Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The Adventure that was: Haiti
(Thank you Jon Oleson for the photos!)
I wanted to write you an update on my recent trip to Haiti! While I didn’t have a camera on me, I stole these pictures from a couple other interns as examples of what we saw. Ready for some stories?
Haiti is quite an interesting country, and you can’t expect to go there and not have plans go somewhat awry. You just learn to be flexible and allow the trip to determine what happens at some points.
So, after a little bit of a payment debacle in Santo Domingo to get a ticket to Haiti – you need $45 USD cash to pay at the borders, which none of us have since, well, we have PESOS – we got onto a 9am bus to Cap Haiten. After many hours of bus riding and waiting at the Haitian border, we finally arrived in town around 5pm local time.
We were met by another Esperanza staff member Obed, who is a Haitian-American, and speaks both Creole and English perfectly. He lived in the south part of Haiti for several years when he was younger, and then has lived in the United States since, including going to college in Rhode Island. He was gracious enough to be our guide for Haiti, set up our hotel, transportation, and other activities.
This will be a thread throughout this story, but the hotel we wanted to stay at – the Roi Cristophe – told us they were “full”. And then sent us to another hotel which they said was connected, just in a different area of town. This hotel was under construction to say the least, had no main desk, very bare rooms, and many other amenities missing from the main hotel (such as well-functioning AC, towel and linen service, drinkable water, swimming pool, the list can go on). Why did I put “full” into quotations? You’ll hear the rest of this story later in my blog. Trust me, it’s interesting.
Anyway, Friday we had hashed out to spend the day at the Esperanza office in Trou-du-Nord, which is about 30 minutes away from Cap Haiten. Unfortunately, we were not able to spend any time in the field going to any repayment meetings – the main boss at the branch was at a meeting in the Dominican, so we had no transportation. However, we DID have a wonderful lunch at a home nearby, which you can see in this photo:
It was VERY tasty. In the afternoon, a couple of the fellows were able to go interview a couple associates to hear of the successes of their businesses. In Haiti, Esperanza and microfinance is certainly making an impact on lives.
After a fun night hanging in the hotel while talking and listening to music, we had a sight-seeing day on Saturday. We went to this place named The Citadel (Citadelle Laferrière), which is a huge palace and fort built back in the early 1800s by Henri Cristophe, a Haitian leader during their slave uprising. They built this fortress and 365 cannons to ward off any attempts by the French to take the island over again – and never had to use them, since there are lots and lots of cannons still left on top of the fortress. The following photos are from that trip, including a view of the grand palace (which is different than the citadel) and the cannon balls in the actual citadel
Saturday night, the whole hotel situation hits the fan. What happened is this: Some random employee had said that it’s $120/night between the 5 of us at the hotel. He wasn’t the boss there, just some kid who quoted a number, and said the sorts of facilities they had. As I listed above, the facilities were terrible. Being experienced travelers, we figured the price should have been closer to $50 per night. When we approached the employee who had been around all week about this (via Obed translating), he said, “Ok, fine – I’ll just charge you $350 instead of the $360.” Our response: ARE YOU JOKING?, that’s $3/night off. Ridiculous. After allowing Obed to translate this, the kid called his boss to tell him to come.
This is when it gets real interesting. The boss enters, and doesn’t act anything like a reasonable owner of a hotel at all. Instead of acting as he should have (weighing our complaints about the hotel to figure out a fair price for us to pay), he was extremely aggressive. He entered and immediately began accusing us of being unjust customers, stating angrily “Who do you think you are, coming into MY hotel and telling ME what to charge you?”, and otherwise changing the subject from the faults of his hotel to show why we deserved to pay the $120/night. David, one of the other fellows, did a good job of attempting to keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand – we cannot and would not pay that much, for the very understandable reasons we laid out. We were misled into believing this hotel was of higher quality than it really is. Perhaps someday it’d be that valuable, for now, it was on the same level (if not lower) than a Motel 6.
At some point in the night, several of us started to pick up that we may have started to bring ourselves (or Obed), into physical danger by agitating this man. He certainly was very wealthy, and we assumed he had friends in high places who he could call to deal with the issue of five pesky Americans. We were finally offered $260 for the three nights, and accepted it. Though this price was too high, it seemed to us that we needed to get away from this man.
We went to withdraw extra money from the main Roi Cristophe hotel to give to this man. At the Roi Cristophe, we learn an amazing fact: we had been part of an employee who was committing fraud. The man at the desk on Thursday who said that it was “full” was a friend of our not-so-friendly manager, and would send potentially wealthy people (i.e. anyone white) to the other hotel, which was no where near the same quality. In fact – the other hotel wasn’t even related! It was all a ploy to make us think we were somehow going to a legit place, which wasn’t legit at all.
In the end, the Roi Cristophe offered us rooms to stay the night at their hotel that night as a recompense for dealing with the fraud. We gladly accepted and quickly packed up from the other hotel and moved into a (MUCH) nicer and safer hotel for the last night.
And so ended the adventures in Haiti, as we left the next morning back to the Dominican. The Dominican now seems so much more developed than Haiti. It almost felt like I was going back home, to a 1st world country. The stark difference between the two is extreme. I am still processing through the adventure, but I was glad to see some of the 2nd biggest city in Haiti.
There are many more stories, but this post is already far too long. If you want to know more, just contact me and I’d be happy to talk about this – and even more I would love to hear about how YOU are doing too!
Survive that heat Seattle! You can do it.