I'M STARTING this cowering in my hotel on Port au Prince - or at least I feel I should be! It's now night three in Haiti's capital - and I've just read the Foreign Office's travel advice for people thinking of visiting Haiti. The heavily armed UN peacekeepers on the streets as I wandered around museums and markets should probably have been enough to alert me that things are not always as peaceful as they could be here, but I've not really been giving that much thought - until now!!!
I checked as today I visited our www.homelessworldcup.org (another shameless plug, probably my last) partner organisation today. It has six bases in Haiti, I visited two, both in the "red zone" - the slums and tent cities around the capital. These are apparently the no go areas for the UN, and foreigners in general. Seems I've been up to all sorts frowned upon by HM Government - wandering on my own through kidnapping hotspots and failing to register my presence on holiday in Haiti with them. I cannot help but be suspicious of Governments who want you to register with them... But in this case it might be a rare occasion of it being for my own good!
It's OK though, before you get to worried about me the Prestige Beer won best beer in the world in 2000 and Baranscourt Rum is fantastic, so I'm managing to steady my nerves. Haiti really does do its booze well. Prestige has recently been bought by Heineken though, so we'll see how it fares now.
The projects I visited today are massively ambitious, and work with literally thousands of people a day. Their clients have massively different issues to our homeless folks in Scotland, but sport/football is still the hook to get folks working on progressing their lives. Typical comment today was "football got me switching my mind from guns and drugs to positive things"
The Presidents cousin bought me a drink tonight. He owns the hotel I'm staying in - 2 different presidents used to live here. The 2nd only lasted a month before getting murdered, chopped into bits and displayed at various points through the city. That's not a Bible story folks, it's recent enough history.
Talking of the Good Book, The buses round here (tac tacs) mainly have Christian themes going on. Mottos like "Only Jesus", "Thank You Father" and "Merci Deus" being prominently painted on them. There are the odd independent thinkers that have stuff dedicated to their mothers, Lionel Messi or John Rambo (a personal favourite) but generally it's Christian (not that Rambo's not saved. I think he probably is). Some go further, whilst being a little fishy, reminding us that "Cod is Love" or "Only Cod" - I'm sure our friends at the EU must have a quota on Cod's love, no?
A couple questions arriving as a result of these thoughts of God are does being poor/oppressed increase your love of/dependency on God and my old one of how do I best marry up the philosophy's of my two favourites - Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ? Is it possible? I hope so.
Jumped down to the tourist hotspot of Jacmel to see the sights, but rain pretty much stopped play, and I remained the only tourist - never mind in my hotels - I think in the whole of Haiti! It's all soldiers, aid workers, missionaries and journos here. The "tourist industry", such as it is, bemoans our Governments for telling us not to come, and us for listening to our Governments.
I think there is probably a lot more to it than that though - it's not easy holidaying here. Things are expensive comparatively, it's not so easy or comfortable to get around, not to mention safe concerns. It's a malaria country, struggling with cholera (when I worked in Mozambique Coke had a catchy advertising slogan - "Avoid Cholera, Drink Coca Cola"). There's also only so much poverty folks can take. Slums, tented cities, mass graves from the earthquake, giant dumps with folks scavenging through the rubbish challenges our cosy existence.
Speaking of which, The Dominican Republic is but a short flight, or an eight hour bus ride away. I'll decide my route in the morning and get the heck out of here!