10 March 2010

The Proper Use of the Horn

We're having a good second day so far, and I wanted to give a quick update. We spent the morning driving around Port-au-Prince, doing the necessary activities to get our residency visas going. The first stop was the doctor's office in order to get physicals done...we parked across the street and paid a guy to watch our car. This part of town was very different than we'd seen the night before...much more earthquake damage here. Saw more than one backhoe at work, clearing out rubble, but there's still a lot of rubble to make the road more narrow.

The hospital was a hubbub of activity outside--lots of Western medical workers buzzing around, but to see the Haitian doctor, we went inside to wait in a quiet waiting room. (Waiting for a doctor? I guess not everything's different!) We ended up waiting about an hour, but it was nice to get a chance to get to know our driver, Dieucon (rhymes with Jason). We found out that he's new to MAF as well...I didn't make the connection until later that he's the replacement for Daniel, who died in the quake. He taught us some Creole, too. The physical was pretty simple--lots of poking and prodding and questionnaires (which we had to do orally, because they were in French). All went well, and we were on our way to Stop #2: "Unibank."

That's where the fun began. First of all, it was a long drive...and driving in Port-au-Prince is pretty different than driving in the U.S. But the most important thing to know is the proper use of the horn. Here's some ways I actually witnessed a car horn being used to communicate today:

*Get out of my way.
*I'm passing you (on either side).
*I'm backing up and I can't see.
*I'm going around a corner and I can't see.
*Come over here, I need to talk to you.
*Quit cleaning my car, I can't pay you for that.
*Tap-tap, don't cut me off.

For those who don't know, a tap-tap is like a Haitian cross between a taxi and a bus, named for the sound you make when you want to get off (just bang on the back bumper). They're colorful and usually very full and seem to have the right to pull over and block traffic pretty much whenever they want.

We finally made it to Unibank and used a couple of horn functions to squeeze the truck into a tiny parking spot. Then we waited...whoever thought up ATM's is officially my hero. If I could have opened a bank account from one, I wouldn't be writing this blog. The waiting gave me time to observe and confirm: 1)Adults really don't wear shorts here. 2) Is that radio playing "The Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas in French? 3) That guy just saved his seat with his belt. Hmm. 4)If a seat becomes available in the line, just take it--when the line moves forward, everyone gets up and rearranges based on who's next.

We finally got to talk to a banker. Woo hoo! By this time, it's 11:00, and my 6 AM breakfast is a distant memory. As David put it, the following experience was more like the DMV than any bank we've ever experienced. In order to open a bank account, you need: a passport (check); a marriage certificate (because I didn't have my maiden name on my passport...I am now "Christine Marion Heuser Harms"); my mother's maiden name (...okay...); a witness (check: thanks, Dieucon!); the witness's mother's maiden name (why??); a cell phone (check! Finally, an easy one); an address (just send it to the airport--it'll get to us); and lastly, you need money. Minimum balance? $10 US. Sweet.

Coming back to the hangar, Dieucon showed us lots of back ways and we taught him the word "traffic." It was 1:00 by then, and those MRE's never tasted so good. If all goes well with the paperwork, we should be on our way to Pignon for language study on Monday.

Thanks for praying for us, team. Keep them coming.


  1. I love your interpretation of the different honks! :) Your blog is great and I love being able to keep in touch with you guys this way. Miss you, but so glad you've made it there safely!


  2. Loved the story and it's fun to hear about what you are up to! Sounds like things are going well. Miss you and love you! Mom

  3. The story of honking reminds me of my times in Egypt and India. The drivers communicate with each other in a steady cacophony of horn "music." Maybe we could learn something from that, since many U.S. traffic accidents are the result of drivers failing to anticipate what another driver is planning or assuming. :-)

  4. Sounds like quite a morning learning about your new home. We love the updates on your adventures. Hugs and prayers from us.

  5. Ah! It *does* sound like the DMV.

  6. Enjoyed your blog, banking sounds complicated. You are missed.
    Grandpa & Grandma

  7. It is so exiting that you guys are there! I have been praying for you.
    Keep on glowing in the dark,
    (from Rolling Hills)