The day we almost got mugged

Haiti is no joke. A situation can turn from innocuous to dangerous in a matter of seconds. I have seen this happen a couple of times, and it was underlined again on this last trip.

No doubt I will receive a tutorial on what I did wrong that day, but here is the story.

We were running a medical clinic at a small slum a few blocks away from the guest house. About a dozen of us had walked from MDL to this further "ravine" community. The medical clinic was functioning smoothly, and four of us were heading back to the guest house – Chris Cannon, Ashley Hapak, Joy Bohlinger, and I. As we were leaving, I wanted to get a closer look at the little row of shacks beside this small community to see what kind of condition they were in following the earthquake. This involved walking a few steps down the road.

When I got to the row of shacks, I was no more than 75 feet from my three friends and still a stone’s throw from the clinic (in the photo, I was just beyond the farthest “tent” on the right). Chris, Ashley, and Joy were waiting for me. Just then I heard a man’s voice from across the road. “Hey, come over here,” he yelled in English. I looked and saw about eight young men sitting in a field on a low portion of a block wall. I shook my head “no,” and slowly started walking back toward my party. I had gone just a few steps when the man and two of his friends appeared right behind me. “Hey,” he said, with a tone of aggression in his voice, “Give me a radio.” He was asking for one of the emergency radios we had been handing out around the orphanage. I replied, “I don’t have any radios.” He demanded, “Then give me some water.” I replied again, “I don’t have water.” (I had a half-emptied canteen on me, but I was not going to start negotiating with this guy.) I then turned and resumed walking slowly up the street toward my friends, who were watching this interaction. The three thugs followed me, and I heard the young man say a few things in Creole to his cohorts. I caught the words “li kuri” in his comments. “He’s running.” That erased all doubts about what was going on. If we continued to walk down the road and rounded the nearby corner, we were likely going to be mugged.

The situation had turned dangerous in a few seconds and no more than 75 feet of space. And this was in the middle of the day.

As I neared my three friends, I said, “Let’s go back to the medical clinic.” We joined up and wound our way through the small tent city back to the gathering area where the clinic was going on. I didn’t see all this, but Pastor Chris has told me that the three followed us all the way back to the clinic. There two of the thugs were quickly chased off by some of the authoritative males in the clinic area. Apparently the bad guys were not supposed to be over there. The third thug defiantly stayed where he was, staring at us. Finally one of the men from the village got on his cell phone and, while talking to someone on the phone, escorted the third thug out of the area and back across the street. My guess is that he was talking to some local “muscle” who would lay down neighborhood justice if this guy started any trouble. (In Haitian communities, neighborhood justice is feared beyond just about anything else. Neighborhood justice can be swift, painful, and final.)

We had no more trouble with those guys or anyone else in that ravine community. God had sent protection just when we needed it. That little incident-that-almost-turned-bad was a poignant reminder that you have to keep your wits when you are in Haiti. The vast majority of the people are caring and a delight to be around. But there are a few who have no respect for the life and wellbeing of others. As I saw that day, those guys can be sitting just around the corner from an otherwise safe gathering of people. But I was also impressed by the commitment of the neighborhood to protect people who were there to help. We could see the wheels of local justice turning in those moments. And underneath it all was the sustaining hand of God, protecting his servants.


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