Finding a bagging supplier in Haiti drastically changed our project. We went from needing to organize an entire shipping container to simply being able to fly down with nothing more than our checked luggage. This also made for a sooner start date, as getting anything out of customs in Haiti is rather unpredictable.
Initially, we went to the industrial supplier, Acra, in June. Our first visit secured that they did in fact have the bagging we needed. We left Acra feeling we could check that research off our list. Yet, without seeing the physical bagging, we were left feeling uneasy. So the morning of our flight back to NY we raced across the bumpy and crowded streets of Port au Prince, back to Acra. With quite a bit of persistence we were finally able to meet the manager of the bag factory. He was excited about our project and gladly gave Callie and I a full tour of the process. All of our worries were relieved. So without a moment to spare, luggage in tow, we scrambled through the maze of a city, smoke and dust, goats and rubble, and made our flight.
Now, here we are, one month later and back at Acra, but not with any greater ease. Turns out the phrase that Fritz is often repeating, “Nothing is easy in Haiti”, even applies to one of the largest industrial suppliers.
First, there is much confusion as to whether there are any rolls of bagging available, so we head to the warehouse to see for ourselves. As you can see in the photo, there were heaps of rolls. We walk back to the office with the satisfaction of this discovery. However, the office then says that all those rolls are accounted for and that we can’t purchase any. So, we call the manager to the office. The manager is the original person who we met a month ago. He joyfully greets us and inquires about the progress of our project. I express that we are hoping to load a roll of bagging into the awaiting boxtruck so we can get started the following day. He says “Great!”, and that we can buy as many as we need. Well, the office doesn’t exactly like that answer. So they discuss for a while, in Creole. Somehow, all is settled.
The next step is to pick the specific roll we need and report back the exact weight, so that they can draw up the bill. We search around and find one that is 2000 yards, the perfect amount needed for our triple dome. We go back to the office once again and give them the paper work for the roll. Only one catch, the bagging we are buying is 3” wider than the bagging we had been quoted for one month prior. That certainly threw a wrench in the bureaucratic gears.
The office has to call Accounting who has to call Distribution who then has to check something. Hold. Distrubution then calls Accounting back, who then processes that information, who then calls the Office, who then processes that information, culminating in a printed piece of paper with the bill of $2000. All set to go and just minutes before 4pm, closing time. So I ask what forms of payment they accept… cash and only cash. My heart sank a bit. It’s 4pm on a Friday, two and a half hours from our worksite, with a truck waiting in the parking lot, and seconds away from finalizing the purchase. I was certain that a giant industrial business would accept credit cards or a check. So I riffle through all of my cash bundles, the just-in-case bundle, the extra-extra bundle, my personal bundle and with all of about $60 to spare I am able pay the bill. Relief eases across my tense muscles as the ‘paid’ stamp presses into our paperwork. We promptly take it over to the warehouse to scoop up the roll and head back to Leogane.
We give the receipt to the man at the gate who informs us that they don’t, in fact, have rolls of bagging. He is telling us that the rolls we saw in piles, that we inspected and paid for, did not, in fact, exist. At this point Fritz steps in and in stern sounding creole assures him those bags do exist and that we are here to get one right here and now. This allows us further into the warehouse, seeming to have cleared up the miscommunication, where we come upon a locked gate. More stern creole and a young man materializes with key in hand. Like an expedition team into a cavern, we go deeper into the chambers of the warehouse, til we round the corner where our roll sits. Quickly, a few of us wheel it out the way we came. Once again, that same gate has been locked, just moments after we passed thru it.
Now sternness is more at a conversational level of anger, judging form the decibel. Not only are we being stopped from taking the roll, but we are locked in the warehouse. A few of us begin banging on the gate and yelling for anyone within earshot. Even the manager, who is with us, is confused and annoyed as to how we have become locked in. The young man materializes again, hastily letting us through and locking up again, for what he hopes to be the last time that week. A fork lift is acquired with much urgency and through another locked, then unlocked, gate we are finally able to load up and get out of there. Piled in the truck, Fritz makes an ironic comparison to Fort Knox, saying that it might be easier there than here, as we exit past the armed guard, showing him our receipt and the hard-won contents of our truck.
One of the last things the office mentioned before we left was that in all of their 20 some years of manufacturing these rolls, this was the first roll of uncut polypropylene bagging they had ever sold.