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Posted December 10, 2007
 Well-Educated Haitian Couple Are Cash-Strapped 
- but Safe From Threat of Kidnapping


"Reports of kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, break-ins or carjackings occur almost daily. These crimes are primarily Haitian against Haitian, though several foreigners and U.S. citizens have been victimized." - U.S. State Department travel advisory, April, 27, 2007 They landed in Montreal last June 26.

"There were always problems with the economy," CÚline recalls. "But we were doing well, which was part of the problem. When you belong to a certain class, there's a time when people will start to look at you, start to notice.

"It wasn't economic reasons that brought us here. It was for our safety." Back in the day, CÚline's children had their own rooms and a backyard to play in. She was an inspector of schools and her husband a government financial manager; they were doing fine.

Back in the day, the sun shone almost all the time and snow was unknown. And what would seem to most of us to be the steady but otherwise unremarkable progress of a young family would pass largely unnoticed. Not, however, in Haiti.

"In the end it was about our family's safety. Kidnappings are becoming quite common and some friends of ours actually were kidnapped," CÚline says.

"We were at the point where we worried about someone grabbing our children as they came out of school. It's happened where families will get a call offering their children back for $40,000 or $50,000." And so, the safety of their 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter pointed them north to Montreal. The four arrived here - safe and sound - less than six months ago.

Even if CÚline and her family didn't come as economic refugees, economics have figured in their new life here in Canada.

The route to any kind of government assistance was so convoluted and arcane, the couple had to land jobs as soon as possible just to make ends meet.

CÚline, after an unsuccessful stint as a store cashier ("The hours included night shifts, and since my husband's on call to work nights, it was impossible for us to look after the kids"), was completing her first week as a receptionist at a local community centre when she spoke to me.

Her husband - who, like CÚline, is a university graduate - is working as a security guard, although he's on call and the hours can vary from week to week.

There's still some money from the job she left in Haiti, and she's been obliged to write her family at home for financial help ("It's so bizarre," she says. "Usually those letters asking for money come from Haiti.") But the bottom line is that a family of four that includes two university graduates and two elementary school-age children is getting by on about $1,000 a month.

"It's tough for the children," she says. "They used to have their own rooms, but now they share a bed. And because we're in a third-floor apartment, they can't get out that much - they used to have their own backyard." The kids' first encounter with snow last week was infinitely more enjoyable than it was for the rest of us. But CÚline can tell her children are still adjusting to the change, arguing with each other a little more than required by the perpetual war between 5-year-old girls and 8-year-old brothers.

We tell them we'll get a bigger home, eventually." With Christmas less than three weeks away, CÚline can expect to spend even more time explaining to her kids why they'll just have to be patient. "We won't be doing much. Our budget's pretty tight; we'll stay home with the kids, maybe their school will organize something," she says.

"I see a lot of things they'd like, but toys are so expensive." So the $125 CÚline and her family receive will be directed at bringing her children's wardrobe into line with their new home - and its climate. "A lot of their clothes are pretty tropical." The rest of their time may be spent assessing their new lives in a place where you needn't worry about a ransom call each time your children leave school, but have to make $250 stretch through the week.

Not the greatest way to spend the holidays, but it beats what they left behind six months ago.

****jmennie@ thegazette.canwest.com  

┬ę The Gazette (Montreal) 2007. Reprinted from The Gazette (Montreal) of Sunday, December 9, 2007.

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