The next morning we all got dressed up in smart shirts and ties and headed for the workshop. We got their bright and early and had time to fix the usual projector issues, worry over the banner (it was smaller than we expected) and wait ages for anyone to turn up. As well as a load of round tables there was one long table already heaving with snacks, drinks and ice.
At the workshop
Queueing for the buffet that did the damage
The banner that caused all the problems
We went way past the start time before we got a quorum. Quorums in this case does not mean a minimum proportion of the whole group, but ensuring that the key people are there. And of course most people of high status make sure they arrive unfashionably late so that everyone else is left waiting.
The workshop went well, we got some feedback, and headed back to the hotel. We’d eaten a huge buffet at the Montana and I was ready to relax before retiring early to be ready for the next day’s travel home. But whether it had been the buffet’s fish, or the salad, or something in the cream cakes…. my stomach was not happy with it and I spent a sweaty, uneasy night and difficult early morning. Suddenly the Polyfilla of Imodium became essential and I said my goodbye to my excellent colleagues ( they were there another day before they headed to UK and Quebec).
These little events stay in the mind, but they were horrible punctuations in a rich tapestry of life. Towards the end of the trip, I had completed the work I needed to do and had my inputs ready for the workshop. Jean Luc needed some help at the hotel where the workshop was to be held, so I accompanied him on a short visit there. The Montana had been one of the flagship hotels in Haiti before the quake. Like many high status buildings on the south side of the valley, it had a prominent position on the end of a ridge. As we headed up the entrance driveway, the vista revealed itself – the Caribbean Sea to the west, the port and downtown area next by the coast, and the suburbs, airport and salt lake all laid out below us. But the hotel was a shadow of itself. It did not reveal itself to me immediately. Jean Luc and I walked across a small garden with a formal ornamental pond into a small neatly painted office; the reception. We waited a while for the staff to become free and then walked with the events manager to the conference room. We passed a pool surrounded by half collapsed masonry, and into a large room facing out over the city.
The swimming pool
We sorted out the affairs and I took a little look outside on the terrace. There seemed to be few guests and few rooms for them to stay in, but the room we were looking at was in good repair. Another sign of the disproportionate damage done and the disproportionate manner in which the reconstruction had taken place.
The third and completely contrasting event happened much later in the trip. We were getting close to the workshop and Jean Luc was once more out making sure everything was OK at the hotel where it was to be held. Chris was getting some printing done at a place in Petionville – for some reason all workshops in the Caribbean need a banner; whether there are three people or thirty thousand. They need to show all the logos of who is funding, who the clients are and a complicated title (with a set of roman numerals in them if they can possibly squeeze it in). Titles of workshops seem to get sillier and sillier, although the most complicated one was for a meeting I attended when living in BVI. It was on the nearby island of St John and called “Virgin Islands Reef Fish Spawning Aggregation and Marine Protected Area Workshop for Fishermen”. The name was so long that they had to reduce the font on the t shirt to fit it all on one side.
So Chris was out measuring up the size of the plastic sheet to be used and getting the PDF of the banner together. I love the efficient use of time in these contracts.
I was putting the finishing touches to the maps for the presentation, and was down in my usual haunt of the poolside tables. I was close to the main wall of the bar and to my right there were more tables leading to the small garden at the front of the hotel. At the end of the garden was a tall thick tall stone wall that shielded the hotel from the main road south out of Petionville and across from that the town square. The square still had a lot of mature trees, but the ground around was hard from the heavy footfall it received, and littered with shoe shiners, tobacco stalls and newsstands, cell phone card vendors, people just hanging around and, well , litter.
Once in the Kinam Hotel you usually forgot the outside world existed
The noise from all this activity was impossible to ignore but somewhat tempered by the heaviness of the wall. On this afternoon, as I worked away at my screen, even I could perceive that the noise was more organised. I could hear chanting and singing approaching the hotel. I tried to continue on, but the racket got louder and many of the hotel guests and staff had broken from their current occupations and were heading to the front entrance. The entrance to the hotel itself was a narrow gate barely two people wide so it did not take long for it to fill up and it was difficult for people to see. If I leaned back I could just about see around the corner to where a small crowd of onlookers had now built up just inside the hotel grounds.
The singing and chanting were now loud and there was some competing shouting from a different direction. I decided I could come away from my laptop for a moment and take a look. I was glad I had delayed as it was just while I was wandering up to the onlookers I heard shots fired.