This has been a very hard week not just for Leslie and I, but for all of the Clean Water for Haiti workers. I’ve barely slept for the past two nights, and the same is true for Leslie and Jean-Renaud as well.
On Monday, Jean-Renaud explained to me that a number of filter lids had gone missing, all of which had been on the top shelf in the workshop. It seemed as if 60 or so lids were gone that had been there on friday. I quickly realized that the lids were being stolen by someone reaching between the top of the depot wall and the depot roof. There is a 6 inch space there. It had never occurred to me that the space would be an issue, because I couldn’t imagine any reason why someone would steal filter lids. In our zone, only Clean Water for Haiti makes lids, and their only useful purpose is to cover filters. The space at the top of the wall has now been filled.
I should explain that we don’t build our own lids – we buy them from Boss Carlo who does and excellent job and gives a very good price. We pay the equivalent of $3 USD per lid, but we’ve never bothered with inventory control because they are an un-sellable item. At first I suspected the lids were being stolen and then resold to Clean Water for Haiti again. This turned out not to be the case. I reviewed our receipts of lid purchases from the past two months, and subtracted the number of filter deliveries we had made. It turned out we should have had at least 687 lids in stock, and we had only 41! Just a little bit of math showed me that we had lost over $2000 USD worth of lids. To say I was vexed would be an understatement.
I called a meeting with the local Justice of the Peace, Jean Renaud and Boss Carlo to try to determine what had been happening and what course of action to take. Boss Carlo and his workers had nothing to do with it, and Carlo was visibly distraught at what was going on. I offered up the proposition that I offer a reward for information leading to the identity and capture of the thief. They thought it was a great idea, so we put the plan into action immediately with a $250USD reward.
Just one day later results were achieved, but I intend to carefully protect the identity of my informant. Our night guard, Jean Philippe, played a vital role in carrying out the plan we came up with and I have come to appreciate him more than ever. Late tuesday evening we made a friendly visit into the neighborhood behind us, explaining that we had a thief and needed to fine out his identity. We asked each householder if we could take a quick look inside to look for contraband. We reached the last house in the area, but nobody was at home. After milling around outside for 20 minutes or so, trying to find the owner, I just opened the door and went in. Sure enough, there were about 15 lids in a corner of the room in rice sacks.
Furor erupted immediately. 30 to 40 people came out shouting and coming up with many theories about why the lids were there. We all agreed that we had to talk to the owner of the house. He was eventually found and the people brought him to me. I asked him why the lids were in his house, and pointed out that not answering wasn’t an option – if he didn’t answer to my satisfaction he would be questioned by the police instead. He said he didn’t know what the lids were for – someone had asked him to keep them in his house. I asked who, and he said it was Michel, one of my workers.
I was very upset, but thankfully about half a dozen volunteers immediately came forward and offered to help arrest Michel. They all said that rather than waiting until the morning to get the police, we needed to arrest him tonight before he got word of what we’d discovered. We went up to his house, which was close by. I hung back, but after surrounding Michel, someone said “There he is, go talk to him.” It was a difficult moment for me, but there was only one thing to do. I was so upset I could barely talk, but came up behind michel, put my hand on his shoulder and said “You’re under arrest, and you can come with us peacefully or we can beat you first and you can come with us anyway.” Michel said something, I don’t remember what, and I hit him. He started to run away but the other people around told him not to and he came with the Posse back to highway, where he was asked many questions by the 40 or so people milling around. I got the van and we loaded Michel in with a number of people to escort him.
Once we got to the police station, I woke up the policeman there and told him we caught a thief. We brought Michel in, and the policeman told him to sit on the bench. He asked him many questions. The evidence was overwhelming, but I suppose he had a moral obligation to establish that we weren’t making up charges. He quickly came to realize he was guilty, and he became annoyed at Michel’s obvious lies and evasions of his questions – he smashed Michel’s head into the concrete wall behind him. Immediately after that, he got out his log book to log Michel into jail.
Here is where the story gets ridiculous. The policeman sat at the desk, not wearing his gun. I was standing in a corner of the room, praying to God to give me the strength not to hit Michel again. Jean-Philippe was next to the officer, answering questions. For some reason (I’m somewhat suspicious) the posse had moved away from the door and were chatting together. Michel stood up and took off out the door like a rocket. There was no electricity, no light, only an oil lamp inside the station. The policeman took off after him, but within 5 seconds it was too late. Michel vanished into the night. The policeman blamed the posse, the posse blamed the policeman for not locking him up straight away, and I blamed everybody, including myself for not standing in the doorway. The policeman searched for a while, gun in hand, but it was a waste of time.
After we gave up, I had a good conversation in private with the policeman. He was angry, and suspected that the posse deliberately gave him the chance to escape. I told the officer that I was still really confused about why anyone would steal lids – seemingly an item of no value to a theif. This week is election week – a busy time for policemen – but he said to get a warrant made out on Monday so the police could arrest him themselves next time. Of course, Michel is nowhere to be found, but we think he’ll be back. He owns his own house, and he is quite reliant on his family.
I’m fairly certain Michel will get arrested again eventually. The policeman was angry. The local community is angry to have found a thief in their midst. Jean-Philippe is motivated and committed to doing his job well.
After returning home, I couldn’t sleep and neither could Leslie. We talked, and at the same moment we both came up with the only working theory of what Michel may have been doing with all those lids.
After last year’s hurricanes, two of our mango trees died from having their roots immersed in water too long. I gave Michel the wood so he could make charcoal out of it to sell and make a bit of money on the side. Leslie and I realized that he was doing the same thing with the filter lids. I’m absolutely amazed that someone would not only waste so much mission resources for such little financial gain. I’m more amazed still that someone would risk so much to themselves personally. Michel’s life is destroyed now.
I had a meeting with the workers on Wednesday morning to bring everyone up to speed on what happened. They are all upset about what happened, and one expressed that they would rather see Michel dead than in jail. I said that Christians don’t kill people, but we needed to bring him to the police so he could spend some time in jail. I’m still too tired to clearly perceive the mood in the workyard, but I think the mood has lifted since we discovered the thief.
Last night I thought I would sleep well. However, the neighbor behind us was feeling antsy and unloaded his gun into the air several times during the night. I thought I knew what it was, but I couldn’t help but think that Michel might have come back to Pierre Payen with a gun so I didn’t hardly sleep last night either. It’s funny what kind of things go through your head at night sometimes.
Tonight the neighbors in the small community behind us asked me to come by and when I did, they all thanked me for the way I handled the situation Tuesday night. They said that another person would have just left and come back with a van full of police to question everybody. In my experience to date, it’s been pretty rare for the locals to thank me for anything, so it felt pretty good. I’m sure I’ll sleep better tonight.