Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Of Haiti and Culture

My time in Haiti has been quite exciting, especially attending the outdoor night screenings in both Port Au Prince and Jacmel. One thing I have noted travelling through Haiti is that it does not seem very different from some of the places I have travelled through in Africa. In fact if I just closed my eyes and woke up in Haiti and someone told me that I am in a location in Africa, I will easily be convinced. It is less developed than some parts of Africa and more developed than others. So I have now tried to observe anything that might be different from Kenya in the way business is generally conducted. One curious thing I have noted is how money is handled.

Here you will notice that there are 3 different currencies in use but only 2 manifest themselves physically. There is the Gould (gd), the US dollar and Haitian dollar (H$). But you only get to see the US$ and the Gould. So if you for example have a meal in a restaurant, you might be told that your bill in 100 Haitian dollars. Of course you will say that you don’t have any Haitian dollar. What you are supposed to do is convert it to either Gould or US$. You will thus have to pay your H$ 100 restaurant bill in 500 goulds or in US$25. When I inquired why they need to calculate bills in a currency that does not really exist, the answer was because many people find in difficult to calculate in higher figures, dividing by 5 makes the figures manageable. 5 Goulds adds upto 1 Haitian dollar.

The other thing I found out that was quite peculiar is how they run the schools. Students actually go to school in shifts! The first bunch goes to school very early in the morning and leaves at around noon, while another shifts starts at around noon! So at around noon you find lots of kids and parents at the gate, some picking up their kids while others are dropping them off. I recall a similar thing in India when I lived there in the mid 90s! It must be a lot of work for you as a parent if you have kids on both shifts!

Then there is the way phone cards are bought. While back in Kenya it is the phone company or dealers who pay the retailers a commission, here it is the customer who pays a commission. The first time I bought a card for 200gd, the guy asked for 220gd. For the guys who load credit directly to your phone, and they are quite a lot especially in the streets of Port au Prince, if you give him 200gd, he load your phone with 180gd worth of air time. One thing that we seem to have in common is that their music is kind of similar to ours, its like benga or lingala. I actually heard a lingala music playing and when I asked whether they knew who the musician is, all that they knew was that the music was from Africa! Finally, I did notice that quite a few of the barber shops had the term “Good Looking” attached to their names. It made it easy for me to get a shave because all I needed when looking for directions is to ask for “Good Looking” given the difficulties with language!

3 comments:

  1. Sure..the situation seams like African setting..my question is..why are they working on the shift thing for the school? is because of the population? Is it because of less school that cant support the population or is it the issue of less teachers; student ration? ..What are the common man notion on the world perception of "Vuduuu" ( Evil Spirits) on the country?Nice work that Film Aid is involved in... Goodday

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sure..the situation seams like African setting..my question is..why are they working on the shift thing for the school? is because of the population? Is it because of less school that cant support the population or is it the issue of less teachers; student ration? ..What are the common man notion on the world perception of "Vuduuu" ( Evil Spirits) on the country?Nice work that Film Aid is involved in... Goodday

    ReplyDelete
  3. You forgot to mention the schools don't have compounds they are in the middle of port au prince town...next to door to shops and bars.

    The exchange rates have not changed as well 2 years later.......

    ReplyDelete