Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Haitian Immigrations:

Today the rising sun cast its pink tones on the rim of the sky at 6:10. We were up and ready to start our morning of negotiating the Haitian and U.S. government bureaucracies, a process that would be infinitely greased by the phone calls from Senator DeWine. Despite this, I didn’t sleep much last night, thanks to a congenital habit of worrying, with an assist from the water pump that rumbled loudly for 10 seconds of every minute.

As we waited for Pierre, the nice gentleman who was going to drive us on our rounds, I tried to pace away the anxiety. What was the worst thing that could happen? I mentally recited the mottos of Tom Rath, the protagonist in “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” a novel I read on a prior trip: “It doesn’t really matter. Here goes nothing. It will be interesting to see what happens.” Tom developed these philosophies when he was a paratrooper, preparing to jump from planes during WWII. Later, he applied them to other tense situations in his life. Alas, while I admire their stoic detachment, these mantras are a little too post modern for me, plus I’m no good at dealing with bad outcomes.

At 6:45, Pierre pulled into the parking lot in his maroon Maxima, and we were on our way. We made a left on Toussaint L’Overture Blvd and went through the roundabout, wound our way through the hills of Martin Luther King, a road heavily patrolled by the Haitian National Police, and turned right onto John Brown, the street where the Haitian Immigration Office is located. People had begun to assemble for the day at the only place in all of Haiti where its citizens can get a passport. “See those guys standing on the sidewalk?” pointed John to a group of five young men standing in front of the building. He explained that they offer their services to applicants to expedite the process of getting a passport. For a fee, of course.

John had to carry Jackson through the bowels of the Immigration Building and up a couple of flights of stairs to the Monsieur Chavane, the Director of Haitian Immigrations. A sign posted on his door asked all to leave their guns outside the office. Director Chavane was expecting us. He talked briefly with John and looked at Jackson’s papers. He then directed an official to take us to a room down the hall, where Jackson was fingerprinted.

When we came out of this office, we saw a woman sitting on a bench, smiling at us and holding a little girl. “Bonjou,” she said. John recognized her immediately. The little girl has a heart defect and the mom had brought her to see John a couple of weeks ago. Seeing us at Haitian Immigrations with another sick Haitian, whom we were getting out of the country, caused the woman to dissolve into tears. John hugged her, and told her we would search for a hospital for her daughter.

As we sat down to wait back near the Director’s office, Pierre, clearly impressed by the attention and speedy action we were receiving whispered with wonder in his voice, “They wouldn’t do this for me.” Pierre works in an orphanage and has spent the last three months trying to get a U.S. visa for a 2-year-old who has a heart defect. She has been accepted by NYU, and the consulate has been giving him the complete runaround, saying that they must have the original letter from the hospital.

I wanted to try to convey to Pierre that the superlative service we were receiving today was due to the intervention of a Senator DeWine. He is in the parlance of Creole, un gran moun, a big man. But I thought that explanation might sound kind of lame: to Haitians all blancs are gran moun. So I didn’t say anything.

A few minutes later, Director Chavane came out of his office and handed John a manila folder. It contained Jackson’s passport, which had been extended for one year for humanitarian reasons. John hugged the director.

A group of men gathered around Jackson as John explained to them what was wrong with him. Why is his heart bad, the director wanted to know. Rheumatic fever, said John, very common in Haiti. John gestured over his shoulder to the woman with her three-year-old who had followed us into the Director’s waiting area. “That little girl has a heart problem too. I am searching for a hospital for this little girl.”

John and Pierre shook hands all around. John picked up Jackson and carried him down to the main level. After resting a few minutes, we got back into the car and headed the few blocks to the American consulate for Round Two. It was only 8:30.

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