It is curious in consultancy to come in cold to a project and meet your collaborators for the first time. When I was with NRI it was common to work with outside agencies, but you often had a team of in house people supporting you. As an independent, I am often thrown together as the GIS expert in a team of other specialists. In this case, although Christophe lived in Brighton he was an economist from France, and Jean Pierre was from Quebec and a fisheries expert – we had to very quickly build our personal relationships, understand each other’s technical backgrounds, and throw ourselves in to having a united front with our clients and donors to meet the requirements of the project.
To turn up at the donor’s office for that initial meeting with my team was quite a challenge in itself – especially since I had come direct from the airport after many hours of travelling. But I managed to hold it together while we talked with the EU delegation and then I was driven off to the hotel. The Ibo Lele Hotel was up a long winding steep road above Petionville. It seemed to be common in Haiti to drive in the back of the hotel, against the hillside. The functional areas were all hidden away here including reception, and the rooms, the restaurants and the pools were out front, hanging on the edge of the hill with stupendous views across the city.
The Ibo Lele Hotel had a kind of Spanish feel to it, hacienda style, but with a Haitian twist and the poor construction of many a hotel I had visited. My room had several routes to it, all of which means going down and up stairs. Maybe it was the lie of the land that had stopped them building a single storey across the whole plot; more likely it was just jerry-building and ad hoc extensions that led to the maze of corridors and alleyways.
I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from the travel in my room. Towards dusk I got a call from Jean-Luc, he and Chris had got back from their meetings and would meet me in the restaurant in half an hour. I went out to grab a beer and wait and look out over the valley from the terrace.
The huge throbbing metropolis was laid before me, from the sea in the west to a large salty lake to the east. A mass of houses interspersed with occasional industrial units, intensive farm activities, fuel storage tanks, and in the centre the long green strip of the airport where occasionally I could see planes landing or taking off – the silvery American Airlines plane in particular glinting in the low angle sunshine. The noise of traffic, a few boom boxes and heavy thuds from building sites or dumper trucks somewhere out in the suburbs, drifted up to my hilltop viewpoint.
Behind the city a wall of mountain reached as far as the eye could pan. In some places houses clung to the hillsides, in others great landslip scars were clearly visible with the naked eye. A covering of grasses was discernible on these hills, but so few trees.
Directly below heavily walled compounds shielded the villas of the Haitian rich, glimpses of swimming pools and tennis courts in amongst the thick lush ornamental trees. To my left, the distinctive steeple of a yellow church in Petionville – in the central square – poked out above the other buildings and trees.