House hunting

Dorian wakes before dawn; cocks are crowing. I had dreamed of past newspaper days. Like all good parents, we shove the kids in front of the TV; he complains it’s only in Spanish. I reply that I grew up with Spanish TV too. He is unimpressed. Electricity off, can’t make toast.

I look out from our balcony over the morning valley –  warbling french chanson mixes with the rooster calls. It’s a good sound.

House hunting day. I have mentioned this already, but to dispel any illusions: there is no UN compound here; no team of admin assistants devoted to helping newbies settle in. It’s “Welcome to the pk mission. Find your own way.” For most people, that’s not a problem. Peacekeepers tend to be single, or have families abroad, so can easily enough stay in a hotel room for a while, using UN transport. Not so easy as a family with two small children, but officially, at least, no quarter is given. We rely on solidarity from fellow parents, and some kind managers.

Now, to be fair, Haiti is – for peacekeepers – a “non-family duty station”. That means that there is no official allowance for families, something we were well aware of before coming. In reality the story is different – numerous peacekeepers (and other UN staff) do have families, including a recent deputy special representative. But one is expected to pretend otherwise.

So, we need to house hunt. We struggle down the now completely jammed road and over the course of a long hot morning see a number of places including:

1) An oversized would-be mansion with Roman columns, a sweeping entrance hall staircase and a maze-like layout, but a claustrophobic back patio dominated with a terrifyingly child-unfriendly pool. $2250. Half the price for something a quarter the size in New York. It’s down the road from a nice Hotel frequented by Bill Clinton on his occasional trips, and near UNHQ, so that’s a plus. Curiously, the owners had installed an electric kitchen, close to madness in a country which effectively has no electricity.

2) A pad which has timewarped from the 1970s – furniture, decor, unaltered by time. Pleasant garden but a little overbearing.

3) A fabulous playboy sprawl with a huge pool and party deck, which would have been be amazing, except it gives onto shanty dwellings, and is overlooked by an half built grey concrete open two-floor building whose threadbare inhabitants keep close watch – both tasteless (imagine holding an expat party there) and unsettling. Dorian enjoys hunting for lizards.

4) A charming colonial style hangout with nice terrace, fruit trees, layered hills side garden, which is falling apart but generally delightful. We like it; start haggling.

Dorian and Alandra enjoy a freshly plucked orange

Around now Alandra gets a strikingly liquid and copious diarrhea, which covers Anna, so we clean up and head back. Dorian informs us “it’s a lovely day”.

Driving past a bizarrely out-of-context ad for buttock firming cream

On the way we debate buying an $11k car recently imported from Miami. One interesting fact: the shadow of Miami is present everywhere – half the houses we see seem to have landlords living in Miami; negotiations have to be done with third parties in Miami; half of the people Anna has met over the past three weeks claim to have a relative who is a doctor or a lawyer in Miami, which may or may not be true.

On the car front, its actual vintage is not a major issue – the relevant age of the car starts from the moment it arrives in Haiti. So with our car under discussion: a year 2000 Nissan, it is touted as new.

I am having withdrawal symptoms. We investigate internet options. It’s going to cost close to $100/month for a 256k connection – a fleecing by NYC standards, and a reminder how much more the developing world has to pay for the same technology. I need it though, to maintain sanity.

We head to Digicel to get my cell phone sim card; this, at least, is relatively cheap. Dorian scoots around under the feet of a guard with a shotgun.

I ponder: every country has its weapon of choice, and from what I can see the shotgun is the clear winner here. Most guards appear to sport one… a brutal looking pump-action contraption. Dorian tries to investigate our night guards shotgun, who, to his credit, quickly shoes him away. Yikes.

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2 responses to “House hunting

  1. So glad you’re blogging from Haiti. Really interesting read – you’ve got me hooked and I’ll be checking on haititales often.

    Good luck to you and your family there. Seems daunting to say the least, but what an adventure.

  2. thanks Sai!

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