level four

by Kayla Raymond

a quick recap through my experiences

leading up to July, 2018 : political tensions rising, you can feel it in the air

People start questioning where the billions of dollars are from the PetroKaribe deal made with Venezuela. Money that was suppose to be used for infrastructure and social programs, but no where to be found. The value of the gourde (Haiti’s national currency) continues to plummet and inflation keeps going up. People cannot afford prices in the market and gas begins to become scarce.

July. The Prime Minister announces there will be a dramatic raise in gas prices over night as Brazil loses the World Cup game (big deal in Haiti) and within hours the capital, Port-au-Prince is “set on fire”. Roadblocks and burning tires are set up everywhere within the hour. Somehow, by God’s grace, I was driving out of the city with friends as the game was ending. Had we stayed in the city for 30 minutes longer, we would have most likely been stuck in the city for days, unable to travel. The U.S. government raises the travel advisory to a level four, but lowers it back down within a month or so.

Prime Minister steps down within days and somehow Haiti moves forward.

Tensions stay high though, like I said, you can feel it in the air.

November. It’s Thanksgiving week and another country wide shut down happens. This too passes and rumors start up again that in December another shut down will happen over the holidays. Things stay calm. However, the value of the gourde continues to plummet, we go weeks at a time without being able to find gas and the president, Jovenel Moise, continues to stay silent.

February. I fly to Iowa on the fourth and another shut down happens on the seventh. This shut down lasts for eleven days (much, much longer than the past ones), which means the people go eleven days with no markets being open, no public transportation, no school and people begin to die because they cannot get to hospitals, find food or water and the president makes nothing more than a fifteen minute speech on national television that most of the public doesn’t seem to understand. My husband makes me wait a month before letting me travel back to Haiti with our two-year-old. The U.S. government raises the travel advisory back to a level four during the month.

It’s May now and the level four still remains.

I write carefully because first things first I’m not a political person. Never have been, probably never will be. My husband faithfully listens to the news every single night on the radio. It’s full of political talk and while it keeps us updated on what’s going on, I find it rather annoying. Any chance he has, he loves to talk politics. And yes, I find that to be kind of annoying too. Politics are the last thing I’d like to talk about, but I try to stay as informed as I can, but I’m still far from an expert when it comes to all the political situations in Haiti.

I also write carefully because I never want to paint a picture that the Haitian people are dangerous. The people I live in community with and work with are the most hospitable and kindest of people. It’s one of the reasons I stay. They want their kids to be able to walk to school safely and return safely just like any other parent does in North America. You wouldn’t believe how often I hear them prayer for people to come and go safely and how often I hear praises of thanksgiving for everyone arriving well at the end of the day (something I most definitely didn’t grow up praying for!) Surely, Haiti is dangerous and there are areas you wouldn’t drive through right now, but I also know there are areas of Chicago I wouldn’t walk or drive through either. We can be so quick to judge Haiti as a whole, but as a whole, they’re just simple, kind village people trying to survive. I think the better question to ask ourselves is what would we do if our government was embezzling billions of dollars and we were expected to live off of less than $2/day and feeds our babies? Riddle me that one.

I also write carefully because the political tension is still so very tense. Just last month we went a week without being able to find any gas. Just four days ago I was at the grocery store buying groceries and I exchanged some American money to only be stunned by the exchange rate; it’s gone up yet again.

When I moved to Haiti in 2012, the exchange rate was 40 gourdes to $1 US. I remember when the exchange rate when up to 50 gourdes to $1 and it was the best because $20 US was 1,000 gourdes exactly (the biggest bill they have) and the math on that was so easy! The other day at the grocery store the exchange rate was 86 gourdes to $1. Webert has also recently heard that the US Embassy is exchanging for 110 gourdes to $1 and that may be a sign of what’s to come.

And in my opinion, another country wide shut down is only doomed to happen again. The gourde clearly continues to lose it’s value, the gas situation is still unstable – Haiti unable to even pay for gas at times now because Venezuela is no longer exporting to Haiti, so we have to buy from the world market and we simply cannot afford the prices. Nothing in the political scene has changed since the last shutdown, so again, we are in the waiting…and it is tense, hence why I write carefully.

On top of these large issues, the gang violence seems to be more prevalent than ever. I had the joy (enter sarcasm and trauma) of seeing two murdered bodies on the road last month; the victims had robbed a local business and were killed in the streets as they ran away. The police were on the scene as I drove by, but I assure you, I felt no peace or safety as I drove away.

The level four travel advisory is real. And for that matter, it has stopped most all organizations from bringing teams down to Haiti. Which means our sales in the boutique are at an all time low. It’s hard to keep my boutique staff earning full-time wages when the business just isn’t there. Two of the ladies came to me a few weeks ago, saying how their pay just isn’t cutting it. They aren’t able to buy enough food and they need more work. I sigh and cry with them because I’m trying as hard as I can to provide full-time wages, but I can’t run my business into the ground either.

I regularly loan employees money to help them grow their small businesses they do at their homes or to help with medical emergencies and for the time being I’ve had to stop all of that due to a lack of cash flow. It hurts and it hurts even more not knowing when things are going to take a turn for the better.

If I’m being completely honest, it’s been the hardest to stay motivated. It’s hard to want to be here at all. With no signs of the political situation getting any better and living with a constant tension in my gut as I travel into the city, not knowing if it will be safe or not, the level four is emotionally exhausting. Lots of friends and expats left in February and lots of them just never came back. Their organizations have either decided that they won’t be hosting anyone in Haiti until the level four goes back to a three or they personally decided it just wasn’t best for them to return.

That’s another part of the overseas living they don’t warn you about: the revolving door of people in your life. The walls you’ll unintentionally build up because you just don’t know if you can let one more person in, knowing they’ll just “go back” sooner or later. The unspoken amount of bitterness you’ll unintentionally hold towards the people that are able to “get out” and the amount of distrust you’ll have towards “newcomers” – unintentionally held, of course.

The level four just makes it seem more extreme and the loss of relationships harder.

And there’s the other part where people “back home” will be quick to say, “just move back” or “we need to get you out of there” because they just cannot fathom how we could live here, especially due to the political nightmare. Maybe they even pass a bit of judgement for being here and putting myself in danger, because remember the part where I’m pregnant? Yeah, I get it. I should be putting myself and my family first but, it’s just not that easy!

Again, the level four makes it feel so much more extreme.

Curious of what other countries are at a level four these days? Afghanistan because of crime and terrorism. Iraq because of terrorism and armed conflict. Libya because of terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict. North Korea because of the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention. Somalia because of crime, terrorism and piracy. Haiti because of civil unrest, crime, kidnapping and robbery. These are just a few of the thirteen countries that are at a level four.

Again, I write carefully, because I don’t want to paint this awful picture of Haiti, but ya know, it’s just a hard season because of the level four and the tension.

I wish I could explain the tension and the power it has. Maybe it’s not worthy of the power I give it, but damn, it sure does have it.

The level four, in all its essence, is the devil himself. He’s tension. He’s crime. He’s corruption. He’s all the feelings of tension, chaos, and disruption.

The level four has stole Haiti’s pace. Satan wins every day when he steals all my peace.

The level four has destroyed businesses and the Haitian economy. Satan wins every day when he steals my motivation to move my business forward.

The level four means the government is still unstable. Satan has won by letting the government be run by corruption and function in pure chaos.

That’s what the level four is: Satan himself.

So, would you please continue to pray for Haiti and its people? That somehow the economy would see a breakthrough and the people in the markets would see their sales and efforts multiplied so that the least of them would have their needs met. Pray that the cost of food would somehow, miraculously, go down. Pray that the few dollars mamas have in their pockets would be multiplied as they shop for their littles and bellies would go to bed satisfied and full. Pray for our business and so many businesses like Rosie’s, that are fighting for justice and change. May our efforts and work make waves for the future generation. May debts be cancelled and chains broken. May Haiti be set free from all the corruption and injustice.

Pray for strength to just keep standing firm on the promises and callings God has put on our lives. May we be the light in the darkness.

Pray the work of the devil would surpass and that God would gain back all the territory in a land filled with spiritual darkness, voodoo and heaviness. Pray the level four would be reduced to a level three and we can feel the tensions reside and life somehow go “back to normal”

Love from Haiti.