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Business NOT as Usual

Today's mission was to travel with our interpreter Michael St-Vilien to Port-Au-Prince to check on fencing possibilities for the Preventive Health Strategies property.

Our previous travels have been in an enclosed vehicle, an older SUV with marginal AC and worn-out seats. Today we traveled by "tap-tap." This is basically two benches that line each side of a compact pickup with a canopy overhead. Most of these units have been re-powered with small, smokey, diesel engines. Our driver said he gets around 30mpg. We chartered the tap-tap so it was just me and Michael in the back all day. It cost Chad $70.00 to charter this unit. The SUV cost $100.00.
I have frequently witnessed these little units with over 20 passengers! We saw a motorcycle yesterday that had a family of 5 on it! They were returning from church services, all dressed up with a SLEEPING baby cradled in it's mother's arms.
There was an element to the Haiti experience that had been muted to this point, the smells! From the second I climbed into the tap-tap, the new element was present. Diesel fumes circled back into the box of the little truck like water into a river eddy.
Diesel fumes I would soon learn were benign compared to the streets of Port-Au-Prince on a warm day. Rotting fruit, feces, urine, garbage, combined with thousands of vehicles and millions of humans. I can't help but wonder what it is like here during a hard rain? Our driver cancelled an earlier trip to Port-Au-Prince due to rain there.
We stopped at the Preventive Health Strategies land to do some additional measuring etc on the fence. While leaving, some parents and children from the neighboring mission school were allowed to ride with us for a short distance. I gave each of the little boys a toy car. I had purchased several of these before leaving Sioux Falls.
Well into town we stopped and Michael went into a Western Union facility to check on a wire transfer. He asked me before he left, "Are you going to be okay here?" I said to him, "I don't know, am I?" As I sat in the back of the tap tap with the driver I thought to myself how people back home say they like to "people watch." This was people watching heaven! Thousands of them. Darting, running, walking, talking, yelling, dodging traffic, and the constant honking of horns and crazy traffic as a background. And don't forget the smells!
A few times people would attempt to get into the "tap-tap" but I had learned that the simple, seemingly universal stop signal, the raised vertical palm, was effective in keeping them out. Michael returned and we continued to the fence contractor business. According to Michael, the only fence contractor in Port-Au-Prince, something I find hard to believe. We arrived at a non-descript looking location and hopped out.
We entered a courtyard crowded with trucks and were directed to a large man sitting on a stool that had a ripped and tattered covering. Garbage was about and two men stood guard at the large steel gate. Pretty typical environment I have come to learn. Michael began explaining our needs and would inform me of the dialog in spurts when he felt it was necessary. There was no real negotiating involved here, move fact finding.
I showed the man a photo I had taken of a fence we hoped to duplicate. A picture, yes! I was communicating a concept. Value! He and Michael continued while Michael made notes. They arrived at a consensus on what we wanted and what they could provide then I suggested he write it out on something formal so went inside. I was hoping for a computer printout and some literature - not happening. A small hand-written quotation was produced with the figures in Haitian gourds. We had what we came for.
In the United States, this and multiple other competitive quotes could have been obtained without leaving the comfort of your home or office. This business has no website or anything much resembling a business AT ALL.
We had attempted and failed at a fence quote on a previous Port-Au-Prince trip. Michael had gleaned the name of this outfit during that trip. The quote obtained provided little or no savings when compared with our other options. What you must go through here to do the simplest of things boggles the mind.
Posted by Dave Jansa
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