I’ve never been to Haiti. My friend Bob Beers has. We worked together in Miami television; he later traveled extensively throughout Latin America for CBS News. After a 30-year friendship hiatus, we reconnected when a mutual friend tracked Bob down via Facebook and I got to see him last summer. He sends me messages and stories that are hilarious and memorable and he’s such a gifted writer— I’m constantly telling him to start his own blog. Of course he hasn’t. I’m not sure if this will push him over a line one way or the other regarding a blog—-but when I got this recent message about Haiti I wanted to copy it here verbatim–and he gave me permission.
I love that place. It was my first assignment overseas.
I read Graham Greene’s Comedians on the plane. It was 1972. Papa Doc had just died and Baby Doc was President at age 19. He rode his BMW motorcycle through the palace that now has just collapsed while his French wife had a wing air conditioned to a temperature where she could comfortably wear her considerable collection of fur coats.
Much of the rest of Port au Prince did not have electricity a good deal of the time.
Air France thought I was there to do a tourism piece but I wanted to get to Duvalierville, Papa’s great vision of a new capital. When JFK cut off funding, construction stopped. It was said to be an incredibly strange place in the middle of jungle, Baron Samedi’s (Doc’s voo doo lookalike) version of Brasilia, also a very strange place.
Air France said no one is ever allowed to go there.
Of course the first cab driver I offered $50 to take me there said – get in.
Amazing place. A huge stadium with a massive neon sign = Duvalierville = which was never connected to an electric line. The field had filled with water and the stands were populated by a herd of skinny goats. The hospital was home to several families of squatters. Nothing had ever been completed including a cathedral with only three walls. Inside an organist played hymns the entire time we were filming. With a wall missing the music filled the town. Eerie and wonderful.
A long time resident said we might have the only film of the place.
Most of the group drove to our next stop but I went on a Haitian domestic flight and my fellow passengers were three pigs and a large number of chickens as we went across country to Haiti’s second city, Cap Haitian. There I stayed at a hotel owned by a German couple who eventually told me on camera about four years of being US POWs in South Dakota during the war. And we rode beer-drinking horses to the top of a mountain where the Haitians had built a fort to fend off Napoleon in the 1820s, It was never used and in pristine condition.
None of this ever aired as we had a new cameraman on the trip who it turned out could not hold a camera steady. He zoomed in and out on every shot and had no concept of how to focus a camera. I loved the trip anyway.
The Haitian are very gentle and kind and understanding of your troubles and theirs. They work hard, make pennies and never give up. They sing whenever they feel like it and smile more than any nationality I have ever known.
Very spiritual folks.
I made a lot of other trips to Haiti with CBS. I believe it was in 83, when the Pope, Polish in snow white garments and even whiter face in Haiti’s sizzling sun, got off his Alitalia plane. He walked to Baby Doc and said: “Some things are going to have to change here.”
Nothing ever did, of course, and each time I was suprised at how things got worse and how each time I liked Haiti even more.
So it is horrible to see what has happened in what has always been the unluckiest country in the world.