It all seemed so funny at first, even though it shouldn’t have. Erik and I were standing in the yard outside the police station in Kafou chatting and watching the goats graze. It had been a long day already, and watching the police goats grazing in the hot Kafou sun was just the relief we needed. We were talking about a Sixty-Minutes report we had heard about. It was about the money USAID had spent to help Haiti improve its justice system. Erik’s mother had taped the report, and he said he would bring it back to Haiti with him.
Apparently, the report was quite scandalous, as Sixty-Minutes stuff often tries to be. The Haitian who told me about it had said that USAID had spent $5 billion here with nothing to show for it. Erik and I were trying to figure out if the number could have been right. It seemed unimaginably high.
Four or five men were talking behind us to the left as we leaned on the back of Belose’s car. Only one was wearing a police uniform. They were laughing, clowning around, looking for all the world like a high school clique or a small cluster of college frat boys.
The scene shouldn’t have seemed funny to us. The reason we were at the station was that we had been in an accident, and Belose’s car had been damaged. The damage didn’t seem that serious, but it will most likely cause her terrible inconvenience and no small expense if she chooses to have it fixed.
But it had, as I said, been a long, long day. We really felt we needed to laugh. Erik and I joked about finding the men’s room as we each took a turn walking to the wall surrounding the police station compound to water the weeds growing there.
We were on our way back from Lazil, where our colleague Belose is from. She’s the bookkeeper for Limyh Lavi. Her father is a successful farmer, but also an important peasant activist and organizer in their region. He works nationally as a trainer for teachers of adult literacy and an evaluator of literacy programs. He had asked us to come to Lazil to introduce our work to local school principals and teachers.
Lazil is a two or three hour hike from the main road that leads from Leyogan to Jakmel. We had held the seminar there the previous day for almost thirty people. We planned on leaving Lazil at 5:00 am to get back to Pòtoprens early, but we had been delayed. Belose’s mother was returning with us, at least as far as Leyogan, and she had been thrown off the mule she would ride for that initial hike to the main road, where Belose had left her car. Fortunately, she wasn’t injured, but it must have really hurt. She fell with her full weight on the wooden chair she had used to mount the mule. The mule bumped into the chair, was startled, and started jumping and turning until it threw her off. We took some time waiting to see if she was alright. Eventually, she got on a different mule, and we went off.
Belose’s mother had some errands to do in Leyogan before we could drop her off there, and this took some time, but finally we left her at her sister-in-law’s house and headed home. By the time we got to Kafou, the suburb that is the southern gateway to Pòtoprens, it was almost noon. Predictably enough, we hit traffic, thick stop-and-go traffic. We sat in the dusty midday heat, and resigned ourselves to what looked like it would be a long, slow ride.
We were sitting in that traffic when an oncoming truck approached very, very close to our left side. Suddenly it whacked us, scraping along the back fourth of the car and taking the left rear light with it. As we later learned, it had been hit on its right side by another, smaller truck. This other truck sped away to avoid dealing with responsibility for the accident, but Belose and the driver of the truck that hit us stopped to discuss what to
do. Eventually, both drivers drove to the local police station to file a report. Erik and I stood outside the station, as did the truck driver’s assistant. Erik and I talked, while the driver’s assistant leaned on his boss’s truck and waited. He was behind us, between us and the group of four or five young men.
He seemed like a nice, a friendly man. He had patiently explained the accident to me while Belose and his boss were first speaking. He was short and slender, dressed in a ragged t-shirt and dusty long pants. Driver’s Assistant can hardly be a very good job, but it is a job nonetheless. He smiled as he spoke to me, and I could have continued to talk with him, but I had been up since four, and it seemed so much easier to talk in English with Erik.
As Erik and I chatted, we saw one of the young men walk over to the assistant, yelling at him. He took a very large, chrome-colored pistol out from under his shirt and began jabbing the assistant in the gut with it. The assistant backed away towards the truck’s cab, opened the door, and started to get in, but as he tried to close the door the other man held it open and grabbed him. He dragged him back out of the truck, and began slapping him on the back of the head. He shoved him with both hands from the truck to the road outside of the police station’s front gate, slapping his head with his left hand and holding his pistol with his right. Then he turned back and joined his little group. They clearly found the whole thing pretty funny.
A few minutes later, Eddy left the station to talk with Erik and me. He had been inside helping Belose file the accident report. I told him what Erik and I had seen. When he looked out the station yard gate, he saw the driver’s assistant standing there waiting. He had been beaten and threatened with a gun, but he wasn’t going to leave. For one thing, he was angry. For another, he had a job with the driver. Jobs are hard to find here. Eddy went out to talk with him.
When Eddy heard his story, he rushed into the station to get Belose. He figured it would be best for everyone if we left the station as quickly as we could. But while he was getting her, another one of the young men walked out of the station yard. Soon, he and the driver’s assistant were arguing. He grabbed the assistant, and started dragging him back into the police yard. He had a gun, and he held it with one hand while he slapped and grabbed with the other. The assistant did nothing. He vainly tried to shield himself from the blows. The other men soon walked over to join their colleague. A second
slapped at the driver’s assistant, while a third tried to trip him. They all were shoving the assistant through the yard, towards the station house. Apparently, he was under arrest, though it’s very hard to imagine what for.
By now Eddy, Belose, and the driver himself were rushing out of the station house. The driver began pleading respectfully with the men to leave his assistant. Belose, on the other hand, asked them what they were doing, and asked them sharply. One of them shoved the driver’s assistant into her, and began asking her what business she thought it was of hers. She told him that, even though he had a gun, he was only a man, and that he should remember that. Soon she and the man were exchanging angry words. He was
standing, his face within an inch of hers, threatening her, and she wasn’t backing down. Eddy was yelling to her that we should leave, trying to get her to the car. The cop was screaming that he could arrest her if he wanted to or could shoot her, too. She was yelling back that he was right, that he could, that he was the one with the gun. The driver continued to plead respectfully, now apparently for Belose.
Eddy got her into the driver’s seat, and we all got in. She backed up, and we drove away. We drove straight to the office of the Inspector General of the National Police to file a complaint. There we spent the rest of the afternoon. It’s easy to imagine the men back at the station exchanging high-fives and laughing after we left. It’s hard to imagine, hard even to want to imagine, how the driver and his assistant spent the rest of their day.