Oh joy – online again after a three day drought. May not sound bad, but for an addict it is challenging. I have internet dreams. Mercy comes in the form of the wifi at the Petionville Club.
Back to last weekend. Finally, we scored the requisite papers to travel en famille in Anna’s big UN car, so it was off to Club Indigo.
Club Indigo was Haiti’s club Med back in the Duvalier days – described by an old Reuters piece as an ‘experimental playground’ from where holiday adventurers would seek voodoo-fuelled fantasies, Haitian art and other hedonistic pursuits. (Haiti was a famed spot for sex tourism, in multiple forms). It closed around the time the Aids epidemic emerged, and due to the political instability with the end of the regime; reopened again briefly in the 90s, then closed again. A discussion on tripadvisor (that most reputable of sources) had this to say:
“Club Med had problems marketing the location due to political instability but it was doing very well according to Club Med. One day a group of Europeans were going back to the airport and were blocked on the road by peasants who were protesting against the government. That did not help a struggling Club Med, especially in Haiti. So it finally shut down.”
It was refurbished by one of Haiti’s richest families – Mevs (pronounced Meuse) – in 2006 or so, and is a relaxing if unremarkable seaside resort, food all inclusive, small rooms, giant swimming pool and great beachside sunsets. A Xanadu for international aid workers, a two hour drive north from Port-au-Prince. I dub it Club UNdigo after one look at the white Nissan’s littering the car-park.
Dorian is thrilled to be allowed in the same vehicle as his mother. “Hey – we’re going to the beach tomorrow…” “The beach?” “Yes.” “With Benson?” “No. Guess what car we are going in?” “I don’t know.” “Guess.” “The UN car?” “Yes.” “Are you joking?” “No!” “Mummy got the piece of paper?” “Yes!” “For Alandra and me?” “Yes” “And daddy?” “Yes” “And mummy?” “Yes” “Yippee–aye!” Cute. Things are looking up.
What strikes me about Club Indigo is that while it makes for a very pleasant break for us, it is nothing special compared to what Haiti’s competitors offer: in a more dangerous locale, with fewer facilities.
For a country hoping to reinvigorate its tourist trade – beyond the occasional returning Haitian emigre, or aid worker – this poses a challenge. The food is tasty, but not spectacular. There is little in the way of marine life to see here, I am told. So what to do?
Over dinner I ask a friend about voodoo tourism. It strikes me that pretty much everyone I spoke to in the US or UK knew only two or three things about Haiti (that is, assuming they did not get it confused with Tahiti). a. Poverty. b. Papa Doc. c. Voodoo.
Surely, I reason, voodoo is a unique selling point here, and something that could be exploited for an increasingly demanding tourist market. One travel site has a traveller gushing: “The Shows every night were incredible. One evening we had a Folklore Show that showed us all the dances and songs that the Haitians love. Another night there was a Voodoo Show. It was magical. On the way back to my room I almost stepped on a snake. They had used snakes in the Voodoo show and I believe there are no coincidences in life so I decided that snake was telling me never walk alone at night!”
I also figure that getting involved could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I learn that the current government is not too keen on the idea. Haiti is a Catholic country, and it wants luxury tourism – so goes the mantra. Voodoo is inappropriate. Yeah right. As the old phrase goes, Haiti is 80% Catholic, 100% voodoo. What a shame to resist your country’s greatest allure to foreigners.
I consider the Masai in Kenya and their genius in giving tourists what they want. They dance jauntily with their stiff high jumps and flowing red robes. They tell tales of lion hunting (despite, one suspects, never having hunted one). They even gave a gift of several cows to the US after 9/11 – a perfect reminder of their allure to potential visitors. It’s a great package, and highly memorable for travellers.
But for the moment there is no voodoo extravaganza in sight at the Club Indigo. Instead we briefly watch a Brazilian capoeira group banging its drums by the water-polo pool. Nice enough, but also a common sight these days in the west.
We purchase little tickets to pay for the occasional drink, and sport orange bracelets – no doubt a hangover from the Club Med era – which entitles us to the buffet. Two nights of calm, and electricity. Easy ride home, only a brief stop at the UN roadblock where a charming Latino MP checks we have permits for our children. It’s all perfect for us; but I suspect not so enticing for the thrill-seeker who might be considering Haiti as the next frontier destination, in a quest for impressive tales in relative security.
This said, I am fully aware that I still know next to nothing about my new home – and there may be a resurgent voodoo tourism scene bubbling underneath. The famed Hotel Oloffsen – as featured in Graham Greene’s the Comedians – continues to host the voodoo rock band RAM every Thursday, and I am keen to visit. It’s downtown, however, which raises some questions about whether Anna will be allowed there. UN rules.
Meanwhile, the political situation develops. Aristide has decried the electoral commission’s failure to recognize his party as a coup d’etat. Empty rhetoric? We’ll see. Students have been demonstrating for a couple of days over the arrest of their colleagues and the UN radio crackles out occasional warnings. As of writing, another deadline has passed, and a UN Human Rights rapporteur has inexplicably said the electoral decision was kosher. Lots of anti-UN muttering.
The UN leadership is in a thorny bind: if it lets the government decision stand, it loses legitimacy. If it contests it too vigorously, it alienates the government it is trying to support.