from Living Orthodoxy #135 (May-June 2003)
Tuesday — arrive in Haiti; cellphone (purchased in Haiti) functioning fine.
Wednesday — charger blown. Line current measured at 65 VAC the night before, at 165 VAC in the morning.
Thursday — stop at the agency to try to get another charger; not to be had. Go to Total Communications; sorry, don’t have; go to Cellphones Etc. Got just what you need, works fine — but it doesn’t.
Saturday — Jacmel, 75 miles away. Go to Comcel (the agency which sold the phone). Sorry, don’t have; go to Haitel. Sorry, don’t have; try so-and-so. No such luck. Decide to perhaps open another cellphone service with Haitel. Too bad, closed for the weekend. Give up.
Monday — Les Cayes, 100 miles farther. Go to Comcel agency. Don’t have; try other agency a couple of blocks away. No luck; Street-girl Juliette finds me on the streets and takes me to the third agency they suggest. No such luck. Long communication in Créole which I don’t understand. Back in the car, down through dusty back streets to an area I’d never been in before.
Into a store which sells — shirts and dresses and shoes in a place the size of a large walk-in closet. Lady on phone hangs up, takes a look, makes several phone calls, shakes her head, then tells girl in back to go get sack out of third drawer on left in back room, maybe second.
Sack comes. Dig through sack — and find correct charger!
Not quite done — don’t know what the price is. Three or four more phone calls: $10 US.
Not quite done. Take Juliette to restaurant to get something to eat — she takes me straight to the only corner where there is an electric outlet, takes possession of cellphone and charger, and hooks it all up. Breakfast finished — back on the air.
Four days, a dozen stops or so, 200 miles or so, and the cellphone works again. In Haiti, a minor miracle.
Return to Haiti April 2004
(from Living Orthodoxy #139)
What to expect? A beloved country after months of turmoil, the resignation and/or kidnapping of its president, the arrival of occupation (“peacekeeping”) forces. News images of burning buildings, charred bodies, horrors of every sort floating in my head. But it was time to go back. Information from our people there indicated that while conditions were drastically more difficult than before (difficult to imagine), they were reasonably secure.
First day or two on the streets I saw nothing unusual, though I had no reason to leave the relatively tranquil area around the airport, the church, and the Mission House. Then a column of obviously very uneasy young men trotting down the thoroughfare leading from Mission House to the airport area, heavy weapons at the ready. Leaving to go to Jacmel, one of the most serious traffic jams I’ve ever experienced ultimately decorated by a lengthy column of armored vehicles (including rubber-tired bulldozers… certainly useful for clearing barricades), each with a soldier atop with a machine-gun at the ready. Not the kind of stuff to make one feel terribly secure… at least not me.
I never had reason to enter the areas where I knew the damage had been most severe, but saw signs here and there of the lawlessness which had rendered the country all but immobile for weeks. No one could get to church except those who were close enough to walk… in daylight only. All schools had been closed for several weeks, and had just re-opened when I arrived, though with only a fraction of the students in attendance. No one had been able to work for weeks. Prices on consumer goods were up 40-60%, in some cases much more. But astonishingly, the value of the dollar against the gourde had dropped about 15% in the wake of the occupation, apparently the work of international currency speculators. Electrical power was all but entirely absent in Port-au-Prince, with the result that even those with cellphones found it difficult to impossible to keep them charged. I was amongst the privileged few… our host at MM has a private generator, and the house is equipped with a battery bank and inverter — enough power to keep cellphone, computer and, from time to time, a fan operational.
Travel to Jacmel was peaceful enough, once out of the city, and the visit there, to celebrate liturgy and wrap up the land purchase, pleasant and productive. As we often do, Fr. Grégoire and I planned to meet at a road junction west of Port-au-Prince for a visit to Les Cayes, to celebrate vespers (in yet another borrowed location) and continue the search for a suitable building for services there. In the course of looking at several thoroughly unsuitable places (most of them far too expensive), a glance down the street revealed the “perfect” building — almost certainly unthinkable, but one is allowed to dream and pray. Situated squarely at the end of the main downtown street of the city, on the waterfront, within view of the RC cathedral and the city plaza, the house is unoccupied, the ownership shared by several heirs. No word yet as to any possible price, either for rental or purchase. Prayers are in order!
A late start for the return trip to Port-au-Prince brought us to Petit-Goâve at just the wrong moment. A large truck slewed across the road ahead with no room to get around it on either side brought us to a halt… in the middle of a gun battle. It was entirely unclear what was happening at first, who was shooting at whom or why, but at least one of the gunmen was within a few yards of the car. Presently two Suburban-loads of uniformed personnel (whom Fr. Grégoire identified as Haitian security police) with others firing as they ran alongside roared past us (and, thanks to 4-wheel drive, around the truck), and the center of gunfire moved on down the road. People began popping out of houses trying to see what was happening, wandering around more or less unconcerned. Not so us! Prayer and keeping a low profile had preserved us (and the car) from any injury, but we still needed to get out of there (and home). As we were debating what course to take, an inter-city tap-tap (battered US schoolbus) drew up behind us and, without hesitation, plunged into a little dirt lane leaving the highway. We spun around and followed in hot pursuit. A half-hour or so of travel on badly rutted and frequently deeply mudded roads brought us to the center of the town, and back out onto somewhat normal roads… with the prayer that we wouldn’t catch up with the battle on the other side of town. We didn’t. The experience made for a somewhat more than ordinarily nervous return to the Mission House across pitch-black after-dark Port-au-Prince, without further incident. The Lord preserves!
Such is life in Haiti today… much worse for those who must contend with it every hour of every day.