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.
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”.
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.