11 April 2010
I know, all these acronyms! R&R stands for Rest and Recuperation, is a short holiday for those who have been working 6-7 days a week, long hours, and under difficult circumstances. Typically something you give your employees who work in a post-disaster environment, to avoid burn-out.
Our rules at present are a week of R&R within every six weeks period, but so far I had seen no opportunity to slip away. However, with management redundancy on the ground in Haiti – we are changing Country Directors and just to make sure, several interim CDs have been mobilised, to the extent that we probably make the Guinness Book of Records for having the most Country Directors in the shortest possible time frame, no less than four in an eight day period! – anyhow, with so many managers, and with a long weekend over Easter – in Haiti Thursday and Friday are the days off – I thought nobody would miss me. And having a ten-day window would make a trip home worthwhile.
So off I went, to The Netherlands, via Santo Domingo, Philadelphia and Frankfurt. With no tourists flying in and out of Haiti, only people who don’t pay for their own tickets, it is in fact more economical to fly via the Dominican Republic. Incredibly, it is also more economical to then fly via the US to Europe, rather then direct, because the numerous charter flights depart only from the resort areas in the east of the island, not from Santo Domingo.
But the one drawback is that I had to fly via the US, probably the least welcoming country on earth for visitors. Nowadays you have to obtain an ESTA, which stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, if you haven’t got that you cannot even check in for your US-bound flight. Getting an ESTA goes pretty quickly, online, but you do have to answer questions like have you ever been involved, or are still involved, in espionage, sabotage or terrorism, or were you ever associated with genocide, or Nazi Germany. I wonder if anybody ever ticks ‘yes’ in any of those boxes. But that is not all. Before actually entering the country, you have to fill in your visa waiver form once again – just in case you joined a terrorist group in the last few days -, and also a customs form. What a waste of paperwork, I cannot believe anybody ever looks at those documents again (and if they do, I know a easy way to reduce the American budget deficit). Mind you, I consider myself lucky: those who do need a visa have far more strenuous procedures to go through, long before they even book their tickets! I could still live with the paperwork, but what strikes me most is the utterly unfriendly attitude of American customs officials, or security staff, for that matter. I wonder if this does not reflect the true nature of the American. Every waiter or shop assistant is always nice and smiling, after all, they need something from you, a tip, a purchase, but an American in uniform is universally miserable: you need something from them, and by letting you into their country they are doing you a favour, let there be no misunderstanding!
Anyhow, I managed to get into the US, and leave two hours later again – a holding pen for transit passengers? Nah, why bother making life easy? -, and I enjoyed almost eight full days at home. Highlights, apart from seeing my wife again, and seeing friends? Every day a power shower. A week without rice and beans (we did have some chicken, though). Long walks in the forest, probably seeing more trees than there are left in entire Haiti. A round of golf, on a course much easier than the Petionville Club. And doing all the things that I normally don’t have time for anymore, even although I did only half of what I wanted to do, and spent only half the time I planned doing them, and saw only half the people I wanted to see. This back-to-a-full-time-job business seriously compromises my remaining ambitions in life, so much is clear.
next: the fuel shortage