Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tis the season....

Well people, I know it has been a long time, but I think it will be worth the wait.

From my last post in August till just recently things have been rather quiet. I do have to say that I've changed jobs and returned to my favorite endeavor - taking pictures. In case I never mentioned I was working as the TV guy in Haiti for one of the two major news agencies in the world. Now, however, I'm the photographer for the biggest do good organization in the world. If I'm being a little vague it's only to protect the innocent and the grouchy but I'm sure you can figure it out if you think about it for a second or two.
In any case, the happy holiday season is always full of unexpected treats here in Haiti - demonstrations, kidnappings, riots and shoot outs. Oh joyous Ho Ho to all.

So I'll give you a recap of events up till now.
First of all, it's normal to spend heaps of money during Christmas. God knows life just wouldn't be the same without spending every last dime on gaudy ties and useless knick knacks for all the people we love. It's no different in Haiti. Except that most people here don't have a dime to begin with. And so, in good Haitian fashion, the naughty ones decided that the best way to make a little extra cash is to pick up people on the street at gun point and demand large sums of money to buy gifts with. Usually things went as planned, and although the sum usually went from exorbitant to paltry, people were returned home only a little worse for wear. There were occasions though, when things went seriously downhill. It is sad to say that sometimes the only box that the family would be opening would be a coffin to put their dead and mutilated relative in. It is a sad truth that more people die during Christmas than any other time of the year.

While the kidnappers concentrated on adults, Haitians complained and lamented, but continued on as best they could. Recently, however, the bad men (and boys not old enough to shave) decided that they could but a lot more gifts if they used children as leverage. In the past couple of months, children have been taken on their way to and from school. Most have made it home safe but sadly some haven't. I won't go into details but suffice it say that there would not be any open coffins at the funerals.

Now it's one thing to take able bodied men and women, but children is a whole other butter ball turkey. As a result, Haitians took to the streets demanding that the government and the UN did something to stop the insanity. In Haiti, as you may or may not know, when people want something, they don't just walk the streets waving placards and chanting slogans. They walk the streets waving placards and chanting slogans and throw rocks, light tires on fire and block traffic. It all came to a head a few weeks ago when the police had captured two men suspected of an attempted kidnapping. When word got out, people started gathering at the police station demanding that the police release the men so they could burn them in the street. It's a testament to the retrained Haitian police force that they refused the call for vigilante justice. If you recall, a year ago or so, the police weren't so restrained and executed three men suspected of being gang members and let the crowd chop them up with machetes. On this day, however, they showed some professionalism and planned an extraction of the two men. And so, amidst many screams and a rain of stones and bottles, the police loaded the men into a truck and raced away.

Of course, they had some international help. Just before the men were loaded into the car the UN lobbed a couple of tear gas grenades into the streets and the Haitian SWAT stormed in shooting their guns in the air and waving batons. Once the truck was clear, and most of the people had scattered, the remaining few started to rain rocks down on the police station and on any one in the streets wearing any kind of helmet. The irony of the people taking offence against the very ones they've been demanding take action, was not lost on me as I dodged rocks big enough to leave a serious dent in your brain pan. In the end, the big victim was the lone UN car parked up the street. I even told the UN police officer that he'd better move his car. But of course, he was stuck in the police station - he only semi safe place for him. As a result, when he was able to leave, his car was nothing but a smoking ruin.
There were some injured, and supposedly one dead, but to be honest, it was all surprisingly bloodless. Unfortunately, that was just the start.

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