Once in Haiti in the fall of 1984, my parents Greg and Kathy Brooks were one of twelve couples that were vacationing there. While Haiti was not a typical tourist destination, it had warm, clear blue seas that were ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling, and the resorts there were elaborate and beautiful. Many of the couples there enjoyed relaxing at the resorts, where they could be catered to, but my parents and their friends Mel and Pat Corey wanted to see the real Haiti. They liked to explore and knew that there was more to the country than the sheltered resort could show them. They rented a van and hired a guide, and set off into the surrounding villages.
It was their first time in what could be considered a “third-world” country, and it was a bit shocking to see how the people there lived. Many of the homes they saw were tiny shacks with dirt floors. The families who lived in these homes still worked hard to maintain their living environments. As my parents and their friends drove through, they saw women sweeping the floors of their modest houses. Children played beside their mothers, while the few pieces of clothing the family had hung up nearby to dry after being washed in the river. Despite the fact that they had next to nothing compared to American standards, these families seemed very happy and upbeat. My mom says: “I was truly amazed at the care given to the attire of the Haitian people. Their clothes were meticulous, hair braided in an elaborate fashion, with huge smiles upon their faces. Even though in comparison to the Western World, they were unbelievably poor, they were happy. They knew what life was truly all about, and they had what they needed, appreciated it, and shared even that small amount.”
My mom remembers there not being very many trees in Haiti. Most of the trees had been cut down to build shelters and boats for the fishermen. These boats were handmade out of logs, and were called dug-outs. As they drove through, they saw men fishing in their wooden boats, hauling stacks of fish to bring home to their families and to sell at the market. As they drove to higher ground, near the mountains, they could see even more men working at the base of the mountains. These workers collected salt to sell, and this was considered very dangerous work.
On one of the days that my parents were out exploring, they decided to choose a destination to visit. My mom and Pat wanted to go to the marketplace, to see all the items for sale. My dad and Mel wanted to visit the local rum factory, where you could sample and purchase various types of Haitian rum. They decided to go to the rum factory first, which was fun (except my mom recalls they hadn’t had breakfast first – which was a mistake!) As they were leaving to head back to the market, they saw a soldier standing in the road with his rifle pointed at their van. He approached the window where my dad was driving, and the guide informed the group that the soldier wanted to see their papers. My dad gave him his Maine driver’s license, and the soldier threw it into the dirt and stomped on it. He climbed into the van and sat in the backseat, keeping his rifle pointed at my father. The guide translated, telling the group that the soldier wanted them to drive into the mountains.
I shared the story of this day from my dad’s perspective, and you can read about that here. My mom’s side of the story was very different. While my dad and Mel were inside the prison, all my mom and Pat could do was wait. Time went by so slowly, that they have no idea how long their husbands were gone. While they waited, Haitian villagers began to show up, wanting to catch a glimpse of the white-skinned women huddled together in the van. This was a rare sight, as white people did not travel to Haiti all that often, and when they did, they usually stayed within the walls of the resort. Nearly a hundred curious people gathered around, as my mom and Pat waited in the van. I asked my mom if she was scared to be alone there, but she said mostly she was just worried about what was happening with my dad and Mel. They had been gone for what felt like forever, and had been led away by the armed guard. She didn’t know if they were okay, or if they were still alive. She and Pat debated over going after them, but weren’t sure if that was a good idea. Nobody knew where they had headed that day, and she knew that nobody was going to arrive to help.
After what felt like an eternity, the men came back. My mom says: “Unbelievably, they believed Dad to be the karate actor, Chuck Norris, who was making many movies at that time, and they let them go! We were so thankful to be unhurt and alive, and we found out later that the government wanted a cut of the money for the rental van, so it was all about money. We went straight back to the resort. Pat and I never did make it to the marketplace. Dad and I were quite nervous that we would not make it out of the airport without Dad’s identification, but rules were less stringent back then, and he made it through.”
Despite all of this, even more excitement lay ahead…