Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In PAP, Attention to Detail is De Rigeur

Yesterday I arrived at Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport.  I was arriving at a Caribbean country not to vacation, not to present and listen to papers at a conference, but to do work as a volunteer for an international NGO, Sun Mountain International.

Despite my noble intentions, the immigration officials were not impressed.  They didn't want to know who Sun Mountain International (SMtn) was, that it was started by an alumnus of California Lutheran University, the university where I teach.  They didn't want to know that SMtn was working with the International Organization for Migration and US Agency for International Development.  They didn't even want to know that I had received a commendation for patience from una abuelita on the overnight flight from LAX to Miami for sitting among her three generation deep family - I got something out of being able to practice my Spanish.

What the immigration officials in Port-au-Prince (PAP) wanted to know was the exact street address in the Christ Roi district where I was going to stay.  My passport confiscated and protests ignored, I was sent packing until I could produce a more detailed address.  After a few seconds, I returned to the immigration supervisor.  Eventually, I wheeled around and suggested that the Hotel Villa Creole was my destination.  Rejected again, I was told to get my taxi driver.  Rolling two duffel bags across a dusty pavement, separated by a chain link fence from a horde of desperate and no doubt hungry kids yelling "Boss" at me, I found Lemoune, who was holding a sign with my first name and the words, "Hotel Villa Creole."  Salvation.  We deposited the bags in his SUV and marched back to the immigration office to secure my passport.  Sweaty and a bit angry, I returned to my appointed task.  Onward, Lemoune.  The devil's in the details.

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