Thursday, August 4, 2011

Opinions at the Airport

Today I went back to the airport to get my luggage.  For those of you who have not spent much time in Haiti, or have not read my previous posts about what is involved in retrieving lost luggage in Haiti, allow me to bore you with the story of my day.

There was a number to call on my 'delayed baggage'slip, but of course there was never an answer at that number.  So Franck and I drove back to the airport to arrive around noon, which is when the flight from Continental was due to arrive.  I did know where Continental had set up their lost baggage department because my usual baggage guy showed me yesterday.

A brief digression to explain my baggage guy.  I don't need help with my luggage.  Ever.  And I'm fortunate enough to be able to say so clearly in Kreyol, generally adding, "Even if you take my bags, I'm still not going to pay you anything", which is the only surefire way I've found to make everyone leave me alone when I travel alone.  But my baggage guy is deaf!  My first few trips where he met me, I brought great amusement to all of his colleagues as I told him very loudly and in no uncertain terms that I did not want any help.  Actually, I suspect he's in on the joke.  At this point I've given up, and he gets to carry my suitcases for me every time.  His genuine pleasure in soundlessly welcoming me to Haiti each trip is worth the five bucks I give him. But in any case, on this trip he really earned those five dollars and more.  I would never, ever have found the unlabeled closet Continental is using for a baggage office, tucked away behind another building. 

Unfortunately on this trip, Continental's one flight per day from Newark to PaP was delayed by three hours.  Nobody at the airport, including Continental employees, could tell us what was going on, and if the plane was even in the air.  I say us because I was not alone.  There must have been 20 people, all waiting to retrieve luggage lost on the flight from the day before.  At one point I was told that the plane had set down in Santo Domingo because of Tropical Storm Emily.  I finally had to call the States and have someone in my family find out that the plane had in fact left the US, and was in fact due to arrive in PaP in another hour.  By this time, Franck and I had been waiting for three hours.  Franck was remarkably cheerful about it all, considering everyone else had the day off because of the possibility of the storm, and here he was stuck with me in the airport parking lot all day long.

Finally the plane arrived, about four hours late, and the other luggage-less people and I stampeded backwards into the Immigrations/Customs/baggage area.  My things arrived with the general luggage, and I was able to walk out with them.  I declare, never has a carry on suitcase and a battered duffle bag looked so lovely, so desirable, as did mine this afternoon!

I can't quite describe the day as a complete waste, although I accomplished nothing on my very long list of tasks.  I had some very interesting conversations with my fellow baggage-less travellers.  One lady from Canada was very pleased to note all the tourists coming in to Haiti.  That was her apt description of what I suppose can best be described as the new 'aid tourism' industry that is popping up.  The planes are filled at least 50% with Americans, Canadians, and even a few Europeans who are coming to Haiti with private organizations and small aid groups to help.  I can't speak for how effective their projects might be.  I imagine there is a huge range.  But all of them are spending money here.  If nothing else, they are stimulating the economy.  Perhaps  when enough of them go home and report that Haiti is beautiful, her people are hardworking and delightful, and the security risks are so much lower than they ever were before, regular tourism will return.

I had a much less positive conversation with a lady who took one look at the BRESMA polo shirt I was wearing, heard what we did, and practically spat in disgust.  She even switched to perfect English to make herself very clear.  Her opinion of orphanages was not favorable.  I think I surprised her when I agreed with her completely, stating very firmly that Haitian children first and foremost belong in Haitian families.  She was very angry that orphanages use children for the sex trade.  I suspect this is not as widespread as she thinks it is - I believe the most common issue is simple malnutrition, lack of care, lack or caretakers, and warehousing of children.  All of these are quite awful enough without adding exploitation.

Finally, I had a conversation with an American man who works for a group that generally just builds churches, but is also creating an orphanage that is intended to hold up to 100 little girls, ages three to five, all 'true' orphans.  They intend to place them all for adoption.  I imagine eventually they'll see that we don't choose the easiest children to place for adoption.  We don't get to pick the ones that most American families would best like to adopt.  We are forced to accept those for whom we can find no other possible solution.  Tomorrow I'm off to resort to that solution for several children with no other options.

I do know this is a bit shallow, but I am ecstatic that I will be doing so in clean fresh clothing.

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