Yesterday I checked into the Hotel Oloffson, the famous “gingerbread house” hotel in downtown Port-au-Prince. I was hesitant to stay here at first, by myself, as I’ve been pretty sheltered in Haiti so far, but my mom loves it here so she bribed me to stay here for a few days. This is actually my second time here:
There’s me on the front steps, then and now.
When I first checked in Tuesday evening, the first thing I did was tried to get wireless. I assumed it would be a strong signal here since the hotel owner, Richard Morse (@RAMhaiti), tweeted out of here through the earthquake. But for some reason, my computer will not accept the wireless signal here and me and all of my 133t skills can’t do anything about it.
When I was at the front desk trying to make it work, a man who had checked in earlier offered to let me use his laptop when he was finished with what he was doing. He came and found me a little while later, and I joined him at his table and gratefully computed. His name is Frédéric and he is a French photographer back in Haiti for the second time since the earthquake. He was here two days after the quake, and his photographs are striking, though graphic, of the immediate aftermath.
We ended up having dinner together and he told me about visiting the camps immediately after the quake. He said the lines of people at the camps’ food distribution centers were ridiculous and that they would wait hours for food for literally like 3 hours. They would wait patiently, not complaining, and when they got to the front only to discover that their ration was two biscuits, they would say “That’s it?” but then accept it and move on.
What other choice do they have, I suppose.
I said the resilience of the Haitian people amazed me, and he said it was true, they are resilient, but they don’t like it when you call them that. I asked why not, and he apologized because he couldn’t explain it in English. He kept apologizing for his English, but I thought it was quite good, at least compared with my Dad’s, who I have been communicating just fine with. “Just keep meeting American women and offering to let them use your laptop. You’ll be fluent in no time,” I said. He invited me to go with him to the PetionVille Club on Friday evening, where they’ll be screening a documentary made about the camp site there. I was hoping I would make some journalistic friends who could take me places. Mission accomplished.
I met some other people here too. Today I met the former Prime Minister of Haiti and President Preval’s daughter, who was here having lunch. I found it rather ironic that not even a block from here, there’s graffiti on the walls that says “Oust Preval”. Every day there are groups of uniformed officers who come here to take breakfast and lunch. They said bonsoir, I say bonsoir and go about my business.
I also met a man who called himself “Mister Haiti” and took a liking to me. I told him my dad’s last name and he told me about five members of my extended family I didn’t even know about. This might seem like a sketchy “hey little girl want some candy?” maneuver, but it wasn’t, my dad confirmed. I always found it interesting that in the States, whenever I tell someone my father is Haitian and lives in Haiti and they want to see if they know him, their first question is not “what area does he live in,” as it would be in the U.S. — a narrowing question. It’s “What is his name?” Haiti is like that. Mister Haiti told me I could ask him anything about Haiti and he would answer it, a journalist’s dream. I had a good conversation with him about the history of Haiti and the Oloffson Hotel. He told me that JFK’s assasination was plotted in Room 11.
So other than the Internet connection (which cuts out every five minutes or less and can’t handle tasks like uploading pictures to flickr, facebook or Haiti Rewired, video chatting, even regular g-talk chatting sometimes, or Tweet Deck) and the mosquitoes (which kept me up last night buzzing in my ear), and the entirely unhelpful night receptionist (who all too closely resembles in mannerisms Miss Swan from MAD TV) the Oloffson is a pretty sweet place.
Oh, and also, every room here is named after someone who once stayed in it. My room…… Mick Jagger. Oh yeah.