Tag Archives: Photography

UN bureaucracy, solar ovens and lynchings

An entertaining piece of bureaucratic lunacy this weekend: Anna has a giant UN Nissan patrol car for the weekend, but we are not allowed to travel in it, so we drive around Port au Prince in two vehicles: myself, Benson the driver, and the two kids crammed into a taxi, Anna following behind regally in the monster truck.

Roadside relaxation

“Why am I not allowed in the UN car?” asks Dorian. “Mummy needs a piece of paper.” “When is Mummy going to get the piece of paper?” “I don’t know, we are trying to find out.” “But she can go in the car; why can’t I?” etc.

Hey there stranger

Saturday morning in the Karibe Hotel complex. Dorian meets a large red Digicel ball. Images of Digicel, the mobile phone company, are everywhere. Half of the roadside vendors are selling Digicel cards; clearly one of the major sources of casual employment here.

Dorian meets the Digicel ball

There is a Haiti energy conference going on at the Hotel. Someone is demonstrating solar ovens. They reminds me of one of those collars to stop dogs biting themselves when they have fleas.

Solar cooking

We shop in the ‘Caribbean supermarket’ – PaP’s mecca of tasty foreign tidbits. Half the UN is there. I snap a photo of a pickup truck full of young white nuns in a cage, who smile obligingly.

A pick-up truck of caged nuns outside the Caribbean supermarket

In the evening I am struck by the Caribbean’s clouds. Beautiful twirling shapes; they look like a cartoon. (I confess I am reminded of one of the great video games of all time – Monkey Island, which is set in the Caribbean.)

Sunday we head to a small expat birthday party. I meet some of the international fauna. World Bank, UN, etc.

Haitian gladiator

On the way we witness an unsettling scene of violence. I see a kicking pair of legs and a kid being dragged off the road. He escapes, and starts running for his life. We are driving alongside. A pursuer picks up a savage looking rock, and gives chase with a gang in tow. I watch the terrified kid’s face as he looks back, and runs harder – he misses the brute in front of him, who body checks him and sends the kid tumbling.

The kid falls, regains his footing and is almost surrounded. He limps into a side street. The last I see is an image of the rock wielding attacker gaining ground, darting after him.

Lynchings are common here. There is some debate about what to do if you have a car accident and knock someone over. Anna tells me the Haitian security personnel are adamant we should stop for nothing; and drive hell for leather. That said, in the UK the news over the past couple of weeks has been dominated by rampaging thugs. Violence is everywhere.

At the party the son of a Haitian gallery owner, with a dressed up Dominican girlfriend, hears word that Preval is dead. Some debate about this. Rumours are common here, here, but still… could Haiti’s recent stability be headed for rockier times?

Preval dead? Maybe, but we have faces to paint.

Pleasant party; delicious cakes from Haiti’s best bakery. We head home at 6pm – the streets are pitch black, but filled with people walking along the side. “Why is it spooky here?” asks Dorian. “It’s not spooky,” I answer. “But they have no electricity.” “Why do they have no electricity?” It’s a fair question.

Excellent music on the radio. Haiti definitely has groovy sounds in its favor.

That night Anna informs me that the kid’s bathwater has little wriggly red worms in it.

Nursery school and car buying

Seems a common feature of a place like Haiti is the hidden haven: outside is chaos, but knock on the right door, and you can find oases.

In the morning we head into the Dorian’s new school from the bustling chaos of Petionville, and it is charming. A well guarded underground car park/entrance feels safe – kidnapping is an issue here – and leads to a brightly colored courtyard festooned with childish designs. The kids feel right at home. The school is run by a young light-skinned Haitian woman who boasts her US credentials and the precocity of her syllabus.

Haitian schoolchildren in Petionville

The place is a whirl of puppet shows, drum banging, a Caribbean rainbow of skin colors (although Dorian is one of only three or four white children). He is tested and found to be up to par except for fine motor skills: we are told that they teach a 4-year-old pre-writing course to 3-year-olds here (rendering elite Haitian pre-schoolers 33% more advanced than first worlders?) and Dorian has to catch up. He looks dubiously at the French course book.

If you study hard you can buy one of these!

…..

We need to buy a car. This is a palaver. As a UN employee Anna is required to have international plates, but the process can take three months. In the meantime, we would need to rely on taxis, or buy a car and put it in the name of a trusted Haitian for local plates while we wait. This is something I would be reluctant to do with my sister.

Sights of Petionville

We drive to UNHQ; where Stanley, the friendly UN driver, has arranged to meet a friend with a “new” car from Miami. This friend turns up after a mere hour of roasting in the hot sun. Anna road tests while I try to stop Dorian from honking the horn in our borrowed car. He slips past my defenses three times.

After an hour and half we are all frazzled and head to the Hotel Montana. Compared to the streets of Port au Prince it truly is a pleasure dome; I find myself glancing at the relaxed internationals there with mild jealousy.

The Hotel, on a hill, has an amazing view over the city down to the sea. We sip papaya juice in a spot I think may be have featured in ‘Ghosts of Cite Soleil’, a crazy documentary about a love triangle between two Haitian gang leaders and a crazy French aid worker. A well groomed American girl nearby loudly informs her father that she has decided against the salad.
Alandra waits for her cocktail at the Hotel Montana

Anna discovers she must return the car we were borrowing; and negotiates the use of a UN Patrol for the weekend. She is grilled over its use… they are reluctant to hand it out. Without it we are doomed. When Anna eventually heads off to collect it, she finds it has mysteriously accidentally been dispatched to the airport, and must wait two hours for its return.

Back at the house, the sun goes down, but the inverter is broken and the electricity is off. We sit for 45 minutes in pitch black, baby Alandra crying, until Anna convinces the landlord to turn on the generator. Anna returns feeling sick; and collapses into bed. I play computer games for a couple of hours before following suit.