And I Thought Haiti was a Scary Place: a Tale of Forensic Failure in Kentucky

Why is it that I ALWAYS seem to have the weirdest of weird experiences—the wackiest—the most ridiculous?  Tell me.  How is this possible! 

I know what follows may be hard to believe—but really—how could I make this stuff up?

Here’s how it all went down:

Two nights ago Sara and I had just returned home from a crazed day of shopping—what we always need to do just before returning to Haiti, where we often can’t buy the kinds of items pampered and “all-too-accustomed-to-comfort” Americans require to maintain sanity and goodwill.

It was around 7 o’clock in the evening.  I was in the bathroom—brushing my teeth, if you really must know.  I was minding my own floss-focused, dental-hygiene-driven business, when suddenly a loud crash interrupted my serious teeth-cleaning efforts.

Holy Sh_t! What in the name of battling tooth decay had just happened?

I grab my black boots, head out the front door and around the house to find—

A brand new black Cadillac had just plowed into the side of our house—back bumper smashed against the foundation of my none-too-sturdy, 100-year-old jewel in the crown of Victorian architecture.

I wasn’t pleased by this development—

But not wanting to create enemies of neighbors who had seemed to move in during our last 3 month stint in Haiti and would likely still be there during our next three-month stay abroad, I tried not to over-react.  It seems the driver of the black Cadillac was visiting these neighbors when he/she accelerated in reverse off the snow-covered driveway, getting up-close and personal with my foundation. (I say “he/she” because neither the man nor woman seemingly associated with the vehicle was willing to take responsibility for being behind the wheel.)

But—living in a country where people burn tires is the streets for sport, I took this all in stride—got what information I could, which was very little but ultimately included a name and phone number—not likely as it all turned out the real name or real number. 

The house did not seem seriously damaged, so I didn’t bother to call the police when these folks refused to share information regarding their auto insurance—

Late the following afternoon, however, when Sara and I had again returned from a day of home-from-Haiti errand-running—

Another crash—

Same vehicle—

This time a rear end collision with our fence—

I kid you not!

In less than 12 hours—10 and a half to be exact—these owners of the black Cadillac had managed to careen into our property, not once, but twice. 

I wondered how this could all be real.  Had I entered some kind of Cadillac-crazed twilight zone?  Had I found myself on a really bad episode of Candid Camera in which Allen Funt runs cars into the houses of home-for-the-holidays-Haiti-aid-workers—all in the name of good laughs and family fun?

No—this was real and I have the fuzzy photos to prove it—

Thank God I had the presence of mind to run outside, not only screaming, “What is wrong with you people?!”—but also carrying a camera to document, a paper and pen to take down license plate numbers, and a mobile phone to call police.

I may have been borderline hysterical, but I, sure as hell, wasn’t stupid—though the police when they FINALLY arrived an hour later—were indeed the most idiotic this side of sanity one could ever imagine.

Not only did I have to dial 911 three times to get these crime-fighters to respond—I had to explain to dispatchers why this was, indeed, an emergency.

“These people have run their vehicle into my house twice in less than eleven hours.  Something is very wrong here.  Far be it from me to suggest there might be drugs involved—but, at the very least, I don’t think you want these folks back out on the streets.  If they do this from the relative safety of a driveway, imagine what damage they might do on the open road.”

And the two officers who finally arrived on the scene were equally clueless.  The man asked me—

“So your fence was always like that?”—though it leaned at a 120 degree angle with a car rammed up against it.

“You’ve got to be joking—that can’t be a serious question.”

“Calm down, lady.  Was your fence always that way?”  OMG—he was serious!

To say that these folks from our local police department weren’t firing on all 6 cylinders would be an understatement of epic proportion. They didn’t seem to appreciate the urgency of the situation or wonder why in the name of all things crazy that can happen on the road, one would drive a brand new 40 thousand dollar vehicle with NO auto insurance, if to protect themselves from all of the other crazy drivers on the road, if nothing else? 

They told the woman who seemed to be the owner of the car that they weren’t there to take sides or “get anyone into trouble.”  They were simply there “to file a report.”

Ultimately, the police did issue a citation for “not carrying proof of insurance”—an issue they assured the car owner “could be cleared up if they took proof of coverage to City Hall tomorrow.”

No sobriety testing—only a flimsy assertion that the officer “hoped” the driver had not been “drinking and driving.”

Okay then—if this blundering comedy of errors was detective work at its best, I’d hate to see second best—or god forbid—out and out forensic failure.

And it’s with this forensic failure that the story ends.

Anti-climactic—I know—but really that’s the crazy-making reality of how it all played out.  The police did nothing to deter or, god forbid, prevent these Cadillac-driving, fence-toppling Kentuckians from heading back out onto the road to wreak havoc on the highways of our state.

And I thought Haiti was a scary place!

Risk Management in Port-au-Prince: a note of clarification

My blogging buddy Lisa (again at “Notes from Africa”) raises an important point in a comment to yesterday’s post—one, in fact, that helps me realize just how lost I sometimes am inside my own perspective—looking at Haiti from the inside out—(not that I’m a real “insider” by any means).  It’s just that, as the name of this blog suggests (“reinventing the event horizon”) to come to Haiti is, in many ways, to cross a virtual “event horizon.”  Things get twisted here, turned inside out, spit out, inverted, and reinvented!  So I should try untangling a few details for the sake of clarity.

More specifically, Lisa notes how casually I mention someone from security, namely Samuel, not meeting my plane and how that makes me sound like some kind of celebrity. 

Now the fact of the matter is—when Samuel escorts you through the airport you do FEEL like a celebrity—by-passing the lines at immigration and security check points.  However, this perception has more to do with how well Samuel does his job, than anything about my status as a 5” 2’-artist-writer-nobody hoping, sometimes even praying, to get through the chaos, the outer edge of insanity, that IS the Port-au-Prince airport. 

And even more importantly to do with the insanity itself, the degree of danger, the security risks Sara’s NGO cannot afford to take, and the willingness of my partner herself to forgo as much risk as possible where MY safety is concerned.  In other words, the woman loves me.  What more can I say?

But about the risk itself—

Port-au-Prince is a dangerous place.  The risk-management folks at Sara’s NGO, for example, won’t allow her to travel through the traffic, streets still clogged with rubble from the January 12th earthquake, to the airport itself without an armed escort, in addition to a driver.  In fact, any expat working for the organization is NOT allowed to drive outside of Petion-ville—never supposed to drive alone—even in the relative safety of our upscale suburb where President Preval himself lives.  We drive with seatbelts on, windows up, doors locked.  It’s harder to be pulled from a car that way.

To violate these rules would be to face the wrath of Richard, head of security for the organization’s operation in Haiti, the one responsible for the safety of a few ex-pats too many, someone we affectionately refer to as “Papa Bear.”  Not to mention the wrath of Jack at headquarters in Atlanta!  (Jack sometimes reads my blog, so I need to give him the credit he’s due.)

On average—there’s a kidnapping a day in Port-au-Prince—usually of foreigners, often of expats working for NGOs on earthquake reconstruction.  And in fact, a number of these kidnappings actually happen in Petion-ville itself, since most NGOs have set up their operations from this location.  

Though most of Port-au-Prince proper was left in ruins following the earthquake, much of our small suburb was still left standing.  The actual earthquake only measured a magnitude 7.0, but because there’s no building code, to speak of, in Haiti, people take engineering shortcuts to save money and establish shelter without “excess” expense.  These kinds of structures pancake in the face of earthquakes. Remember the earthquake in Chile soon after the one here.  It was a magnitude 8.0, but because of rigidly enforced building codes, the country ultimately suffered far less damage than Haiti did.  

In Petion-ville, however, people have the funds to build safer structures.  These more stable buildings survived the earthquake with far less damage, so it’s in these that NGOs have set up offices to oversee the recovery process.

But about the danger itself—back to the risk of kidnapping—

I should specifically mention an “attempted” but soon failed abduction that took place outside the gym where I work-out most mornings.  In this instance, the Haitian driver was let go because he supposedly “had no money” to pay a ransom, while the “foreigner” (as they’re referred to here) was essentially car-jacked (but soon escaped)—physically unharmed, thank God—though I’m sure emotionally quite unsettled by the event.

Around the same time, the wife of the Petion-ville chief of police was assassinated just yards (meters) from her house and another NGO employee was shot and killed by gunmen while working “in the field”—essentially anywhere outside of Petion-ville where reconstruction is taking place.

The bottom line, actually, is this—

Sara oversees operations, on the ground here in Haiti, for a large NGO that works in almost 100 countries around the world—one that, for legal reasons, is forced to manage risk quite closely—so the security protocol is extensive.

It means that every day I live with two armed guards outside my door—in shifts that rotate every 12 hours.

It means sometimes a security escort at the airport.

Why the airport specifically, you might ask.  Ah—that “outer edge of insanity”—that’s tomorrow’s story to tell—

—“Adventuring at the Port-au-Prince Airport:  Another Event Horizon Redefined.”