I am going to do the same thing Jessica did and just write about our day today from my own perspective…
We started this morning by waking up at 5:15 and heading out. In the mornings, I drive our black JMC (we think that stands for Jianling Motor Company but we’re not sure) about 3.5 miles over rocks and bumps to pick up about 24 children for school. This morning, on the way, we stopped by to pick up our cook Marjorie because her husband’s cousin’s motorcycle had broken down the night before (and by broken down I mean ran out of gas and they couldn’t afford more). When we got to the orphanage, it was pitch dark outside and most of our kids were out in the grass bathing in a basin full of cold water. They do not use flashlights to bathe, but they do have flashlights now to use while getting ready in an otherwise dark room. While the kids were getting ready, Marjorie proceeded to fix breakfast for 35 children and 3 adults in the dark with a head lamp on.
After breakfast, we headed down to school. We have a truck with a small bed and extended cab about the size of a Ford Ranger, and we fit 24 children and 4 adults into the truck. The kids laugh and talk and have a great time in a setting that is definitely less than ideal to travel to school in. We arrive at school, and the kids love for us to walk them onto the school grounds (the Kindergarten kids love to hop on 1 foot as we approach and hold our hands and walk them to class). It is a great beginning to a long day!
After that, we have breakfast, we leave for our bank to get some paperwork for our permanent residency after which I will take my first trip as a driver into Port Au Prince. At the bank, we find out that everything costs money. If we want to change our savings accounts to checking accounts, it will cost this much, if we need an attestation for our permanent residency it, it will cost this much, if we need a cashier’s check, it will cost this much. Everything costs money, and it can get a little irritating. I know you are probably thinking it is like that in America too, but trust me when I say it is different and much more expensive. We leave the bank with nothing because it will take 2 days to order the form we needed and we have to make the 45 minute drive into Carrefour again Thursday to pick up the paperwork.
We then leave the bank to have 2 meetings with 2 different Haitian attorneys. I am definitely leery of the attorneys going in, but I am trying to keep an open mind. As we approach the city, I am getting a little nervous because it is my first time in PAP (Port Au Prince) driving and it is very crowded and very difficult and very unruly. As we approach, my nerves are calming because I am doing pretty well as an aggressive driver, and then we get lost. Not really lost as much as we had no idea where we are supposed to be going because of changing traffic patterns in PAP (one way streets forming that are not usually one way) and because we are not sure where our meeting place is. I don’t handle being lost very well in general, but especially not when I am completely out of my element driving without rules and not knowing when I may accidentally turn down a one way street (which I did) the wrong way. I may or may not have flipped out a little, but all in all I thought I did ok.
We finally figure out where we are supposed to go, and the parking place I find is also a place where people are washing cars. So, of course, they try to get me not to park there even though it is definitely a parking place. So I do the only thing I can think of and pay for a car wash (which I needed) in return for getting to keep my car there during the meeting – this actually worked.
The meeting with the first attorney was great. She spoke wonderful english and was very helpful. In fact, she even had a kind of calming affect on us as we tried to figure out what our next step should be. We actually agreed to have her complete our permanent residency for us after finding out that one of our new friends here in Haiti had used her previously and received their permanent residency a month later. We talked with her about how she could possibly help us in the future also as we try to become a recognized organization in Haiti. She was very sweet and clearly very capable (along with the fact that she had an office and other employees working with her as opposed to the next attorney we would meet with).
So we leave feeling encouraged and call the next attorney we are meeting with who tells us he has been working all day at the Presidential Palace and that we can meet up with him around there. As we are driving there, he calls back and tells us he has moved to a different spot and that we should now meet him at this hotel/restaurant. All of that would have been fine except that we got lost again (let me reiterate – during my first attempt at driving in Port Au Prince) and now I am driving around in circles trying to find this new place. All of this would have been ok in America, but the whole time I am trying to fight off traffic and drive as aggressively safe as possible. I have to admit, my nerves were really really frayed at this point.
We finally arrive at the meeting, and it is noticeably different than the previous meeting. First of all, this attorney is a presidential candidate (one of probably 15-20 at this point) for the 2015 election. Second of all, we met at an upscale resort hotel with a very nice restaurant (think New York City prices on the food) where you could actually use a credit card. Third of all, this guy is really American. What I mean by this is his mannerisms, his speech, and the way he carries himself are uniquely american even though he was born and raised in Haiti. He has spent the last 14 years in America in college and law school and working for different law firms and has only been back in Haiti for approximately 2 years. As he is speaking with us, he is very forthcoming with the fact that “paying extra” to get things done is a very common practice in Haiti and something that he could help us “navigate.” He was confident, smart, and very straightforward with everything including how much it would cost us to have him as our attorney.
While the attorneys couldn’t have been more different, the driving back home from this meeting was exactly the same. I wish I could explain the driving conditions, but the conditions definitely were not the worst part of it. The worst part was that I constantly had no idea where I was going or where I should turn next. It would have been one thing if I could have focused on the driving conditions, but constantly being lost on top of that was crazy. As we got into downtown, we suddenly had a young child in the back of our truck. What do you do when that happens? When you are driving down the road and then there he is in the rearview mirror. Isaiah, our translator, finally jumped out of the car (stopping traffic) and told the kid, “I will beat you if you don’t get out.”
We finally made it back to the main road and started heading home. When we pulled up, I realized that as difficult as my first trip was, this is something that I can do and do pretty well. I can make the drive into Port and as I get more used to where I am going it will not be that difficult in the future.
I also realized that some funny things happened. I had a car wash for a parking space, I was told by multiple lawyers that they would “take care” of things for us (which meant bribing officials), a small child jumped into the back of our moving truck, I was constantly lost in the downtown of a major third world city, I ate a $12 hamburger in Haiti, I found out that our Haitian bank requires a $1,000 minimum for a checking account and a $2,500 minimum for a savings account, I realized that I could pay someone else to do my permanent residency not much more than it would have cost me to do it, and that you never want to try to go the wrong way on a one way street anywhere.
When we got back, it was back to normalcy and we took our kids up to the orphanage. It was only then that I found out that one of our children had systematically stolen both 4 batteries from another so he could play someone else’s game system and someone else’s watch which he sold to another child at the orphanage for 10 Gourdes ($.23 USD) who then proceeded to trade that watch for some type of food item that he would not divulge to any of us. The child who purchased and then sold the watch someone got 10 Gourdes from his friend at school which probably means that he stole that as well, so it was a strange ending to a strange day.
As I write this, I realize that all of these things, in the end, is because we love the children that GOD has so graciously put in our path and we wouldn’t change any of it. It is fun (sometimes), it is an adventure (always), and it is so awesome that GOD is allowing us to do His work in this way!