Monday, April 17, 2017

A Disappointing Ending

Our First View of Haiti
So, a lack of internet explains why I'm a little late in an update to our legal issues in the Bahamas. I will try to summarize the movie plot-like ending to our volunteer efforts for Haiti. . .

The Monday after the confiscation of donations and imprisonment of the IRG captain, those of us on the two smaller boats were called in for questioning.  After waiting for about a half an hour past the scheduled time, Bill (as the captain of our boat) was called in first.  He was gone for quite a while and, upon his return, the captain of the other boat was immediately called in after him.  The result of this "hearing" seemed to be a legal slap on the wrist.  Our documentation was returned to us and we were told to go on our way; we were just "strongly warned" not to do it again . . . although, since we were never actually found guilty of anything, I'm not sure was it was that we did . . . perhaps we were being told not to look suspicious . . .

The following day, we were told that the IRG captain was still being held on the grounds that his visa had expired (which it actually had).  During his hearing, the judge refused to even listen to or see evidence of the fact that he was running a disaster relief organization and the expired visa was an honest mistake.  The judge ordered a maximum fine of $3,000 or 2 years in jail . . . to put that into perspective . . . a typical sentence for drug running (much worse than charity work) is only $400 and the person(s) must leave to country within 24 hours. . .  

To add to the fishiness, the immigration office mandated that the fine be paid IN CASH; they even allowed this "criminal" to roam around town with a police escort with the sole purpose of stopping at different ATMs to withdraw money. Amazingly, the captain was able to come up with the money after only a few nights in jail.  As he presented the office with the money at 4:45 in the afternoon (the office was supposed to close at 5), he was told that they were shutting the office down early that day and would not be able to process his transaction . . . his cash transaction . . . he spent one more night in jail and was freed the following morning.

We spent that night throwing the captain a release party and the following day loading the donations back on to our boats (at our own expense and labor) and preparing to leave.  We even went to the trouble of creating an official manifest of the donations for both boats and having the head of customs stamp it (supposedly to prevent future issues).

Two hours before we were supposed to leave, a call came on the radio from the IRG captain telling us that we were all being ordered to return to the customs office.  Apparently, the captain had realized that they had neglected to return his cruising permit (needed to legally stay in the country).  When he had gone in to retrieve it, he was told (as we were when we got there) that we were now "illegal". We were told: Our permits should never have been returned (they promptly took them), we were being labeled as "commercial vessels" because we were "carrying cargo",and, therefore, had to fill out exit paperwork, pay a $75 fee, and leave the country NOW.

   "On what grounds?", you ask . . . My honest answer is corruption; utter, blatant, ugly corruption.  The same man that had just stamped those manifests we made and told us we were good to go had decided that he wasn't finished with us; he just had to throw one more sucker punch. When presented with the absurdity of the situation and asked why he hadn't bothered to tell us about these new "rules" when we last saw him, he became indignant and belligerent.  No matter how we argued, he was having none of it and, at one point, threatened to impound our boats (he'd have had no grounds for that but, I don't doubt that he would have tried).

A Rainbow for our First Morning in Haiti
So, we left . . . For three nights, we sailed until we were in Haitian waters. Unfortunately, Haiti has presented us with a different set of problems . . No doubt, you've heard the expression "No rest for the weary". . . Well, the good news is that we have had absolutely no problem with the government here. The one official we have come in contact with (the port authority) has been quite helpful.  He's assisted us with getting our passports stamped, obtaining fuel, disposing of trash, and, because he is also involved in IRG, even
helped us offload the donations.
These are the Kids We Gave the Sodas to

On the other hand . . . We have now been in three different harbors in Haiti . . . I am very sorry to report that our impression of many of the Haitian people is that they are self-destructive.  We have met a few exceptions but, in general, they are their own worst enemy.  Before we even dropped our anchor at our first stop here, we were approached by men, young and old, wanting something.  Now, we came here for charity work, don't misunderstand me, I have no problem helping other people . . . However, these men are RELENTLESS.
We Did Buy Lobsters from One of the Fisherman . . .
A Treat for Lunch

Two Nice Locals and Us - This is What Happens When You
Try to Squeeze Four People into a Selfie on the Back of a Boat
Our experiences have varied from a few boys asking for sodas (which we gave them), to young men asking for work (many of which we hired to do specified jobs on the boat), to down right commands of "Give me money!  Give me food!  Give me shoes!".  These men come to the boat on a constant basis, offering to do anything for money.  We applaud their efforts for trying to provide for their families and, as I said, we gave many of them work and were happy with the results.  However, we have also come in contact with those that try to hike up their fees once the work is done or continue to push for work even when told that there is no more work left.  Even telling them that you're out of money doesn't seem to phase them.  We even have scratches on the side of our boat and had to have part of our teak railing repaired from some of the more aggressive boats actually refusing to leave and allowing their boats to slam into ours.

A Large Motorized Canoe Serves as the Water Taxi

One of the worst examples is a man that demanded food. He continued to yell at Bill, "Give me food!".  When Bill looked into the man's canoe, there were at least 30 fish that he had caught that day.  Bill pointed out that he could easily feed his family on those fish and have money from selling the remainder.  His response? . . . "No, I sell fish!  You give me food!".  He didn't even offer to sell us the fish . . . he was demanding a handout.  For many of these men, a more respectful, hospitable approach would make all the difference in the outcome of their interactions with newcomers.
One of the Many Fishing Boats

There have been some good points to Haiti.  The geography is beautiful; serene anchorages, green mountain ranges, and pretty beaches.  At night, once the humid, stickiness of the day has faded away, the stars are abundant.  The local food is simple but, delicious.  Creole roots are ever present in the food, the language, and the culture itself.

We Had a Cruisers Potluck Here

Cool Rock Formations

Local Art is Abundant

   We do not regret helping IRG or the Haitian people.  I think that we have come in contact with the more intense part of the population and the majority of Haitians are good, decent, easy-going people. We just, unfortunately, have not been able to experience that side of the country and its culture because of the few that have left a sour first impression. It is a shame that we will not be able to experience more of Haiti in its untainted version.  We will soon finish what is necessary here and move on. Hopefully the Dominican Republic will offer a brighter picture.

   Please let us know what you think. Feel free to ask questions and leave nice comments. (If no one has commented yet, there will be a "No Comments" link near the bottom of the post. If someone has already commented, there will be a number and the word "comments" beside it. Just click whichever of these is there, click, "add comment" when the window opens, and type away.)

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Please let us know what you think. Feel free to ask questions and leave nice comments.