Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting things accomplished in Haiti...

I usually give adoption related updates on this blog, but today I want to tell you the story that is completely adoption unrelated. It is the true story of getting my car registration changed to my name after I purchased a car in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I am hoping that this story will give you an idea of how difficult it is to get things accomplished in a bureaucracy that is a complete disaster at times...

I purchased a used car from a private seller, a Haitian man who works at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince as a car mechanic. I purchased the car from him in October, however had not changed the registration and car insurance, which is state run in Haiti, and wanted to get this done. So, last week the seller and I finally found a date where both of us were available to get this accomplished. It took a total of FOUR workdays to get this accomplished! Here is the story...

Day #1: The seller and I had to meet at Circulation (similar to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles or DMV) to get the registration changed from his name to my name.

First, we had to take the car through a car inspection line, cars are lined up to be driving into a big hanger type garage to have the VIN number checked and I think that they checked the engine too, but cannot remember. That part took over an hour to accomplish. We got the appropriate piece of paper. 

Next, we had to go find a parking spot in the crowded street near Circulation and then walk back to Circulation to continue with the process. Circulation is a big compound that has a hanger type inspection station, but there are offices hidden in buildings along side the large hanger. Also, the is a larger two story building with offices on the downstairs left side, downstairs bottom side and the second floor of the building. 

We had to go to the downstairs left building to get four empty forms that all required the seller's, the buyer's and the vehicle information. All four empty forms required the same information, but since it is not in carbon form we had to fill out each form individually. Once done with that, we had to go to one of the "hidden" buildings for a stamp to be put on each one of the forms. However, the police officer who was in charge of stamping the forms did not like that I had made correction on one of the forms and refused to stamp all four forms.

So, we had to go back to the first office to get a new form. But just getting a new form would have been too easy, we were required to fill out an entire new package of forms again. Wouldn't it have been easier to fill out just the one form and to have stapled that page to the other three already correctly filled out forms? That would have made to much sense, I guess...

Once we filled out the four new forms all over again, we walked back to the "hidden" office so that Mr. Police Officer could put the stamp on each of the papers. Which he did this time...

Now we had to walk back to the first office, but this time we had to squeeze toward a small window in the wall where a man sat who looked over the forms and asked for 150 Gourdes. The funny thing is that both, the buyer and the seller have to show their faces through that little window to answer questions and to pay the money. There were about 20 sellers/buyers trying to get to the little window and whoever could squeeze the best got to the window. I guess that the seller and I passed the squeezing test because we made it to the window in about 10 minutes. 

The man behind the window looked at the forms, asked us for our i.d. cards, after inspecting them, he then covering up the information we had written on the forms asked us for the seller's name, his address and phone number. Then he asked me the same thing while covering up the information on the form. He also asked what kind of car the seller had sold to me, I guess that we passed the test and were told to sit down while the man kept our forms.

After waiting about 20 minutes, the seller and I were called to a door that led into the office behind the man in the window. We had to go to desk #1 and sit down. Behind the desk was a man in civilian clothes who looked at our forms and asked us for our i.d. cards/driver's licenses. After inspecting them, he gave the cards back to us. Then, just like the man behind the window, he covered up the information on the forms so that only he could see it and asked us individually for our names, address and telephone number. He also asked what kind of car the seller had sold to me. I guess that we passed the test again because we had to move to desk #2 after the man on desk #1 stamped and signed the forms.

We moved to desk #2, located immediately next to desk #1. I felt like playing musical chairs..

The man behind desk #2 was a police officer. He did the same thing as the man behind the window and desk #1 had done. He asked us to show our i.d. cards/licenses and then while covering up the form ask each of us for our name, address, and telephone number. This time, after he had asked the seller what kind of car he had sold me and when he turned to me and asked what kind of car the seller had sold to me, I said: "A 2009 Mercedes." Mr. Police Officer Man failed to see the humor in my response, so I quickly gave him the correct answer.

He stamped and signed the forms and handed each of us a paper with a Bible quote on it. I guess he realizes that Car Sellers and Buyers really need heavenly intervention in the changing of registration process? 

So, now we were done with the first part of the process. We had arrived at Circulation at 10 a.m. and it was now about 3:30 p.m. The next step was to go to the OCAVT office compound which is located clear across town and is not anywhere near Circulation. We realized that it was too late to drive across town to get anything accomplished at the OCAVT office compound. We made an appointment to meet the next morning at the OCAVT location. OCAVT is the official vehicle inspection place where mechanics check the engine of the cars and sign off on a document that certifies that the car is operational. 

Day #2: The seller and I met at the OCAVT location and had to drive in the car into the inspection line. We had to hand over the entire stack of stamped and signed forms from the previous day, including the title document of the car and some other receipt papers that we had collected from the previous day. Thank God for staples! Once we handed the stack of stapled papers over, a sticker with a number was placed on the rearview mirror, gave a sheet of paper to be filled out, and we were told to drive to the back of the compound to have the engine inspected.  

Meanwhile the seller was mad because he said that I should not have given the entire stack of documents to the men who put the sticker on the mirror. So, I walked back to the sticker men to confirm that they had kept the correct documents, etc. while my car waited for the inspection from the mechanics with the hood open next to a bunch of other cars with their hoods open. 

I was told by the sticker men that indeed, they had to keep the entire stack of papers. I walked back to the car to tell the seller the response which he did not believe. After all, I am a woman and they tell anything to women. (He seriously said that.) So he walked back to the sticker men just to get the same answer!

Finally, the mechanic with his flash light and stick that had a piece of cloth wrapped on the tip of the stick came to do my car's inspection. He used the flashlight to look at the engine and used the stick to poke some things. He also looked at the oil level and some of the other fluid levels of the engine. Satisfied, he signed off on the paper and told us to move the car to the very end of the compound to park it there. We were told that we now had to sit in a large room with benches to wait for our names to be called. 

As I parked the car at the end of the compound, I noticed that there was a small restaurant located in the compound. After I parked, I went to buy myself a cold drink. I am telling you this because as I was parking the car at the back of the compound, I saw some of the engine inspectors sneaking behind the building of the restaurant to sneak in a few drinks from rum bottles that had been stashed back there... I guess they needed ensure that their fluid levels were at adequate levels as well.

We sat inside the large room with benches for about an hour when the seller and my name was called over a loudspeaker that was trying to blow out waiting sellers and buyers with squeaking feedback noises.

Once our name was called, we had to go to my parked car and drive the car to the front of the compound to pick up the ever bigger getting stack of my documents that had some more papers with stamps and signatures on it. Then we were done at OCAVT.

Next we had to go to the National Assurance (insurance) Office, fortunately located on the same street as OCAVT. We found parking and went into the Assurance Office which is a compound but not as large as Circulation or OCAVT.  Of course, there is no paper or information posted as to where you have to go and what you have to do in each of these offices. 

We went to several offices in the Assurance building to find where we had to go and finally learned that we had to make photocopies of our driver licenses, the car title and the seller's insurance document. So, we had to walk down the street to the photocopy place to make copies. Once we returned to the Assurance place we were promptly told that we needed to get color copies of the driver's licenses and that black and white copies were not accepted. So, we had to walk back to the photocopy place down the street to get color copies done. How come they did not tell us color copies the first time around?

Finally, with color copies of our driver's licenses in hand and the other photocopies, we were told to go to an office that was in a little wet alley way behind the back of the building. In the officer were a number of desks and we had to do the sit at desk #1, then move to desk #2 and then onto desk #3 "game".

At desk #1, a gentleman who was very flirty (I'll tell you more about him when I get to day #4) filled out a pink form while asking the seller for his name, address and telephone number and then moved on to asking me the same information about myself in his flirty way, complimenting me on my Kreyol, etc. Then he attached the pink form to our ever bigger getting stack of documents/papers with another staple. Then we had to move over to desk #2 and then onto desk #3 where the person behind the desk stamped and signed some more.

Then we were told to go to the DGI cashier to pay 170 gourdes in fees and then once we were done at the DGI cashier, we had to go to the Assurance cashier to pay 500 gourdes. Fortunately, the DGI cashier and the Assurance cashier are in the same large room, though at opposite ends in their respective cashier cages.

Once I paid the 500 gourdes, I was told to wait because my name would be called to give me the new National Assurance Document with my name on it. Once my name was called and I collected the paper, it again was around 3:00 p.m. as it had been the previous day.

Our next step was to return to the Circulation Compound located clear across town and like the previous day, it was too late to get there during day #2.

The seller told me that I could finish up the rest of the necessary paperwork on my own at Circulation and that I should go there the next day to finish up the process of changing the car registration over from his name to my name.  We parted way and instead of leaving things for the next day, I tried to go to get some more things accomplished at Circulation during Day #2.

Day #3: I went back to Circulation to try to figure out the rest of the change of registration process. Right away, I was approached by one of the "hustlers" that work around Haitian government offices and offer to be guides through the process. I did not trust this guy as far as I could throw him... So, I declined his assistance and went by myself to the upstairs portion of the Circulation Building. There one of the clerks told me that the seller and the buyer, each had to pay a fee of 3,650 gourdes (about $95 USD). I called the seller and told him that he and I both had to pay this fee. Of course, he denied that he had to pay the fee. 

I asked the lady where I had to pay this fee, as she wrote both the seller and the buyer fee onto the "old" car registration/ownership document that was in my stapled pile of papers. She told me that I had to go to "central DGI" which is located in downtown Port-au-Prince. This made no sense to me and I asked her if I could not pay my fee at the DGI cashier's office on the same floor where she was located. She told me "no" and that I had to go to the central DGI office in "la ville".

I figured that she must know what she was talking about even though it made not much sense. But nothing had really made sense in this entire process, so I figured that she was correct.

On the way down the stairs to leave the second floor, these guys started to make nasty comments to me (sexually tainted) and I was so mad!

I drove downtown to the central DGI office and it became obvious that I was sent to the wrong place. I was so frustrated and called my friend James who is an auditor for the Finance Ministry in downtown PAP. I explained the situation and the confusion to him and he said not to worry, he was going to take the rest of the day off to help me finish the registration. True to his word, he met me within ten minutes and we drove back to Circulation.

When we arrived at the second floor of the Circulation building, it became pretty obvious that all the people who work there knew James. He explained to me that while he was training to be an auditor, after his university studies, he worked at Circulation for several months to learn its operation. James ushered me behind the locked cage door that separated the general, car registering public and the workers and sat me in an office while he went to take care of my registration. After about one hour, James came back with lots more signatures and stamps. However, he told me that I had a problem. It turned out that the car license plate on my car was registered to two cars and this would have to be corrected before I could finish the registration. 

So, that is how day #3 ended because it was a Friday afternoon and people stop working early, around 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. James told me to come back on Monday to finish the process and to bring the car's license plate and registration sticker (peeled off the front windshield). He said for me to ask directly for the director of Circulation and that he would assist me. 

(To be continued...)


Rachel said...

Crazy!!! I'm looking forward to hearing about day number 3 and 4 now, and I hope you don't mind, but I think I'll post this to a note on my Facebook so that I can direct people there when they ask me why the adoption is going to take so long!

Anonymous said...

This is just like Kafka - completely grotesque. I agree with Rachel that this explains the problems in the adoption process pretty well. Funny when you are not in the mittle of it ...:-(
Ellen France

Anonymous said...

Better late than never................

sheri wiebe said...

We are waiting for the rest of your story and to get out of IBESR...

Lena Wright said...

Update: re Haiti Earthquake

Below is a portion of the briefing our office received from the Department of State in Washington . I wanted to make you aware of the information right away. I will contact you once any new information when it becomes available.
Adoptions Info
U.S. citizens with pending adoption cases in Haiti are requested to contact the Department of State at for information about their adoption case. In your inquiry, please include: full name and contact information of parents, full name(s) of child(ren), date(s) of birth of child(ren) [if known], and the name and contact information of orphanage. Your constituents can find additional information about adoptions in Haiti at
Thank you.

We found out today that the US government does have a precendent for this. It is called a "Humanitarian parole status" which grants a visa to people from nations suffering from disaster. Haiti is not currently on the list of approved countries for this status...but we are working on that with calls to our government officials. We ARE filing for this request for our children. Even if you are not adopting you can call your representatives and ask them to make it possible for those of us who are to bring our kids home!

PLEASE pray for this all to happen.

Isabelle said...

vera are you fine?
I was thinking of you and your family are you in Haiti?
give some news!!

R AND R AND Z said...

Just wondering if you are ok Vera
Please let us know

Anonymous said...

Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today..........................