Sunday, September 8, 2013

Running Amuck

You'll probably recognize this scene if you've  been reading this blog.  This is the view from the top of our garage.  It's looking back generally to the west, and shows you the only road into and out of this peninsula.  I mention that for a reason.  Background, as it were.

That body of water just on the other side of the road is called Juba Salina.  It's a big, shallow, tidal flat.  Great bonefishing on the right tides. Flamingos love it.  We've seen flocks of over 70 of them here. Off in the distance in the middle of the photo you can see the hill overlooking South Side Marina.  You can just make out some of the Little Five Cays offshore.   There.   Got you all oriented now?

This is the same photo with some notes added to give you an idea of what we were watching on a  Friday afternoon not long ago.

Yes, another sloop full of refugees from Haiti has landed.   This isn't anything new or unusual here, but this time we had front row seats because the boat landed during daylight hours, and within sight of the house.  La Gringa took these photos with a hand held telephoto lens so they're not quite as sharp as some of our stuff.  But good enough to tell  you the story.

I can't imagine what the captain of that boat was thinking by putting those people ashore here.  At this specific location.  There's only one path off this peninsula if you're walking.  It only takes one or two police to completely close it off at one of the narrow spots.  The Marine Police detachment is a few hundred yards away.  The new Coastal Radar installation is just a few miles in the other direction.  WHY would a boat captain run into here with an illegal cargo? And HOW did this boat get past the radar station and the Marine Police? 

If you're looking for Haitian sloops, this is a classic. A wooden boat that fits the profile of an illegal Haitian sloop just about as well as that profile can be fit.

See that road near the top of the distant hill?  That's the little road we've been launching the kite from for our aerial photo experiments lately.  There's a reason I mention it. The apparently abandoned boat drifted from this location to a spot close to that road.

We had police all over the place that day. They were hot footing it in their uniform trousers and good shoes all across that salina.  Maybe hot footing it is not the right description. Nobody was moving with much alacrity in the salina.  The same  muck that was making it difficult for them to walk also indicated the fresh trail of those they were seeking. A mixed blessing.  But wet sock city, for sure.

We watched this little drama unfolding  as we stood on our garage roof with our camera and binoculars. I mean, it was a little drama to us.  As observers.  It might perhaps be more like a life changing experience for some of the participants. We couldn't hear what was being said between the detainees and the detainers, of course.  And we wouldn't have been able to understand it if we had  since it was almost certainly in Creole.  It can't be much fun trying to assist a cable-tied miscreant across a place as difficult to walk in as the silty bottom of this salina.

Not too hard to tell which is which here, is it.

The police were having a difficult time even without the responsibility of herding the prisoners.  This is some tough stuff to walk through.  Some of it took both feet and a hand for balance.

We watched as small hordes of hapless Haitians had their hearts' hopes hacked  into hash.  I was trying to imagine how they felt as it finally got to this point for them. It must take quite an effort to accumulate the money for the passage.  We've heard that it's $1,000 per head, in a country where the minimum wage is  $1.75 per day. Making the arrangements in Haiti for leaving, and at this end for help from their friends and families already here. Grabbing what  minimal resources they'd been told to bring. A dry change of clothes.  Some money. A phone number in Providenciales to call if they elude capture long enough to be picked up.  And they do elude, and are picked up by people in automobiles.  We've seen it.  A rattly old car with a single driver comes slowly down the road, and suddenly two or three people step out of the bushes and climb in.

But not yet, in this case.  The cars come after the police have left.

The police treated them fairly gently as far as we observed.  There was nothing like  the SWAT equipped local police departments you see these days in the USA.  Not a single automatic weapon or body armor.  No helmets, or clubs, or riot shields.   Just some sympathetic law enforcement officers trying to do their job,  with no evidence of anger or animosity toward the "criminals".  And even though the unarmed police officers were substantially outnumbered , we also didn't see any violence or disrespect on the part of the Haitians.  I think they must be accustomed to accepting bad news and disappointment.

Eventually, the mangroves were combed and the detainees were all herded over to the road.  The last of the search party made his weary way back across the salina.

The groups were assembled into van-sized loads for transportation to the Detention Center.  We could see some other small groups off in the distance, and assume they were more of the same boatload.

And eventually,  after a couple of hours of 'catch-me-if-you-can" slogging through the bushes and mangroves, the police loaded up the temporary visitors and took them  away.  

At least, the ones that got caught in the first sweep. About an hour after everyone left, we saw another half dozen emerge from the bushes along the road and assemble into a small group near this same spot.  They seemed uncertain what to do, which way to go. They dropped the few belongings they had in their hands right there on the edge of the road.  It was as if they realized that carrying clothes made them appear unusual. They saw us watching them from the hillside. A few small waves, some brief nervous smiles, and they walked down the road toward town.

We weren't sure what to do.  Call the police?  Ask the refugees in for refreshments? In the end, we just let them walk away. We did make a call to the Neighborhood Watch organizer.  We figured that they may as well know that another batch was headed their way.

The Immigration Officers  take the Haitians to a Detention Center.  They are fed, receive a medical evaluation, and then they are flown back to Haiti.  So these guys probably got one weekend in Providenciales under lock and key.   And then I guess the whole thing starts over at that point. Nobody really blames the Haitians for making the attempt to escape to what they believe is a better life.  The TCI  Government picks up the tab to fly them home.  This Haitian situation's a real drain on this small nation.

A few days after this all happened we took the kite over to the small ridge above South Side Marina.   We had some new kite cam goodies to try out.   And we drove up to that notch in the hill that I mentioned in the last post.   And there, lightly anchored just below the hill was the same sloop.  It had drifted across.  Someone had tied some kind of anchor to it.  Probably to keep it from smashing to pieces against the rocks.

We took our photos, and made our  camera adjustments, and I noted what needed changing and we went home. We thought a lot about that sloop over the next few days, though.

I didn't mention it to La Gringa.  But I had thoughts about possibilities with this boat.  I mean,  it DID make it all the way from Haiti without sinking.  Here it was still anchored and riding okay days later with nobody taking care of it.  I was thinking... if someone were to get rid of the t-shirt and torn sheet caulking between the planks and replace it with something good... and get a better mast for it.. wouldn't it be cool to own a Haitian Sloop? 

Well, of course we didn't do anything about it. We packed up our kites and cameras and went home.  A much more comfortable place to ponder life's reality show than a detention center. Or apparently, anywhere in Haiti.

By the next weekend   I had printed up what I hoped was the final version of my little kite rotation device.  We took it back to our favorite kite testing hill and put it up in the air again.   We were curious as to the status of the sloop after a week of calm weather.   Well, it wasn't good.  That's it off the coast there. 

The boat didn't sink, exactly.  It  just sort of gave up on being a boat. 

I guess without all those frightened eyes to spot every new leak, and desperate fingers to push the thin cloth caulking back between the planks, she just gave up and filled with water.  Obviously, the flotation of the wood in the boat was slightly greater than the weight of whatever ballast had been aboard.   We've seen bags of sand used in other boats.

And this was our last view of  this little vessel.  Hand made with the most basic tools, using yet more of the precious wood that is fast becoming depleted in a nation that seems doomed to misery and disaster.  She made one trip, probably about 130 miles.  We don't know how many people risked their lives to make that trip in a boat with no motor, radio, life jackets, flares, or future.  We haven't read a word about this one in the local papers.  It makes me wonder how many times this scenario is being played out here, with no publicity.  It also saddens me to wonder how many of these boats don't make the entire trip, but break apart and sink somewhere in the deep water between that island and this one.  Many, I suspect.  We find pieces of these boats everywhere on the beaches.  Big pieces, with jagged edges.

And now, another week after this little drama, the stage is reset for the next one.  Some of the immigrants undoubtedly made it into the bushes and got picked up by a jitney driver or friends and family with a car.  Most got arrested and shipped back to Haiti.  Some drugs came in.  Maybe some guns.   The disposable boat is quickly turning into loose planks and memories.   And the only signs of  this passing through our little world  are the abandoned piles of clothing, shoes, and water bottles that were thrown away by the group that eluded the police in the immediate aftermath.

I suspect that a dry change of clothes is carried by all of them.  They know they're going to have to swim ashore, and then try to blend in and avoid arrest.  And  I thought the TSA at the airport in Miami was a pain.

Kinda makes ya think, doesn't it?  

I realize that this isn't in our usual mien of blog posts.  I've kept it short, sort of.  And we've got a nice more tropical one coming along shortly.

This blog is intended to be about our experiences living here.  Not all these experiences are good.    This one wasn't  about us personally, but it definitely is about an aspect of living on an island down here. This just isn't the kind of thing that ever happened in front of us living up in the USA. It's happening all the time, here. And in the Bahamas.  And probably even in Cuba.

It's not difficult to ignore the plight of an entire nation when it's just a brief mention on the Nightly News every couple of years.   Not so easy to ignore when it's right in front of you.  Thin, wet, desperate people with haunted eyes and another shattered dream being rounded up and returned.  Their choices are to either give up, or try again.  I hope their next boat is at least as good as this one was for a few days. Too many aren't. And the builders don't worry about refunds or complaints.  It's a one shot deal.  And somebody is making money at it.

And now we'll return you to our regularly scheduled tropical blog program.


Anonymous said...

Depressing :-(

Bizarre though, you would think at least one of them has a functional brain. Sure at least one must know how to sail? Must know what "direction" is? Wouldn't that single person be able to compute further that it would be best to arrive in the dark? I mean in the first photo of the boat it looks like someone packed up the sail nice and neatly on the boom? What is that blue covering it?

Then again maybe no one of them does know how to sail. Is it feasible that someone on the shore in Haiti set the sails, tied everything up aimed the thing towards TCI and shoved it off into the wind? Maybe even tying the rudder off in the correct direction?

Did you note if the police arrived after the fact or were they waiting for them while they were still on the boat in shore?

Anonymous said...

What time of day was that? Quick checking shows 100 nm from the nearest spot in Haiti. What boat like that rate do you suppose? Always nice and breezy there, 3, 4, 6 kts - surely an overnight affair regardless. The whole thing just appears to be one monsterous bad plan. Good thing they don't know how to windsurf, thousands of people zooming in 24/7 !

Anonymous said...

I think it takes them a couple of days to make the trip. It's breezy, but they have to sail to windward so it's slow going, tacking back and forth. The mast on this one was pretty small. The writing along the luff of the main sail says "UNESCO" on it. Sewn together from grain sacks, perhaps?

And the captains know how to sail very well. These boats have no other means of propulsion. There's no way to set a sail and rudder in Haiti and expect it to hit this little bitty place.

My suspicion is that the captain is pretty well paid, and he just gets arrested, gets a few good meals and some sleep courtesy of the TCI, then gets repatriated back to Haiti for free, for his next run.

There are something like 50-100 people on most of these boats. At $1,000 per head. Only expense is the cost of the expendable boat, which I have been told is around $ 5,000. Think about that.

Wilma said...

Thanks for sharing this with us. I have a bad case of survivor's guilt sitting here with my computer, electricity, and the spare time to read and write blogs while my fellow human beings are driven to such acts of desperation. Like you and La Gringa, we fled the cold northern climes for tropical paradise, but it is not paradise for everyone and we fortunate ones need a reminder that the real world is not so kind to everyone.

satbeachbill said...

I don't think I could pass up the possiblity of salvaging that little boat.

Anonymous said...

I do wonder if they pay up front though, like the poor Chinese who are stuffed in containers and sent to North America, they effectively are slave labor until the "debt" is paid off. Do these guys just hand over 1000 dollars for such an incompetent delivery scheme? I would imagine the Captain should fear for his life there or back home. Seems to me they give up to easily with 1000 dollars paid up at stake like that. Or if there are investors in each person, surely they are fuming back home. Don't know whole thing is weird. They could learn from the Chinese how to do this.

100 head x 1000 dollars, damn, bet the thought didn't cross your mind how effective that Contender would be today lol :-)

Anonymous said...

Sad. They must have a horrible depressing life in Haiti with no hope of anything really :(...& all that money that was donated from around the world after the hurricane a few years ago...who has all those millions of dollars?

Thanks for this post...


Anonymous said...

We've heard eyewitness tales of fenced lots of donated supplies sitting outside, guarded by government troops. Apparently a lot of the donations go to support and feed the government personnel and troops. Not the average, on-the-street citizens.

Donated money? My own assumption is that none of it ever gets to the intended uses. You should hear some of the stuff we've heard. Some people in Haiti live very well, indeed.

But many, many of those 8 million people are willing to risk their lives and everything they have just for the chance to maybe get away to a place where they can earn a living and support their families.

It's a constant issue here.

Barbara said...

For the Haitians that are "fortunate" enough not to get caught and sent back the ordeal is hardly over. Most are treated like slaves - overworked, underpaid, physically abused, stolen from and taken advantage of horribly. This happens even to Haitians who arrive legally in TCI by being sponsored by a citizen. One can only wonder how abominable the situation in Haiti is for them to consider this a "better" life.

Unknown said...

I can't help but to feel sympathetic towards these people that risk so much just to get there. At the same time though, I hope they do not add to the population of people in the TCI that turn to robbery for that living and to support their family.

Anonymous said...

From what we've seen, when crimes are reported here and the criminals known, it is very, very rarely a Haitian. MOST of the time, reported crimes here are committed by native TC Islanders. Second place would be people from the Dominican Republic. Haitians once in a very great while, and usually it's against other Haitians. Family squabble types of things.
Low crime rate despite the fact that the Haitian immigrants here outnumber all the rest of the populations, including TC Islanders.

Anonymous said...

Coming back to 3D printing, thought this might be of interest to you, coming out soon (maybe), extract 3D from 2D software, combo that with 3D printing not sure the ramifications yet, since I have never used the printer

Anonymous said...

Any new news?? deal was shorter for frequent blogs.

We're all starving ! :-)