Note: this post won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the previous posts in this series. Start here.
Under normal circumstances, riding in the back of a paddy wagon in Haiti with your friends would seem an amusing, must-tell story. But so much else happened that day that, sometimes when I think back, I almost forget this part of the story. As we rode in the police truck from the hospital back to our hotel, we had to stop to fill up on petrol.
In Haiti, as in many other developing countries, wages are so low that gas stations still have still pump attendants who fill up your tank for you. As the vehicle was being filled, the attendant looked through the windows into the back part where we were sitting and, once she saw me, started laughing uproariously. Perhaps I should have been offended, but too much else was going wrong to waste much mental or emotional energy on this. After all, she may not have known I was injured; maybe I was just wearing a crazy costume?
And in fairness, I did look pretty ridiculous.
As a reminder, here’s what I looked like: I had a figure-8 cast that wrapped around both shoulders and connected in the back, and my right arm was in a sling. Also, the doctors had had to cut off the shirt I was wearing, since I was unable to lift my right arm, so there are the tattered remains of the shirt still draped around my waist. Also, I was in the back of a police truck, so yeah, it might have been a pretty humorous sight.
As we pulled up to our hotel, Soulouque noticed that there was an ambulance behind us. Thinking quickly, he ran over and asked if they had any medications with them, knowing that it was going to be difficult to find a pharmacy open at this time on a Saturday night of a holiday weekend. Luckily, they did have one of the painkillers I’d been prescribed.
As we got into our hotel, the absurdity of the day heightened: there was a huge party going on with massive speakers blaring music as dozens of (mostly) teenagers danced around the nasty-looking pool. I already knew it was going to be a short night — my friends had thankfully made some calls and arranged for me to be on a flight the next morning at 6:50 am back to Port-au-Prince, so that I wouldn’t have to ride in a bus on the long, windy and bumpy road back. As the music blasted, and permeated throughout the hotel, it seemed the night might get even shorter.
But as it turned out, I was in for a pretty long night.
While everything was going on at the hospital, someone in our group had called the US embassy in Port-au-Prince to let them know what had happened. Once we got back to the hotel, the calls started increasing in frequency and intensity. More and more people from the embassy were getting involved, and each one brought a new set of instructions on what I needed to do, sometimes contradicting what someone else had told me to do.
Another of our neighbours who works for the embassy and who was along for the trip had been in constant contact with people from the embassy, and each time he got off the phone, the situation escalated further. Pretty soon, I was being told that I needed to be evacuated to Miami the next morning. Faith also had called me several times; she wondered if it was safe for me to sleep alone in my hotel room that night.
As the phone calls and the pronouncements multiplied, I kept thinking to myself: “No one making any of these decisions has seen me yet; do they think I’m bleeding uncontrollably or that my limbs are precariously dangling by a thread?”
Someone else called me and told me that I needed to visit a doctor at one of the MINUSTAH (UN force that has been occupying Haiti since 2004) bases. He told me “There are several MINUSTAH bases in Cap-Haïtien, so it’s important that you tell your driver you want to go to the Nepali one, not the Chilean one.” I’m not proud to admit this, but when he told me I needed to go visit a doctor at the Nepali MINUSTAH base, my first thought was “I already have broken bones. I really don’t want to go get cholera.” If you don’t understand this sentiment, Google it.
After some back and forth with several other people at the embassy, each giving me different instructions, I asked someone if they could all coordinate with each other, and please just call me back with one set of instructions. Finally, it was agreed that I needed to go to the UN doctor that night, and they’d received clearance for me to enter the base.
I went downstairs to find someone from our group and try to arrange a ride to the MINUSTAH base. I don’t know where the bus we’d used that morning was — I’m guessing it was being repaired in a shop, or perhaps we’d just rented it for the day; in any case, that was not an option.
We asked the guy at the front desk of the hotel if they had the number for any taxi companies. He told us that, at that time of night, the only taxis would be moto-taxis. Even for someone who wasn’t already incapacitated, riding on the back of a motorcycle in Haiti would be, shall we say, dicey, so that option was out.
Then in a gesture that made up for all my previous complaints about the hotel — no towels, the toilet in my room not flushing half the time, the obnoxiously loud party, etc — the front desk receptionist called the hotel manager and asked if he could use the manager’s car to drive us to the MINUSTAH base. The manager apparently agreed, and soon we were in the car, on our way to the base.
The only problem was that none of us knew exactly where it was.
The driver knew of a place where there were several MINUSTAH compounds, so we decided to go there, hoping one of them would be the Nepali base. Even though, it was dark and almost everyone was in bed by now, I have to say, Cap-Haïtien looks like a very interesting city. A shame I didn’t get to see more of it.
Soon, we’d found our destination, and we pulled up to the entrance of the Nepali MINUSTAH base. The guard at the entrance apparently didn’t speak English or French, so he had to go get someone else. Let me repeat that: the MINUSTAH soldier at a base IN HAITI, who was tasked with INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE WHO APPROACHED OUTSIDE THE BASE spoke neither English nor French. Perhaps he somehow spoke Creole, just not French, but given everything I know about MINUSTAH, I rather doubt it.
Anyway, soon we were inside the compound and were led to the doctor’s office. The doctor asked me a few questions, checked my vitals, took a look at the X-rays and more or less confirmed what the doctors at Hôpital Sacré Coeur had said. I don’t know how necessary that little adventure was, but it made Faith happy.
Now it was back to the hotel for a very short night of sleep, in preparation for the next day’s circus.