Friday, November 14, 2008

Show Business

I've heard that it's not about what you know, but who you know.

In Haiti, it's actually more about what you can act like you know and who you know you can intimidate.

In Haiti, just because you own a house doesn't make it yours - apparently someone else can move into it and pay a judge to file papers declaring them as the owners...then you have to fight that to get your own house back. There is no official process or system within which to fight such injustices, however. It's all about who you know.

We have a friend named R. who we know from PAP Fellowship. She plays saxophone on the worship team with me and also happens to be a police officer working in the National Palace. I've always thought she was a pretty big deal, and it is pretty impressive to see her decked out in uniform and packing heat.

Her family owns a home in the Artibonite valley, near the center of Haiti. Squatters have moved in and filed papers claiming ownership and have a crooked judge in the area backing them up. This has been difficult for R. to deal with on her own.

In order to fix this problem, we (friends from the Heartline family) have been trying to help her navigate (or invent) the process of restitution. I wouldn't think a police officer from the National Palace would need a lot of help solving an issue like this - but T.I.H. We usually travel as
a herd with as many as possible in order to look very intimidating and official. Haiti is all about posturing.

So far that has included a trip to the UN Headquarters, meeting with a human rights lawyer, filing papers at various government offices, meeting with another lawyer in the proper jurisdiction, visiting multiple courthouses and tribunals, meeting with the police in the city where the house is located, taking lots of pictures and video and other posturing - all leading up to the final act yesterday: the visit to the crooked judge who filed the false document.

We call it show business, and it was quite a show, I'll tell you. It included the following techniques - a motley crew standing in the doorways of the courthouse looking on disapprovingly...the taking of notes and a great deal of the shaking of heads...obvious attention paid to the names of court officials posted on the doors...throwing up of hands into the air and more shaking of the heads...a walk through the courthouse and the taking of pictures and generally looking disgusted... talking amongst ourselves and then more with the shaking of the heads. ( I specialized in the taking of the pictures and the shaking of my head.) In the end, the posturing and showbiz appeared to make a difference, resulting in a rattled judge and apparently an expectation of a reversal to the previous decisions.

I know it sounds ridiculous, and it is. This was the 'official' way to get this problem solved in this country. This was the recommended course of action by the lawyers and higher-ups involved in the case. This is why I'm amazed that any thing ever gets done in this country and why I'm not amazed at the lack of progress sometimes. The shaking of the head part comes easy for me - we do a lot of it here. TIH.