It all started Wednesday with Chris having to go to St. Marc to meet our lawyer so he could attempt to pay our property taxes. This would be the second attempt in the last few weeks. We went through this last year – people being ridiculous and trying to make us pay for taxes that don’t exist. Last year it was the tax of the “Path of the Kind” as it translates. ??? They were trying to tax us for 10 feet out from our beach fence. Um, we don’t actually own the beach, it’s all public access. Our neighbors laughed and said, “Chris, that tax doesn’t even exist! If you pay it once they’ll make you pay it every year.” We didn’t pay it thanks to Eddy the lawyer. This year it was “Income Tax”. What income they’re trying to tax we’re not quite sure because we certainly don’t make anything here in Haiti and I always thought you couldn’t tax something that didn’t exist. I might be wrong about that though.
While Chris was in St. Marc Jean and the rest of our staff jumped into the work day. The task of the day was to start digging holes for new fence posts. We need a new gate on the driveway and thought we would do the fence at the same time. They were digging the holes about one foot out from the existing fence. There’s a public path that divides our property. This is where the old railway used to run. However, 1 1/2 feet of the current path, is our property. So, we were just going to move the path out to the property line.
A couple of men from the neighborhood came wandering along and saw what the guys were working on. Seems they thought we shouldn’t do that. They thought we shouldn’t take our 1 1/2 feet that the mission paid for and actually use it. Heaven forbid people don’t have that extra 1 1/2 feet to walk on. I don’t know how they would skirt by on the other 9 feet that would be remaining. Okay, that was sarcasm. I needed to vent.
These few men went and found some friends and returned to the lane. There was yelling at our workers. Our workers kept trying to just do their job. The men found more friends. The yelling continued. Our workers started yelling. Don’t worry, this is the way things are done here. This is how you “negotiate”, but there was nothing to negotiate. I finally phoned Chris to ask him when he was planning on coming home because the growing mob of yelling men was a bit disconcerting. By the time he got home the group was at about 20. There was more yelling. He and Jean got the trucks and headed to Montrouis to find the police hoping they might be able to point out the fact that the mobsters were being ridiculous and that they should go find something better to do.
Val and I sat and watched the whole thing going on. It was an interesting bit of local entertainment. At one point another vehicle of men showed up with the kazak. From what I understand this is a nominated village representative that doesn’t really have any say in things but makes people feel like they have a say in things if he’s there. So he showed up with his entourage. There were more men gathered. By the time Chris and Jean got back with the delegation there were about 30-35 men in the lane – all still yelling. This time they were yelling their point at each other. Just in case they all forgot why they were there.
I knew there was going to be problems when the police man got out of the truck and started shaking hands with the group. They wandered down the lane to check out the situation. The police officer and the kazak wandered back down the lane embracing each other with a lovely side hug. It was so touching. And completely ridiculous. Ridiculous because the police officer then got back in the truck after doing NOTHING. Turns out that when he arrived and saw the crowd he didn’t want to upset people any more. There was clapping and cheering from the mobsters and they departed content that they had “won”. The icing on the cake was when Chris got everyone back to the police station they charged Chris $300 Haitian for a displacement fee – because the police officer and friends had to leave the police station and actually got do something. Heaven forbid! Not that they actually had to drive themselves out. I mean, that would just push things over the edge. Can you imagine what would happen with 911 here???
And we wonder why Haiti has problems. It couldn’t possibly be related to their justice system at all, could it?? I mean, we have papers to prove that the land is ours. I was just frustrated because the whole thing is such a show. In Canada if there was a group of even one third the size doing what was done on Wednesday you would simply make a phone call, the police would come, lay down the smack and either have people running or arrested for disturbing the peace and harassment.
So, now our hands are tied and we can’t actually do anything on our own property because if we do we’ll probably face more of the same, and it’s just not worth it. Gotta love that.
That, however, is not the end of the story. The whole time this was going on our staff were all trying to go about their work. Some were better at it than others. One in particular felt the need to get involved in a very direct way, except she picked the wrong group to side with. She decided that yelling with the men at the rest of our staff was a good idea, on more than one occasion. We sat her down after everything calmed down and tried to explain what kind of message that sent to us and to the community. Tried to explain that when people see an employee of the mission, yelling at the mission staff, it tells them that we’re open for harassment etc. It makes us a target for the community. We’ve worked really hard to improve that over the last year and a half. When we asked her if she could promise to sit quiet and not be involved she couldn’t do it and we had to fire her. It was hard. She’s worked here for 5 years. There have been other problems and similar situations so it was sort of the straw that broke the camels back, but it was still hard. We realized though that if any of our other employees had done the same thing there would have been less talking and faster firing.
Yesterday this employees son showed up in our yard to contest her revocation pay, which hasn’t been paid yet. I’m not sure how you can contest something that hasn’t actually happened. I guess in Haiti you can. Chris told him how things were going to happen, that she would be offered her pay that’s been calculated according to government regulations (like I said, we have a good lawyer) and that if she wasn’t satisfied with that they could take it to court, and we would gladly show up there, state the case, and pay whatever the judge said we had to pay. There was more yelling etc. There was name calling. I get so tired of the yelling. You can’t actually have a discussion with people when they’re in that state of mind, and most often what they’re saying is nothing because they don’t know what they’re talking about. The men in the lane were kicking up a stink about something that they knew nothing about. This young man was doing the same.
Please pray for us. We’re tired and frustrated and just wanting the whole thing to end. We know the culture well enough to expect this, but our guests coming tomorrow don’t. We don’t want scenes like this going on while they’re here. It would be bad simply because they wouldn’t understand. I remember the first time I witnessed people yelling at each other here. I was ready to run for fear that something bad was going to happen. It’s just the way they communicate, but it can be so overwhelming when you come from a culture where people can talk things through like adults.
Today is a holiday and we’re hoping we’ll be able to chill out a bit more than yesterday and enjoy the day off.