In late February, it became apparent that things were heating up in Haiti- and not just weather wise. It was suggested that us international teachers should get out of town for a short break, as something political was afoot. I tell you, Haitians have a nose for this kind of thing. So, I went to Turks and Caicos islands for a little fun in the sun. My friend Maluschka went with me. We had a blast! We even got to meet Sally and Jerry, the two pet conches at the Caicos conch farm. It was the perfect long weekend.
UNFORTUNATELY, on our last day there, we woke up to an unpleasant surprise. While eating breakfast, we noticed the CNN coverage at the cafe was showing footage from… yep, from Haiti. Port au Prince was surrounded by a group of rebels who had snuck over from Dominican Republic, demanding that President Aristide resign and leave the country. The airport was shut down. This probably sounds really made up, but I promise you, this really happened.
Malu and I rushed to the airport to see how we could get out of Turks and Caicos- we didn’t have enough money to stay there and wait this thing out- Turks and Caicos is expensive! After much haggling and arguing, we were able cash in our Port au Prince tickets, and get a flight to the Dominican Republic, then take a bus back into Haiti. (Looking back on it now, probably not the wisest idea). A couple of days later, my roommates Tom and Sue left for Santo Domingo, with the help of the Canadian embassy. Alone at the house with just Christy, we were running out of water, fuel, and food. I called my friend Micah at the Marine House, and after YELLING at me for still being in Haiti, he got me in touch with the US Embassy in Washington and we started making arrangements to join an armed convoy to the airport and evacuate out. The kind lady on the phone even called my mom to tell her I was coming home. Did you know that if the State Department helps you evacuate a country, you still have to pay for your plane ticket? And trust me, it is not at any kind of discounted rate.
In retrospect, could I have stayed in Haiti? Maybe. But we had no more bottled water, no food, and the grocery stores were all shuttered. At the point the telecom station burned down, it seemed like a good time to get the heck out. Two days after I watched the President’s plane depart Port au Prince in the early dawn hours, I evacuated to Miami, where the Red Cross greeted us and helped us get flights to our home cities, and aided the people on the flight who had children or other needs. I stayed with my parents for about a week, and then things seemed calmer back in Haiti, so I paid the US government back for my flight (they flag your passport until you pay that ticket off!), and returned to work. In the meantime, President Aristide left the country, so we effectively have no government and the UN has moved in. Who knows what the next few months will bring?
May 2004 update: Everyone talks about the political and economic situation improving but so far no one is really seeing many changes. The kidnappings are continuing; this week a seven year old boy was kidnapped outside his school (one of the other private schools). The parent of a student at my school was kidnapped, and died. The electricity is still not on for more than a few hours a week. No one is really sure what the new interim government is working on. There have been rumors and reports of some of the major drug dealers being arrested by the US officials and shipped off to Miami to await trial. On the positive side, it’s mango season! Our tree is bursting with mangoes, and when Desinor beats us to it and swipes them for himself, we can buy them at the market for just a couple of gourdes. Mango with toast for breakfast, mango tarts at lunch, mango with rice for dessert, it’s mangoes everywhere.