Security Bubble

We flew on Friday morning from Orlando to Port-au-Prince on JetBlue. It seemed as if some people on the flight were unfamiliar with assigned seating. Maybe they’ve only ever flown on Southwest. The JetBlue attendants are fluent in Afro-Caribbean body language and intonation, and I suppose Creole as well.

Lyle had arranged to expedite our arrival in Port-au-Prince. As the guest of an embassy worker, we were met by a man holding a U.S. Embassy sign, who stands in front of the immigration lines to greet flights. He ushered us into a room and took our passports, and there we waited while the US Embassy staff fulfilled all the formalities of getting our passports stamped and picking up the luggage from the carousel. He took us to our chauffeured Corps Diplomatique vehicle, and off we went to Lyle’s house.

Embassy people aren’t allowed to go in most of the town, or anywhere outside the immediate community on foot. There haven’t been any attacks on diplomatic cars, because such an attack would be investigated by the National Police, and the case would be solved because a $20 bill would turn virtually anyone into an informer. There aren’t political goals. Just robbery. But the State Department doesn’t want any more Benghazi incidents, so the security around the houses of the staff is elevated. Maybe not as much as the Cone of Silence.

The US Embassy wouldn’t like it if I put down the coordinates of Lyle’s house in Port-au-Prince, so the coordinates above identify a great restaurant called Le Liane Courtois, which you must go to if you go to visit him. We ate there twice, on their covered patio overlooking the parking lot and the wall which surrounds every building of value in Port-au-Prince. There is no menu. The waitress comes out and tells you they have fish, goat, and chicken, and you say which one, and she asks, Grilled or in Sauce.

TripAdvisor refuses to publish my review of Lianecourtois. They don’t recognize that it exists. Of course there is no way to talk to any person, to get any data more precise than “Your information doesn’t meet our standards.” I recall having this trouble also before, trying to add Laguanacazul in Rio Gallegos to their database. I guess it’s good that they defend so strenuously against Fake Restaurants, but Bayes is messing with their algorithm.

Also we ate once at Observatoire, a view restaurant south of town in the mountains; and on the first night there, Lyle and I made spaghetti Bolognese in his kitchen.

Our time in Port-au-Prince was quiet. It was the weekend before Lyle was to be married, and it was the weekend, which is his chance to play video games and not think about the lives he must responsibly impact five days a week. It’s hard being a grownup. I don’t know very many.

So, on Saturday we went out for a drive with another of the embassy personnel, to the view restaurant; and Sunday we didn’t do much of anything. This vacation has been pretty busy for us, and not doing anything was really attractive. It was especially nice to listen at length to someone who has done so many more things than I have, in a life not even half as long. We are all tourists in the lives of our friends. I hope they don’t mind.

Monday, Lyle had to go back to work. Our travel agent, Voyages Lumieres, arranged to send a driver around to take us to the bus station. There are flights to Cap Haitien, but I wanted to take a bus. See the country a bit. Port-au-Prince is a desperately poor and dangerous city. The rest of Haiti is only desperately poor.

The driver was scheduled to arrive at Lyle’s gate at 8:15. You’ve heard of island time? this guy arrived a half hour EARLY. We weren’t fully packed, even. We got to the bus station in plenty of time to buy a ticket; I had been worried about this all weekend. It took half an hour to drive a couple of kilometers to the bus station. The driver is plainly used to nervous tourists with GPS and explained what he was doing every time he took a detour down a seemingly impassable alley to avoid an actually impassable street.

The bus station for Transport Chic is a chic little building near the airport with plastic chairs and no trash or bad smells. They run a nice bus, too. On Haitian roads. National Highway 1 runs from the capital to the next largest city, and there isn’t a meter of it that is as good as Highway 84 and large stretches that are worse than the dirt road into our backyard. A few scary dropoffs also, which we didn’t go over. The driver slowed down more than some buses do. Chic.

They are working on some of the road. A road crew consists of a lot of machines of a modern sort, many Haitians sweating, and your occasional Chinese person wearing a sun hat and nicer clothes.

The historians of the future will find it quite astonishing that America abdicated world leadership and didn’t even know it.

There is a myth running around the right wing, that America gives money to foreigners and we should put America First. This belief is about as bizarre as the currently clickable Flat Earth kerfuffle, but has considerably harsher consequences in the direction of Making America Puny Again.

Every empire since prehistory has paid off the satraps of the bordering unconquered tribes, for their quiescent loyalty. Foreign Aid is the modern version of that bribery, and most of the money goes to US campaign donors anyway via their Large Corporations that sell Cement and Rebar. Everywhere we’ve been in the last 15 years, there are Chinese projects: the road to Timbuktu, the stadium in Addis Ababa, government buildings in Tonga. Meanwhile, the Americans are withdrawing in surrender. I am mystified. But it does happen, from time to time. A spate of superstitious isolationism during the Ming Dynasty led to the recall of Zheng He from his voyages of exploration and trade, and left Africa to the Portuguese and other European colonists. Maybe China will implode again, but for the moment, they are preparing to command the world.

Lyle was posted with the Peace Corps in Togo and pointed out that Haiti could pass for West Africa in all respects. Almost all: there aren’t people wearing African fabrics. Haiti is an entire country wearing second hand clothes. Half the GDP is remittances from overseas Haitians.

But like Africa, it is knee deep in trash. Why does being poor mean you don’t pick up garbage? It has been offered as an explanation, that people haven’t really internalized the permanence of it; that plastic isn’t reeds and won’t just go away after a time. They need Lady Bird Johnson.