Thursday, August 1, 1991

Stationary from the Le Plaza Holiday Inn, Port au Prince, Haiti, 1991

Stationary from the Le Plaza Holiday Inn, Port au Prince, Haiti, 1991.

3rd January 2012: My first week in Haiti I stayed at the Le Plaza Holiday Inn in Port au Prince.  They tried their best to be "upscale" - it was difficult in a place where the power went out regularly, several times a day, for several hours at a time, where running water routinely didn't run (making for some interesting toilet flushing sometimes), and  food was often scarce and of very poor quality.  On the table set up as a desk in my room they kept a small stock of stationary for the guest of the room to use.  Some of the stationary had obviously previously been used, I could see erased pencil marks on much of it!

Business Card, Haiti, 1991

Business card, Haiti, 1991

3rd January 2012: This is a business card someone gave me while I was in Port au Prince, Haiti.  I can't remember exactly who this person was - I am pretty sure this was my taxi-driver guide's business card, but to be honest, I'm not entirely sure.

Small hand-painted scrap pressed wood, Haiti, 1991

Small piece of scrap pressed wood with river scene painted on it, apx 6 inches square. Name of "Gilbert" lower right corner. Acquired in Port au Prince, Haiti in 1991 from a street vendor for approximately US$3.

3rd January 2012: Funny story about this small painting. My guide in Port au Prince was a taxi driver who I was paying US$10 a day to drive me around and be my guide (I sat in front seat and he continued to pick up passengers as normal all day, while telling me stories upon stories about everything we drove past and gossip about the passengers as they left his cab). He took me to a small neighborhood market that he claimed was "for the real people, not the tourists" to show me how "real Haitians live" (he said that a lot) and left me alone to explore
while he "took care of business" - he was dropping off some marijuana that he'd picked up earlier at the airport.  This market was just a small row of torn-tarp covered scrap-wood and tin stalls with people selling mostly handcrafted goods and used clothing.
There was this one old man with no legs, sitting in a wheelchair that was made out of an old lawn chair with two big bicycle wheels on the side of it, selling small pieces of art work that he was painting with arthritic, shaking hands.  As I've learned over my travels that its better to buy small souvenirs cause they fit in my backpack easier and are less likely to be stolen or questioned by Customs officers (plus they are cheaper) I decided on this one and started to negotiate with the seller.  After some fun and heated going back and forth on price, we settled on three US dollars, not Gourds.  The seller than threw in two hand-carved wooden statues that I'll need to photograph and post here later. 
I was pleased with my purchase and the price I paid, and when I met back up with my guide, I showed it to him.  He proceeded to shout and yell at me "what you do? I tell you no buy anything! Let me buy for you - you pay too much! I could get for you for only one dollar!"  Actually, he'd probably have paid $1-$3 for it and charged me $5 - he was mad that he couldn't skim off any for himself!  

Gourdes, Haitian Money, 1991

Haitian Gourdes from 1991, worth about 15 cents each at the time.

Diary Entries, Haiti, apx. August 1991

Commentary, 3rd January 2012: I spent six weeks in Haiti in 1991, not entirely sure anymore what date I arrived but I think it was around early August 1991, so I am using a post date of 1st August 1991 for this entry.  A large portion of my diary from this trip has been damaged or destroyed beyond repair, but part of it I had previously photocopied for some reason or another, I don't remember why but I am glad I did for this entry was saved.  
For my first few days in Haiti, I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Port au Prince.  The entry below was written while I was at the Holiday Inn - looks to me like I wrote it over the course of my first day or two there.
I've transcribed each page below the scan of it.  
Keetay moi tranquel 
leave me alone

Well, I'm in Haiti! It's interesting so far, to say the least... took a cab / "Publique" from the "aeroport" - ended up paying $15 - I should have stood my ground and paid $10 - actually I should never have asked him how much it was! I had already debated with the guy at the aeroport about the price anyway.  But it was an interesting ride - when I got in the cab, some teenagers came up to it and started knocking on the window, holding up 1 finger as if to say "One Dollar" -
I'm drinking FANTA! I'll probably get the trots from the ice - but this is the Holiday Inn!
The woman at the desk (here at the hotel) gave me quite a runaround - telling me the only rooms available were $69, and then saying she will give it to me at discount

Sidebar note: If you want to go where there are no tourists, postcards, mugs, t-shirts then Haiti's it

rate of $55 - well, I get to the room, and on the door it says 410 gourds - which is about $58 - Anyway, then she wanted me to leave a 500 ges deposit! I ended up leaving $40 in travelers checks and 200 gourds, which is $68.
When I bought the Fanta at the bar, I gave the man (quite friendly) a 10 ges. note for the 8.50 ges drink - and he only gave me a 1 ges note back - there are several people milling about, I think I am becoming the object of speculation -
Anyway, the ride from the airport. Wow.  Well, first off, the roads are in better shape than I expected, but that is not saying much nonetheless. And, there were cows just standing on the road side. Not to mention people! Everywhere! I can tell I am most definitely going to attract attention tomorrow!

 The bartender said "The Part" hotel down the street is a bit cheaper - and I need to try and find Hotel Olafson tomorow. Maybe I'll risk using the phone and calling them.
I think the girl at the desk I may be able to trick her into exchanging my Australian dollar checks, I went by there a bit ago, and she looked at them, very closely, saying "Mastercard, 20 ok try me tomorrow." Perhaps like so many here she can't read well, I will try.
The lights went out while I was taking a bath. Never rinsed my hair in pitch dark before. But they came back.
There were NO lights, that I could see, anywhere in town on the trip in from the airport. You should see the women walking with these buckets full of bread and
 $25 Departure tax.

stuff on the tops of their heads I don't know how they do it! And I saw a quiet young girl doing it.
This is a very nice hotel. I am sitting in a pavillion outside, it's rather Florida looking, but no mauve or lime green thank god.
Lots of English on the TV. I'm not sure I'm ready to walk around tomorrow! I only wish there were more people here, I need to desperately meet someone else. Perhaps at breakfast! I will judiciously(?) seat myself so as to make a good connection. But from what I can see here tonight, it is dead.
I'm so tired. From the plane, as we landed, I could see all these grey concrete buildings, shanty-like, many with no roofs.

Sidebar notes:
They take a length of material and twist it up into a circle, place it on their head then place the object they're carrying on it.  Also saw the occasional guy doing it.
I dislike the constant believe I must have lots of money, I understand it, afterall, I do have more than everyone else practically does!
I need to get a map. I believe I'll be doing a lot of walking.
And I saw lots of "Taptaps" on the way in - they are very small pick-up trucks, with these wood covers on the back, painted in very bright colors, with different names and such painted on the front with Christmas lights across the front.
There are no traffic rules here!
People sit in the back, and the benches they sit on often 

extend onto the back door which is placed in the down position.
There must have been 15 people crammed into some of them. Everyone, so far, is very friendly. Someone just jumped into the pool.
You know, I never realized until now, just how accustomed I have become to travelling with people.  I mean, I usually travel alone, right, but I always meet people upon arrival, hence I have somebody to explore with, or get drunk or sleep or talk with. I probably should have done more networking on the plane, but not very many people got off, and I believe I was just about the only white person, well, no, there was a couple, I should have not been so quick to get a cab.

 My tongue feels kinda funny. I hope it's just this Fanta, or maybe I burned my tongue on the food on the plane -
Well, 9:30 pm now. I'm listening to French on the radio, not that I understand it.
I'm sitting in such a nice clean place, so modern (although the lobby is not). My room has a/c (sort of), color TV, phone, radio, it opens onto the pool & courtyard, and all around me is poverty.  The classic tourists' dilemma.
I wish I could describe the smell of the air - it's kind of sweet, kind of sulpher-like, kind of incensy. I noticed it the moment we got off the plane. It's not entirely unpleasant. Right now it is very nice out, but when I first got off the plane, the heat was oppressive, and very muggy & humid.
 The music on the radio has this reggae-like pop-like beat. Makes you want to jump 2 times on one foot than switch feet. "Let's get together & be all right" "No women no pride" now -
This song was in French, English and Kreyol*!

Big hand truck

(*Creole, apparently I couldn't spell well in 1991 lol!)

Girls & boys in white walking solomnly to church
Little girl following me
School uniforms
Electric plant
Dead fish in water at port/dock
Read meat - smell - flies
"Blanc, Blanc!"
Talking to my guide
It is expected you will (unreadable)
Guide do/negotiate everything
Chickens in baskets

Commentary, 3rd January 2012: A habit I picked up back in my teenage years was to jot down random notes and impressions on one page of my diary, then when I had time to sit down and write later on I would refer to the notes to remind myself what I wanted to talk to myself about.  Of course, quite often I'd never get around to writing down my full diary entries and these "impression notes" would be the only thing I have written down.   This page is one of those I never did fully write down (or if I did its been lost) - but it is funny how reading this today, over 20 years later, and these notes remind me exactly what impressed me at the time.  

Groups of children, especially little girls, followed me everywhere in Port au Prince, giggling constantly; every time I would turn around and look at them they'd screech and scatter in random directions but regroup the moment I looked away from them again.  It became quite the game - they were fascinated with me.  The bravest of the girls would come right up to me and touch my skin, or my hair, to see if I was real.  

When I was in the market, there were piles of ground beef and other unidentifiable red meats sitting on thick wood tables, tables covered with months if not years of dried offal and meat juices layered upon the surface; inches of flies and other bugs covered the meat as it just lay there, unrefrigerated, in the heat - the smell was beyond disgusting.  Using bare hands, the sellers would wave away the flies then grab handfuls and wrap it up in newspaper, magazine, bags, old rags, whatever they had at hand to wrap the meat up for the buyer.

Every time I walked into the market, cries of "Blanc, Blanc" could be heard spreading like a catcall - it was an announcement to the other sellers that a white person had arrived, raise your prices!

Postcard, Haiti, aprox August 1991

I purchased some postcards while I was in Haiti, intending to mail them to my family, but never actually did get them written out or mailed! So now they count as souvenirs!