I'm a local, so I know the streets of Port-au-Prince like the palm of my hand. They change over time of course - rubbish building up in a stream diverts water down a road, holes grow – and force me to find different short cuts. The bearded stranger came shortly after the earthquake when there was still rubble all over the roads. This made it worse but there has been lots of clearance: gangs of yellow-shirted labourers who lost homes and livelihoods were being paid day-labourer cash to clear key arteries.
My job was not just to drive him from one place to another but to keep him safe. Safe isn’t a word you associate with the streets of Haiti, not even during an emergency such as the earthquake. Police stations and prisons had been destroyed, leading to looting and escapes: criminals and guns quickly found their way into the poorer areas of town. In districts like Cite Soleil, La Saline, BelAir kidnapping was common: kidnap gangs and death squads motivated by politics, debt collection or pure extortion. Lots of hostages.
I took him around, from the Ambassadors’ places on the top of the hills, through the magnificent wooden ‘gingerbread’ houses with their terraces and latticework eaves, and down to the old-style Hotel Oloffson, where Mick Jagger, Jackie Onassis and others stayed when Haiti was a place to be. He did his work, in and out of offices, even a day trip to Jacmel, always unconcerned by safety issues, thanks to me. I couldn’t let it happen to him – or to anyone. Before the present growth industry of ‘express kidnappings’ (quick negotiations, 3-4 days), I spent 15 months as a hostage, held against my family’s good behaviour by a ganglord.