This weekend, I felt a little bit like Jason Bourne. Instead of entering a foreign country using a fake passport, however, I departed Haiti and then reentered without even leaving my house. Since February 17, I have been in Haiti on a 90-day tourist visa, meaning that May 17 was the latest that I could possibly legally be in the country. I was told it was possible to apply for an extension, but that would have meant driving 200 miles to the capital of Port-au-Prince. Getting the extension could take weeks and cost a lot, too, since prices are seldom fixed in Haiti, but rise and fall in accordance with the desperation of your need. Having only a week to spare, the quickest, most expedient solution was to drive to the border with the Dominican Republic about 50 miles away, cross the border, and then return the same day. That way, I would get a new 90-day stamp lasting up through my scheduled departure on June 25.
On Friday morning, however, I received a phone call from a friend of mine who told me he knew someone who worked at the border who could simply take the passport with him, stamp and sign it, and return it by Sunday, all for only $55.
“You have to make your decision now, though,” he said. “He’s leaving in about an hour.”
I had to decide in five minutes whether I could trust a complete stranger to take my passport. Since it had to be stamped on both sides, visions of the stricter Dominican border guards declaring the passport stolen and seizing it on the spot flashed through my mind. Having lost my passport in a foreign country once before, I know what a headache it is to get a new passport in a first-world country (England) and I’m sure losing it in Haiti would be much worse. I trust my friend, though, and since the convenience was worth the risk, I rushed downtown to cash a check and then drove out to where the man lived outside of town.
“You sounded skeptical on the phone,” he said, sounding annoyed.
“Typically, when a passport crosses a border, its owner goes with it,” I replied.
“You don’t realize the amount of authority I have, kid. No one’s gonna ask any questions,” he said, taking a drag of his cigarette and staring aloofly into the distance. (OK, I made that last part about the cigarette up.) Still, he must have been telling the truth — my passport was returned to me on Sunday morning with four new stamps, checking me in and out at a border I never crossed. The kicker, though, was talking to my Dad on Skype last night. He said that in more than thirty years of living in Haiti, he has overstayed several times and has never once paid for an extension.
“Do they just not notice the date on your stamp?” I asked him.
“No, they always notice,” he assured me.
“They’ve never charged you a penalty?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I always say, ‘Well, I was just leaving anyway, and they always say, ‘OK’ and just wave me on through.”