On building trust mid Haiti’s turbulence, and the safety of my children

Feeling slightly remiss at my failure to write anything about Haiti’s political situation. This is partly because I am new, partly because I am fond of political stories which emerge obliquely, through the stories of ordinary people.

Nonetheless, for the sake of context: after the violent upheavals of 2004, which led to the ouster and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti has – with the backing of the UN peacekeeping mission – seen a gradual return to some kind of fragile stability.

Bill Clinton is spearheading international efforts to get investment flowing, but the country’s legislature recently threw progress into doubt by ousting a respected prime minister – a sign, many feared, that Haiti’s leaders saw little to gain in reform, preferring instead a more lawless status quo.

Elections are due next year, and Rene Preval – the current president – appears to be on a mission to consolidate personal power. This week the electoral commission excluded the exiled Aristide’s party Lavalas, believed to have considerable popular support, on dubious technical grounds. The UN is being asked to defend that decision; there are fears of unrest. Meanwhile, much of the country’s educated and wealthy elite remain abroad, showing little inclination to rebuild their homeland.

All this amounts to continued uncertainty. Institutions remain weak, and are likely to remain so at the behest of those who see profit in chaos and criminality.

This naturally leads two parents to question everything we see and hear, and to consider deeply the nature of trust.

Trust is a skittish creature. She is a child, for the most part, of time; born through consistency over prolonged periods – although her birth can be assisted by past experience and gut instinct. This is no idle philosophy; this is a very urgent and real question.

We trust you, Daddy!

Most immediately, I face a momentous decision: can I trust Benson, our driver, to take Dorian to school and back alone without incident?

How can one trust anyone after a mere week in Haiti? In the West – despite considerable recent erosion of trust in politicians, financiers, public servants and media – there remains some core belief that if someone does you harm, they will face consequences: whether in law, or informally, such as to their reputation or finances. There is some institutional protection.

Not so in Haiti. No dispassionate law to turn to, no stability of circumstance upon which to build instant confidence. For us, the UN offers some anchor: yet limited – its institutional reluctance to offer an official helping hand to our settling-in has made that abundantly clear.

One is left building trust from first principles.

Benson came to us through a recommendation – second hand – from another mother who works at the UN. We can trust her not to desire any harm, but we cannot assume due diligence. Encouragingly, Benson used to work for a western UN security officer, so we take some solace from the hope he would have done his own checks. Unfortunately, said officer and wife have left the country.

Benson

I have also built up some measure of Benson’s character over the week. We chat about this and that, but – beyond basic friendliness – there is a clear process of trust-building underway. I want a sense of his demeanour: is he open, friendly, comfortable? He appears so.

Benson would also seem to have a long-term financial interest in Dorian’s safety. He talks about wanting a proper career, and clearly hopes that working for expats might lead to opportunity. This is a comforting motive.

Also important: does Dorian like Benson? This may seem trite, but children can be surprisingly adept at detecting underlying emotions. Dorian likes him plenty. When Benson plays with Dorian, does it seem genuine? It does. So far so good.

Benson and Dorian fool around before getting in the car

Importantly, Benson is known at the school – from when he used to pick up and drop off the security officer’s kids. The guards wave hello. I make a specific point of quizzing the headmistress about him. Does she recognize him? Yes. Is he a good guy? Yes.

Can I trust the headmistress? I think so. She has an interest in the continued success of her school. She is open and welcoming.

So, painstakingly, Anna and I come to the conclusion that we can trust Benson.

But the decision is agonising… and this morning, as I wave smiling Dorian goodbye as he and Benson head out the door, I feel a deeply unsettling lump in my chest. I take a dozen photos, but am filled with a grim fantasy that these could be the photos we later circulate in the search for missing Dorian. I dismiss the thought.

See you later Daddy!

There is no greater trust than putting your child in the hands of another.

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8 responses to “On building trust mid Haiti’s turbulence, and the safety of my children

  1. Mark, Haiti generally is a paradise (compared to the rest of Latinamerica) in terms of delinquency. However a lot of kidnapings were happening two years ago but now the situation seems under control. I have a brazilian friend who works in a NGO called Viva Rio. She knows Haiti vwry well, workede with in several missions. She is in PAP by herself with two little kids, maybe you can speak with her so she tells you how she handles some things.

    • thanks you – all introductions much appreciated, especially on the kid front. Of course I also get the impression that Haiti is fine for these things at the moment – but this doesn’t stop the demons from invading the parental mind!

  2. Hi Mark
    Glad to hear you’re settling in & nice blog.. I wonder if Benson is right this minute composing a blog on “Living with the expats”, wherein he ponders – why is Monsieur Turner looking at me funny.. can I trust him?..
    p

  3. I always enjoy your thoughts and your honesty.

    • thanks Kate! last time round I never had much opportunity to write in this way. basically it’s a public diary… there is a curious comfort in sharing a diary

  4. Interestingly when it’s just our own safety we tend to trust rather willingly. To a bus driver, a friend who has had a little too much to drink.

    I trusted my daughters life to an African woman, I could barely communicate with, for 2 years, because I assumed that our interests were more or less the same. Did I really have enough in common with her to assume that? Probably not, it was a huge gamble. Still it probably wasn’t any greater a gamble than I take on a babysitter here in NYC. We live by assumptions and faith, wherever we live.
    Happy Thanksgiving! Wooo!

    • indeed indeed. I never really worried too much about instant decisions about trust before. still, without them you get nowhere fast. luckily, Dorian returned in one piece!

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