We spent Easter Sunday with missionary friends in our area. Our friends Al and Bev picked us up and took us to the English church in Montrouis. On the way to church Al mentioned that there was a house for rent in their neighborhood that might be a good fit for us but he did not know the price. I somewhat dismissed the idea of looking at another house and especially one that was not within a few miles of the school. After church we went over to our friends Chris and Leslie’s house in Pierre Payen. Montrouis and Pierre Payen are small towns you pass through on the way to St. Marc where we live. We had a great time of fellowship, food and the kids had a blast swimming and hunting eggs. Leslie asked me how the house hunt was coming along. I mentioned that Al had said their was a House #4 in his neighborhood. Leslie perked up and said she thought we should strongly consider that. I respect her opinion. They have struggled through housing situations in Haiti for years longer than we have and she understands the complexities of living here with a family. So I said, “Ok, I will ask Al to check it out for us”, but it is still too far from the school and we don’t have a car. Leslie offered to pick us up on the way to drop their daughter (who goes to our school) in the morning.
We asked Al. The very next day Eric and I hopped on motorcyle taxis to go check it out. That ride let us know that if this house was an option that we did not want our kids riding this far on motorcycles (usually driven by unlicensed and unexperienced drivers that have to dodge other crazy moto drivers, big trucks, dogs, pigs, chickens, goats, donkeys, etc). Another friend of our was recently in a moto accident. Every time we hear about an accident we know there is a high probability we could be next. I remembered Leslie saying they could help us out with a ride to school and that the school bus brings kids home to that neighborhood too. Otherwise, I would have ruled out House #4 before we got there.
Then we got there. Al introduced us to Gabriel who is the community leader for the district. Gabriel was recently elected “President for life” because the people love him so much. We have discovered why and now love him too! Al and Gabriel went with us to meet with the landlord of the house. No one had yet been given a price. We have learned not to ever get our hopes up until we get a price. We decided we liked the house enough to ask about the price after we were done looking around. The house is new and mostly finished but still has quite a bit of work to be done. Therefore, we were not super excited then that this was THE HOUSE.
House #4 Starting/Asking Price: $15,000 per year. We said, “no can do” and the landlord came down to $12,000. We told him that we really did not want to pay more than $6,000 for a house and that this house was not even finished. He said he would finish it. We said we absolutely had to move in 3 weeks. He said he could finish it in 3 weeks if we gave him the money. We said we do not have $12,000 and would not be ok with paying that even if we did. He did not budge and we turned to go. Gabriel asked us to give him some time to talk to the landlord privately. We said ok and that we were going to go on a walk with Al. Al took us to the beach.
We turned left from the house and walked down the road a short way. The road dead ends into a trash pile. But if you don’t have issue with walking over and through that trash pile you will come to a trail on the other side. Surrounding that trail is the most beautiful ocean as far as the eye can see. We walked to the end of the trail and found a nice private (meaning not covered in trash and poop) soft sandy beach! Al told us the price to hang out at this beach is 75 gourde (under $2). It is difficult to find a nice beach with water you are not afraid to swim in unless you go to an expensive resort for the day. We have been blessed by friends who have resort access getting us in from time to time, but if we just want to go to the beach without contacts and pre-arrangements we have to pay around $20-$35 per person (depending on day of the week). Our large family cannot afford or justify spending that except on very special occasions (like when we are celebrating 4 family birthdays at once or if family/friends we haven’t seen in years come to Haiti). The beach is really the only thing to do around here for fun outside home and work. And yet all we ever get to do is look out at the beach from our balcony (which often makes us feel worse that we hardly ever get to go there). The possibility of a beach for family and friends made our spirits soar with hope that maybe God was working in our behalf back at the house. He was.
When we returned to the house Gabriel had talked the landlord down to $8,000 per year. We had asked Al on our walk how much he would pay for that house and he said, “not more than $7,000”. So we were close. Mind you when you divide $8,000 by 12 months you get $667 per month (which would be difficult to find even a small apartment in Port au Prince or even in the states for that). Also mind you VERY few houses in Haiti are equipped with such things (or sometimes even the capability to have such things) as electricity, air conditioning, water heater, dish washer, washing machine, dryer, closets, any appliances besides toilets and sinks (if you are lucky), etc…all the things we would take for granted in the states that would be built into the price. But I’m pretty sure you can’t get the ocean a stones throw away from your door for $667 per month many places in the world! We had already noted that the house had nice lighting and fans (in all bedrooms) already as well as sinks, toilets, and showers, but none of the other amenities listed above. We looked around again with new eyes (especially with the beach in mind) and allowed ourselves to imagine our family and friends in this house. It wasn’t hard to imagine. This house has all the major things we have been praying for (we have learned to live without dishwashers, washing machines, hot water, and air conditioning so those didn’t factor in). The downstairs has a kitchen with adjoining dining and living areas, master bed and bath (for Genise and fam), and two nice guest bedrooms with a nice full bathroom in between. The upstairs also includes a master bed and bath (for Eric and I), 2 bedrooms for our kids with a bathroom in between and a 4th room that could be another guestroom, office, Haiti shop, schoolroom, family room, etc. There is a dining area AND second kitchen upstairs with adjoining porch that looks out into the backyard. Yes. I said “backyard”.
The yard does need some serious TLC but it already has a few fruit trees and once we clean out the brush I think it will be a great space for dogs, kids, and maybe even a little garden (oh and the kids are hoping for a trampoline which I’m sure would be popular with the neighborhood kids as well)! If I wasn’t already sold on the two kitchens I would have been sold on the yard. Eric was already sold on swimming and snorkeling so I wasn’t worried about any disagreement from him other than paying the highest we said we could go. The sound of the ocean waves coming through the opened glass paned windows made us practically powerless to say anything but, “Yes!”
We talked to the landlord about what was still left unfinished on the house. Such things include the stairway, railings for balconies, installation of kitchen cabinets, installation of some bedroom and security doors, door trims and paint, the roof area above the stairs, purchase of a water cistern, removal of rock and debris in driveway and a few other small things that I can’t remember from the list. It was a BIG list. Although the bedrooms, bathrooms and living areas are pretty much move in ready we knew things like stairs, roof over stairs, and not having a water cistern are very big issues.
We asked Al again what he thought. He said “after looking at the house closely a second time I think it is worth $8,000 and I think they will spend most of that amount just fixing what needs to be fixed without much profit”. That’s what we were thinking too. Then we told the landlord that we don’t have $8,000 right now. Our next questions were… could the work be done before we need to move out of our current house in 3 weeks and would he take less than all the money now and give us time to get the rest to him later?
After long deliberations between both parties with Al and Gabriel interceding we came to the agreement that we would pay $5,000 now (which is everything we had raised for the house to date) and that they would use this money to fix what absolutely had to be fixed before we needed to move (stairs, roof, water cistern, hooking up water, installing upstairs kitchen cabinets, and security doors). A finishing date was set for April 24th and a move date set for April 26th. We will have until August the 2nd to pay the remaining $3,000, but none of the other work will be completed until we have paid this balance. The sooner we pay it the better!
Gabriel agreed to write up the contract exactly as we had specified to make sure the work would be completed and payments were agreed upon. Eric and I came home soaking wet (it rained hard on our motorcycle ride home) to hungry kids who said they thought we had died because we had been gone so long. We were thankful to report to them we had finally found our house! We were also very thankful that Genise had gone ahead and cooked dinner. Our moto driver friend came in from the rain and would only let us pay him in spaghetti.
Tuesday we transferred money, wrote a check, had a friend going to Port au Prince cash the check (no place here will cash a $5,000 check the same day) and after school caught a ride with Carolyn and Rose May to the house where Rose May looked over the contract written in French to tell me what it said. Then the kids and I hung out with the orphanage kids at Al and Bev’s. Al and Bev are American missionaries that run a children’s home (with 6 girls in one building and 6 boys in the building next door) on the same street of our #4 House. The children’s home was started by Touch Ministries that also runs the school where we serve. Al is always doing chores over at the school and often comes over to help us out with chores as well. Al and Bev are well loved in the community. There are also 3 other missionaries in the community that we are getting to know and have made headway with the neighbors. So we already have friends in the neighborhood and the neighbors are a little more used to white people. A huge blessing!
We were waiting for the meeting to happen at 4pm, for Eric to arrive after teaching his after school English class, for Gabriel to print the contract, and for the landlord to arrive as well. In the mean time Al walked us to the beach. The kids were so excited
The girls are not super excited about the beach as they firmly believe that it is the salt and not the sun that makes their skin darker and therefore prefer swimming in a pool. However they do love to go shell hunting with their brothers (and I love shell hunting too)!
We waited some more when we got back to Al and Bev’s and finally the landlord arrived. There were 5 witnesses to read and sign the contract. After a few more negotiations over liabilities and responsibilities were discussed, all witnesses signed. Whohoo! We had us a house! Nope. Wait. Nothing in Haiti could possibly go that smoothly now could it? The landlord opened the envelope with the payment in cash and said, “this is no good”. WHAT? What now? The landlord (who has POA for the owner in the states) said that he wanted the money in U.S. dollars and not Haitian gourdes. We reminded him that we had just negotiated the night before and that to even get that amount of cash on hand in gourde by the next day was quite troublesome for us. We told him that there is nowhere we know of in all of Haiti that would have $5,000 in U.S. cash immediately available. Everyone else agreed and no one could figure out why the landlord would have an issue with being paid in gourde if he was really going to use the money to fix the house as he said. After all this is Haiti and Haiti takes gourdes! Money is emotional and emotions started to fly. The next hour was not very fun.
We had already been waiting to settle this for hours, had 4 hungry and tired kids at our heels, Al (who was a needed witness) needed to take us home and get back to the company waiting for him, and Gabriel looked like he might have a panic attack (which Al later told us he was afraid of because Gabriel has a heart condition). Eventually we got down to the bottom of why the landlord was so upset about the money being in gourde after Gabriel talked to him. The landlord said that he would be losing quite a bit of money to exchange the money from Haitian gourde back to U.S. dollar. We asked why in the world he would need to exchange it back? He said it was because he needed to send it to the owner in the states. Then we caught him. We asked why he would need to do that if he was going to use the money to fix the house as he promised? He stumbled over his words as he said that the landlord would be sending supplies from the states to fix the house. We told him we knew that was a lie because all the imported items in the house were already there. Fixing the stairs, roof, cabinets, and water cistern in the next 3 weeks would not happen from anything coming from stateside. Then he just got mad. Then we got to the bottom of it.
Landlord promised owner that he would send the money so the owner could buy himself a plane ticket to visit Haiti and they would use the rest of the money for the house. We were SO not ok with that. I think the landlord was embarrassed that he was caught in the middle between us and the owner and had to fess up to both. The discrepancy of the exchange rate kept coming up and they were giving us a ridiculous rate that we have never been charged anywhere in Haiti. The landlord kept saying he was losing all that money and that it did not equal the agreed upon amount (but it did if he didn’t exchange it for purposes we had not agreed to). Like I said, nothing can ever be easy in Haiti! We almost had to walk away. Gabriel almost asked us to pay for the exchange rate or at least split it. But we did not feel right about any of that because paying up front for them to finish the house was generous on our part in the first place. We explained that and that there was nothing else we could do but that we could try to pay in U.S. dollars in the future. We told them we really needed to leave. Gabriel asked for a few minutes to talk to the owner over the phone and explain the situation. I uttered another desperate prayer.
About 30 minutes later he came to us and said, “everything is ok now”. The owner agreed to take the gourdes without exchange rate fees and agreed with terms already set in the contract. They will have to stick to their word because they know Gabriel (as the community head) will hold them to that. The landlord (who is the nephew of the owner) was fuming as he counted the money and kept saying that it wasn’t ok that he had lost so much (we are fairly certain that he did lose whatever money he was going to make from his uncle for not being honest with both parties). We walked away relieved and thankful.
It is very rare for Haitians to not take the side of another Haitian. Gabriel listened to both parties and understood both sides. But he felt it would be unjust to make us pay more for reasons that were dishonest. He therefore acted as judge on our behalf. I can count on one hand the # of Haitians we feel like we can trust with much. Gabriel is now one of them.
There was one point that Eric played the game and acted like he was ready to just forget the whole thing. But we would have had to go through something similar with any house we chose and at least we had Al and Gabriel standing by our side in this situation. We also had God on our side and we give Him all the praise and glory for saving the best house for last!
I didn’t take good pics of the inside of the house because of all the work still being done and stuff being stored there. I promise to post some pics when we get settled! Big prayer request right now are for the remaining $3,000, the purchase of a generator (for consistent electricity), and the purchase of a vehicle!
Thank you for being part of this journey so far! It’s just beginning!