Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hermit Crab

Disclaimer: If you have a tendency to grow gray hairs, this posting could cause a few more of them to sprout.


So what set me off was a phone call I got the night of November 14. I didn’t sleep too much that night. Was shaken enough that when I finally did fall asleep after three hours of tossing, it was with all the lights on.

The call was from my friend Ross who works for the World Bank, and had just arrived in Port-au-Prince on mission. I’d been looking forward to the company and DC camaraderie. We were planning a time to get together and he asked if I ventured out of my apartment at night. “No, I’m not at that point yet.” Only earlier that evening I’d stood on my balcony and desperately wished my skin were any color but white so that I could blend into a crowd. I could hear music and hooting and laughter in the distance. I badly wanted to join in the fun, but just stood on the balcony and regretted the sides of Haitian culture I might never get to see. Foreigners as well as some Haitians don’t walk outside after dark for fear of getting kidnapped.

“Five kidnappings today, three yesterday. Carrefour neighborhood. Broad daylight,” Ross told me. Shivers down my spine. “I thought the kidnapping had been down since last December?” “Yeah, but it’ll probably spike again around Christmas. Literally, people need the money then.”

The UN cracked down hard on kidnappings since last December and the numbers have significantly dropped. I’d seen a UN security report before I even made the decision to come to Haiti, so I knew kidnappings still happen. I just didn’t want to hear it’s going to get worse again before it gets better. The overwhelming poverty I can stomach, it’s why I’m here. The unstable security is the hardest to digest. Yet the latter is a result of the former.


So over the next few days my nerves about kidnapping have calmed. Those first few nights after Ross’s call I was on edge, and realized how many kooky sounds are around my apartment. When a coconut falls off a tree and hits my roof, it’s thunderous. Sounds like a paratrooper jumped out of a helicopter (or so I assume it would sound.) If you know me or my sister, you know we’ve got some really jumpy genes. Don’t even take me to a scary movie. So all the ka-thuds are taking getting used to. The other weirdest sound is when it gets windy right before rain. I swear it sounds like someone standing outside my front window snapping their fingers, “What the @&%$ is someone doing outside my window, are they snapping some kinda code?!” But then with more wind, it sounds like 10 ppl snapping fingers, and I realized… yet again, it’s a plant. (We don’t have the snappy-leaf species in the States!)

So I’ve figured a few strategies. You have your fire escape plan. I have my kidnap escape plan. I know it sounds extreme, and yes, it’s extremely unlikely I would have to put it to use. But I like to know it’s there—kinda like health insurance. (I do live in a compound with barbed wire, locked entrance, and a guard, skinny as he is.) So my plan: Bedroom door locked at night (in addition to downstairs deadbolt), to slow any potential intruder, while I go out the balcony, over the railing, and shimmy down a drainage pipe on the side of the house, then cut through the neighbors yard. Hide in another neighbor’s dark yard while I call for help on the cell.

Instinct says if ever someone wanted to abduct me, this is my chance to show off the many years of high school track/cross country and nights in the gym: kick, scream, yell, flail, so they’d leave me alone and regret they touched me! In the States, the typical advice is do anything you can to avoid getting in a car with an abductor. Buuut, State Department and most major international orgs here have advised to go calmly and without a fuss. Hmmm. I’ve always been a little dramatic though. In Haiti, the kidnappings are virtually always for a ransom, so you behave, don’t cause trouble, pay up, and go free. Most people are definitely shaken, but not physically wounded. Some leave Haiti for good, but I also know of some who’ve been kidnapped and still stayed.

So, through December, I go into hermit crab mode. Please send jokes, warm fuzzies, and prayers this way, that I don’t end up as a means to earning someone’s Christmas gift money! And take a minute to think on the folks whose poverty and desperation fuel the motivation to kidnap.


1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Scary! Be careful Kate; we love ya!!!