he would be going to Salt Lake City in two weeks to be married. He called over the other Mormon boys who worked at the Marriott. Though so different we all had a commonality. They expressed their joy over the recent announcement at the LDS General Conference that a temple was to be built in Haiti. LDS temple....will bring more light to the dark.

Postscript: Last night's car service, called this morning to arrange a day trip to an outside of-the-city beach. He also tried to collect an extra $25 because of our late flight. I held my ground and read him our email correspondence informing him of our delay, informing him of the flight number and the number in our party. I included the times of both our correspondence. He backed up and said he would re-check the emails. I do not begrudge him; I see his culture, I see his way of seeing ours.