Saturday, January 16, 2010

MY HAITIAN ADVENTURE

In another life back in the late 60’s, I created costume jewelry and hand crochet snoods.  In addition, I sold DO IT YOURSELF JEWELRY KITS.  Acquiring all the department store accounts in New York State, and some boutiques, my business was growing. Two manufacture representatives represented my line. I had to use different names and labels, selling the same product to two different companies. One represented Jobbers while the other, retail stores. Eventually my line was sold all over the country, including Canada.


When the orders increased to tremendous volume, my husband and I had to fly to Haiti where labor was cheap. In our line of business we had to ship six colors of each style to the retail trade in one delivery

At home, we had a sleep in maid taking care of our 2 and 4 year old boys while we were training Haitians in one of Haiti’s plants.

Arriving into Haiti’s airport we were greeted by soldiers with mirrored sun glasses, holding machine guns staring at us. We had no knowledge about Haiti and the political revolution that had occurred years ago.

Haiti, a small Caribbean nation of about 8 million people was a slave nation up to 1791 when Toussaint’s Overture helped the black slaves’ revolt and became free. After his death, the political turmoil started again and life for the Haitians became unbearable.

Francois Duvalier, a country doctor turned out to be the worst tyrant in history. A sadistic killer and the most frightening man ever was known as Papa Doc. With his thugs, the Ton Ton Macoutes, known as the Boogyman, in Haitian Creole, was feared by the Haitians as they were the security force of his private army. Papa Doc was known as the High Priest.

Not knowing that Haiti was a bizarre dangerous place to live, we bypassed customs quickly as our contractor was politically acceptable to the Ton Ton’s. We thought Haiti was just a poor country, but we never dreamed it was a violent one.

Looking out the window of our escorted Mercedes Benz, I could not believe how primitive the people were. There were women carrying baskets of food on their heads, like the movies we watched. People were running after the Mercedes, begging. I asked the driver what the crime rate was, as I was very frightened and did not know what to expect. He assured me that there was little crime on the island, but don't mess with a Haitian or he will perform Voodoo on you. Thinking it was a joke, I learned later that Voodoo was common practice.

After arriving at the El Rancho in Port Au Prince, a modest motel to my standards, but deluxe in Haiti.  There were only two motels in Haiti. We met some white people whom we thought were guests. After introducing each other, I learned they liked to hang around the motel looking to meet the new guests.  They lived in Haiti all year round, as they had their manufacturing business there.They lived like kings in a big haciendas with maids, servants, drivers, cooks and everything else you could possibly imagine. Their wives were miserable, wishing they had a bagel and some nova lox. They occasionally flew to Miami to break up the monotony visiting family and friends, and of course shopping.

It was about seven in the evening when I tried calling home to see if our boys were okay. To our frustration, we could not get service. Haiti shut down their phone system every day for a couple of hours. I hated the fact that we were helpless not knowing what was going on at home. In those days, cell phones were not available.

The following day, we were driven to the plant where I had to show the workers how to crochet the snoods to my styles. The plant was brightly lit with huge windows bringing in the light. One by one the workers piled in until they shut the doors. Hundreds more were peering into the windows begging for work. In no time flat you could not see day light because of all the Haitians covering the windows hoping to be picked for the second shift. It was pitiful. Then the air condition went off at noon, as electricity was being rationed.

The next day our contractor took us to the Iron Market which was similar to a flee market for the cruise ships. As he was driving on the road with no traffic lights, anyone in the way would get run over. It was that simple. The only thing that was respected was a funeral procession..

People were running after our car begging. When we got out of the car, it was a hassle passing all the beggars. When we finally got into the Iron Market, there were all kinds of gifts and novelties to buy. It was their only tourist store in Haiti. One Haitian tried to sell my husband a pair of shoes. He said he did not want it. But they picked him up anyway and made him try on the shoe as one person put the shoe on him. “Get me out of here," he yelled  As he disappeared for a moment, I yelled out to him, “Lenny, Lenny, and the whole place yelled out his name, following him, anxiously awaiting him to buy something. After making a few purchases, our contractor ushered us out of the building into the car. All the Haitians ran after us. Once we got into the car, the beggars covered the windows, where we could not see day light. One old man took off his glasses to show us he had no eyes. I thought we were going to faint. There were many people lamed with no feet, arms, and other deformities, too gory to describe.

When we arrived back at our motel, we started to pack for home. Needing something at the drug store, the hotel sent a man to do the errand. When he returned to our motel room, we gave him a $2.00 tip. The man stayed outside our room and would not leave.

We called the manager complaining that the man was not leaving. We were told that the errand boy was afraid of being reprimanded for taking advantage of us because he took too much money. He was terrified and did not know what to do.

That evening we were invited to a night club by our contractor and his executives. We were introduced to a journalist, like the Walter Winchell.of Haiti.  He was a dapper dressed gentleman with spats covering his shoes, carrying a swagger stick under his arm. My husband noticed a wire coming out of it when he was secretly recording what we were saying to our contractor. When we told our contractor about the secret wire, he got very concerned and shook nervously as his brother was a political prisoner.

We were extremely ecstatic about leaving Haiti and going home. While we were waiting for the plane to let us board, we attempted to speak politics to our contractor. He was literally shaken and urged us not to speak about politics to him as he feared for his life. He said there were microphones all around us. As I looked around, I could not tell. But later, when we came home, and after kissing the ground of our country, we saw the movie “The Comedians the book was written by Graham Green. Everything in the movie was true.

Although our buyers were extremely patient with us extending their delivery dates, it did not take long to find out that our materials were missing. Our merchandise was stolen and not being delivered on time.  When a carton was delivered, it came in with one color.  The following month another color. We needed assorted colors of six, which was what was contracted. Eventually our orders got canceled.

One thing I learned from this experience; it is impossible to contract work to Haiti unless you are physically working there every day.  That is why the American people we met living and working in Haiti had businesses that needed to be watched. The people steal whatever they can to survive.   The whole country in Haiti was corrupt.

It is such a shame about all the corruption, as Haiti is beautiful.  That place if turned around could be a money pit. The developers and venture people would have a field day, making it a paradise place to live, work and vacation.

Haiti has two classes of people. the poverty stricken and the educated upper crust.  Those who were professionals and business people thrived, but still live in fear.  Every day the Ton Ton's arrest someone for political reasons, and there is no freedom of speech.

Is it any wonder these poor Haitians flee for their lives in unstable boats to come to our country for a better life?  Very few made it and survived.  Others who made it were sent back to Haiti.

Who made this statement? "For every bad thing something good follows." It took a disaster like this recent earthquake to allow 150,000 children and their families to finally come into our country legally to house, feed and educate them.  My heart goes out to all these poor people.  We should welcome them with open arms for the way they lived.  However, I do have one question; if we are running in such a steep deficit, how, and where will we get the money to take care of them?

Do you have the answer?  Please comment below as this is a very important issue and our readers would like your opinion

If you wish to leave a comment or read other comments, click on the comment tab at the bottom of this blog.

Some people are complaining they cannot make a comment because of a glitch with either their browser or our site.  In that case, please email me your comment and I will publish it.  Just mention if you want it to be anonymous an/or if you wish me to publish it.  We are trying to fix my comment tab.  Thanks everyone for your interest in my blog.

Please email to: iris@pushthewheel.com

17 comments:

Stacy said...

Great story mom. I can't imagine how horrific it is over
there. I feel the pain for the people of Haiti and
their families here. Why do these acts of nature seems
to happen in the poorest areas?

Stacy said...

To answer your question about how do we pay
for helping out over there ? From what I am seeing
and hearing thousands of people are donating
their time and money to help out. I know I have donated,
how can you not?

Iris Shapiro said...

It is wonderful that people are donating to Haiti. The problem is, will they get the money. There is so much corruption there. In past history, The poor Hatians have received very limited supplies and money compared to the mass of donations from all over the world.

I hear clothes that were donated are being sold to other countries in the black market. And the Haitian government is pocketing the money and the Haitians never see a penny.

Leonard said...

A word to the wise. If you intend to donate money or anything else to Haiti you should know who you are doing this with. The corruption is so wide spread that most of what you donate will wind up in the hands of the gangsters who control Haiti or on the black market. There is no law and order and they are very corrupt. Be careful.
Today Fox News did a segment on disposing the dead bodies of the dead. It is so overwhelming that these poor people can't get the burials they deserve. I was shocked when I saw these dead bodies put in plastic garbage bags taken in dump trucks and dumped and covered up with front end loaders in the local garbage dump. And this is the type of leadership that will be receiving the $100 million from the American taxpayers?


Publish this comment.

--
Iris Shapiro

Leonard said...

A word to the wise. If you intend to donate money or anything else to Haiti you should know who you are doing this with. The corruption is so wide spread that most of what you donate will wind up in the hands of the gangsters who control Haiti or on the black market. There is no law and order and they are very corrupt. Be careful.
Today Fox News did a segment on disposing the dead bodies. It is so overwhelming that these poor people can't get the burials they deserve. I was shocked when I saw these dead bodies put in plastic garbage bags taken in dump trucks and dumped and covered up with front end loaders in the local garbage dump. And this is the type of leadership that will be receiving the $100 million from the American taxpayers?


Publish this comment.

--
Iris Shapiro

Leonard said...

Another part of Iris's story that was omitted and shows the outrageous corruption that is Haiti.
We were relaxing at the El Rancho hotel when we met two individuals. One a used car dealer from the Bronx New York and the other was a businessman from Canada that owned and operated a copper mine. They told us that they had imported used trucks and hired day labor at $1.00 a day to up root the Hatian National railroad tracks that ran to other parts of the country and were in the process of selling the steel to the country of Spain. I later found out the government official that sanctioned this operation was arrested. The other two involved escaped the rath of Popper Doc.

Anonymous said...

I READ IT, & NEVER KNEW U WENT TO HAITI. VERY INTERESTING . THIS CERTAINLY
WAS QUITE AN EXPERIENCE, DID U TAKE ANY PICTURES?
YOU WRITE VERY WELL.
I AM IMPRESSED.
ARE U ADOPTING A HAITIAN CHILD?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"Have we forgotten about the people in New Orleans who are still in terrible shape since hurricane Katrina?"

I do feel for the people of Haiti. We should try and help them but with the corruption that you say is going on will it all be for naught? I hope our volunteers do not get hurt. A huge earthquake is predicted for Puerto Rico. No one is sure when..then what?

All the millions of dollars going into the pockets of scoundrels while the seniors in our country are ignored, once again. I remember reading stories about seniors eating cat food to survive. Have you seen the price of cat food lately??? What will happen to these people now????"

T

Anonymous said...

When we first met in the late 70's, you told me about your former jewelry business but you did not mention your harrowing experience in Haiti. That was some story. It was like a move script. I am glad that it all turned out okay and that you are here to tell about it today!!!!!
T

Anonymous said...

Interesting story. So where can we donate to Haiti that we know they will get it? I would really like to help. Please advise.
Beth

Anonymous said...

Interesting story. Where can we donate money to Haiti that will not fall into corrupt hands. Please advise

Anonymous said...

where can we donate money that we know they will get it
steve

Anonymous said...

hello

Chuck said...

Here's a comment, Iris. How are you doing, after the earthquake, BTW?

Stacy said...

Donate where you feel most comfortable. I know most Churches and Synagogues are taking donations.

Anonymous said...

No, we did take pictures but they are lost somewhere and I don't care to remmember the little kids laying in the streets with red hair and bloted stomachs? do you want to see the wall they used for public executions?The poverty is overwhelming this is why you would find it hard pressed to see cruise ships going there.
As far as comparing Haiti to new orleans there is no comparison. In New Orleans the local government spent all the billions of dollars given to shore up the levies and built stadiums and other pork items. Why did'nt the local government use the 3000 buses to get people out of the way of the water? Why did'nt the governor ask the federal government to declare a disaster area so the feds could come in sooner. The Federal government cannot come in unless the governor ask them to come in. The governor said she wanted to wait one more day and she did. Plus most of the people went to other parts of the country and was given shelter and food. Most stayed there because the welfare was better elsewhere than New Orleans.