Today some friends from Port au Prince came by to get Eugene’s old motorcycle. Their truck broke down and it’s a bit of a convoluted story but where is gets to is that I was driving Sheila Lynch and her kids to the road by Kalico where they would meet up with Dan (on the motorcycle) and Curt Golden, who would tow them back to town.
Traffic was bad, so I went down the small road at Moulin Sur Mer to meet up with the Montrouis bypass road. The road is single lane, and at the beginning is a blind corner curving left. As I entered the corner, a motorcycle came towards me going the other direction. I can’t judge exactly how fast he was going, but the bike was leaning at about 30 degrees from vertical: too fast to make emergency avoidance menouvers as you come out of a blind corner. I slammed on the brakes and stopped at the same time the rider dumped the bike and rolled out of the way. The bike slid into the van on its side.
I got out of the van, and looked at the riders to see if they were injured. Surprisingly, the rider only had a nasty scrape on his leg and his passenger was fine. The van was fine – the bike pretty messed up. I told the rider he should go see a doctor, but because the van was fine, I was going to go. Predictably, the rider began to make noises that I should pay for his motorcycle. His bike slid into my stopped van, but he wasn’t interested. I told him we could get the police involved if he wanted, but it probably wouldn’t do him any good.
What he really wanted was for me to enter into a long, drawn out discussion which eventually ended in me giving him some money. I realized I would have to get the police involved, so I told him I was going to get the police and I’d be back. He picked up a softball sized rock and told me not to leave, I had to talk to him.
As a matter of personal policy, I don’t have discussions with people who are threatening me, so I left and went to the Montrouis police station. The police came, a discussion happened in which the man put forth his manufactured story about the accident. I didn’t really pay much attention, because I assumed I would be questioned about it myself. The next part is a bit of a blur, but I think I can describe approximately what happened.
We all went back to the police station in the van: me Sheila, 2 kids, 2 cops, biker and passenger. The local chief was there when we returned and got a quick description of things from the other 2 officers. He said (in Creole), “It’s simple – have him take him to the hospital.” The implication was that I should also pay any bills. I said that I hadn’t gotten a chance to explain what happened yet. Sheila eventually found alternative transportation and left, but before she went she explained that the van was stopped when the bike slid into it. After some discussion, one of the police asked both the rider and me what we wanted. The rider wanted me to pay for the bike, and I wanted the rider to spend some time in jail for threatening me with a rock.
The police explained to me that the man was defending himself because I said I was going to leave (to go get the police). They said I shouldn’t have left the scene of the accident. I pointed out that the police in Montrouis have no vehicle, so how would they get to the scene of the accident without a ride? They asked if I had been hurt by the rock, and they said voila, you weren’t threatened. I said you don’t need to be attacked to be threatened, that brandishing a rock is a threat and a form of intimidation.
The local cheif eventually said I had to take the man to the hospital. I said that if he wanted any money out of me he would have to take me to court. The cheif didn’t like that, and said he would write me a ticket. (In Haiti, that means your license is taken away, and you have to go into the central office in Port au Prince to pay the fine, in addition to attending a 3 hour traffic school. I asked the cop what violation I had made and he said they would tell me once I went in to pay. I looked up the codes later – one violation for speeding, and one for stopping in the roadway. I’m pretty sure he picked them randomly.
Monday morning at 10 I have to go to the courthouse where theoretically the stories can be heard before the judge and some sort of action taken, or not taken. In addition, I have to deal with the ticket, which is going to be a major pain. If I manage it right, I might be able to pay the fine, go to traffic school and get a tooth filled all in the same trip to Port au Prince.
I’m trying to be philosophical about this. After all, if Haiti has a functioning police and justice system, it would likely have a functioning economy as well as a functioning government. If they had all those things, they would probably have a large part of their water problem figured out too and they wouldn’t need me. Buy they don’t, and they do need me and the other missionaries who are here.
The obvious question here is why didn’t I just take the guy to the hospital, get a bandage put on the scrape and go be done with it? Well, there are some very good reasons, although at the moment I’m only seeing what a pain it’s going to be to deal with. First and most important, I feel that I can’t ever let it be seen that I’ll respond to physical threats. It’s a small community here, and if it’s seen that I respond to physical intimidation then I would most certainly be exposed to more of it along with my family. I wouldn’t really want to drive a rock-weilding guy to the hospital, or anywhere, either. Also, there’s a question of justice. The rider is the cause of the accident, and the driver of the vehicle his bike slid into isn’t responsible for his injuries, no matter what his skin colour is. I can guarantee that if our roles were reversed, and I dumped my own bike going too fast coming out of a blind corner, that I would be paying for my own first aid. In addition, if I threatened a Haitian driver with a rock, I could very easily wind up in jail. The anti-foreigner and specifically anti-white sentiment in Haiti has roots so deep and so strong…
As an aside, and a little glimpse into an aspect of life in 2009 rural Haiti, while I was in the police station having our bizarre discussion, a group of people came in with a plantain theif tied up with a rope. The local cheif said “Oh, he’s stealing plantains again, eh? Get over here!” He grabbed the man by the rope, which had his arms awkwardly tied up behind his back, kicked his legs out from under him and then tied his rope up to the cell door. The man has obviously been beaten up, and he was having a pretty hard time. One of my impressions was that he was going through withdrawal symptoms of some kind, but I could be way off on that.
Anyway, thanks for letting me vent about my tough day. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to sleep now.