Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Kidnapping. What, us worry?

It's probably not a good sign when we bump into Barbara at the Miami airport, and she says, "Did you hear we were kidnapped?" Barbara is a fifty-something women who facilitates adoptions in Haiti and gallivants around the world selling water purifications systems. With her bold and brash manner, her big auburn hair and her blue muumuus, Barbara is a novelist's idea of what an American who lives in a place like Haiti is like.

Barbara tells us that her guy Johnny, a Haitian, and she were driving on Airport Road when they were accosted by guys with guns. Barbara ran for it and made it, but they got Johnny and took him to Cite Soleil, where they also took another of our friends, who was kidnapped in October. Barbara said this crime happened in full view of UN troops, who did nothing to prevent it, other than shoot out the tires of her SUV.

Barbara and others on the opposite end of the political spectrum think the UN troops should go, Barbara because they aren't doing anything , like stopping kidnappings that happen under their noses, and the others because the troops are enabling the killing of innocent, poor people or in some cases killing people themselves. I'm afraid that if the UN weren't here, the violence and instablility would collapse the country even further, what with the incompetence and corruption of many of the police and the weak legal system. So I'm for the UN staying at least for now; maybe I wouldn't feel the same if I lived in Cite Soleil, a violent slum of 200,000 that has been cordoned off.

But anyway, I digress (get used to it). The kidnappers contacted Barbara and told her they wanted $10,000 for Johnny. Barbara said they'd give them a $1,000, and they agreed. The money was delivered, and Johnny was released. However, he didn't have a cent on him for a tap tap ride, so the kidnappers gave him $10 Haitian. I guess they wrote it off as a business expense. Though some of the kidnappings may be politically motivated, most seem to be cash raising expeditions. Our friend who was kidnapped in October, began praying and his kidnappers joined in. He was released after about a day.

I don't mean to minimize kidnapping by describing it in such a Keystone Cops kind of way. It is obviously a scary, serious crime and not all of the victims in Haiti have fared as well as our two acquaintances. The news reports from Haiti lately have indicated that kidnapping and other violent crimes have decreased. The American embassy, which pulled out its non essential staff earlier in the year, just had them return. Hearing these stories from people we know makes me wonder how accurately the news reports what is going on in Haiti. One thing is for sure, though: for better and worse, in its violence and in its everyday life, Haiti is a wacky place and that's what this post is meant to illustrate. We are always very careful.
Welcome to Live From Haiti

We arrived in Port-au-Prince today, November 30. Not to start this blog with mundane comments about the weather, but locals have told us December and January are the most beautiful months here, and if today's any indication, that's true. I'm sitting outside, typing this and it's sunny, 86 degrees, with light winds and low humidity. Even with global warming we don't get this weather in late November in Peoria; the only downside is the cognitive dissonance experienced hearing Oh Holy Night on the radio in such balmy climes.

Though I've never been to Haiti in December, this is my ninth trip to the country, eight of them with my husband John, over the past two years. I've taken about 500 pages of notes during the past trips, and I thought I'd start posting these bon mots on line for the benefit of anyone who wants to read them. In the past, I've been kind of loquacious in my journal; I'll try to curb this tendency and be more pithy, but I can't make any promises. There is so much to say (and do) about Haiti.

A little background: John first came to Haiti in 1981 as a med student. He's come back several times a year since then and is now an expert on Haitian medicine, at least for a U.S. doc; Haiti suffers from some of the diseases and public health problems that cause them as did the U.S. 150 years ago. John also speaks Creole. Besides all the great work he has done in Haiti, in 1995 John founded a program called Haitian Hearts, which brings children and young adults to the U.S. for heart surgery, which isn't available in Haiti.

John and I were married on May 29, 2005. It's been a huge adventure and a gift for me to spend so much time with him in Haiti. John is board certified in internal medicine and worked as an emergency room doctor in a large medical center for 13 years. He also knows a lot about orthopedics, pediatrics, and cardiology and he likes to try to teach his medically illiterate wife. He's a good teacher; I've finally learned that the ventricles are the lower chambers of the heart.

I have worked as a foster care licensing worker, a special needs adoption worker, a therapist, a communication specialist, and a college composition instructor/counselor/advisor. I like to write and have published dozens of freelance articles and essays. Running Haitian Hearts--diagnosing children who need heart surgery, finding doctors and U.S. hospitals willing to treat them, raising funds, arranging for children to come to the U.S.--now occupies most of our time.

Haiti is a compelling place and I want to convey its beauty, horror, and humor through the concrete details included in my posts. I will focus on what life is like here for poor people--as much as I can, not being materially poor--and also what life is like for two middle class Americans who spend a large chunk of time here each year. So, on with the blogging.