By Onz Chery
It was Vertieres’s turn to have electricity on the night of Dec. 15, 2018, so Donatien Alcimbert and his co-worker from the country’s electricity company, drove there to turn on the power distribution box placed in the streets.
It was a routine job for Alcimbert, who has been a distributive electrician for the company known by its French acronym, E.D.H since 2008. He climbed the ladder to flip the switch on. When he was done, Alcimbert hopped in the passenger seat. As soon as his co-worker started driving, he felt the heavy force of a rock smash his head. Alcimbert quickly turned his head and saw the two men. Then his sight started to get blurry. He could no longer focus.
It wasn’t until Alcimbert felt the cold water his co-worker was pouring on his head that he fully regained consciousness. His head was swollen, and he wasn’t able to return to work for two weeks. Not that he wanted to return, it was a must.
For as long as one can remember, E.D.H. workers in Cap-Haitien have been getting physically and emotionally harmed because of a lack of electricity.
However, they aren’t the ones to blame for Cap-Haitien’s blackouts. The electrical center’s motors are in a terrible state. Hence, working for E.D.H. is a job in which the employees are pouring themselves out with limited resources but get severely abused in return by the own people they’re serving. Jobs are limited in Cap-Haitien, therefore leaving isn’t always an option.
To add to the assault on Alcimbert, furious Cap-Haitien residents have also attacked E.D.H.’s headquarter with rocks, seized ladders away from the workers before they could use it, and constantly abuse them verbally in the streets.
E.D.H.’s intervention agent, Pierre Blaise, said he doesn’t put his picture nor his real name on social media because he knows he will get attacked verbally.
Particularly, two months ago, the lack of electricity grew worse in Cap-Haitien to the point that some parts of the city spent weeks without it, while other parts including Cite Chauvel have not had power in two months.
Alcimbert fears that some old wounds might open back up.
“It [the night I was attacked] scarred me,” he said to The Haitian Times in a phone-interview in Haitian Creole. “I’m always looking around, so I don’t get hit. They always threaten us. Especially now, there’s not much electricity at all. When these people don’t have electricity, the person at the power distribution box flipping the switch on and off, he’s the one who’s going to get threatened.”
Nevertheless, Alcimbert will keep reporting to work.
“I didn’t find another job that’s why I didn’t quit,” he said. “If I leave, my children won’t be able to go to school.”
Alcimbert has seven children, some of them are in college.
Behind the people’s anger towards E.D.H.
Living in Cap-Haitien is unmanageable and extremely irritating because of the constant blackouts.
Samuel Volcy, a photographer who is based in Cite Chauvel, said while he deplores the attacks, people are frustrated because of the severe lack of electricity and are taking it out on the workers.
“I don’t support the attacks on the E.D.H. workers,” Volcy said to The Haitian Times in Creole via WhatsApp. “Because they have family, they have kids to take care of. But they have to do their work correctly.”
Another person who’s experiencing the damages of the blackout is Michel Samson, TCM World’s director, an electronic store.
The store had to get a generator and an inverter, but business still isn’t running as smoothly as it should be. They lost many clients because they weren’t able to get things done on time due to the lack of electricity.
Samson also touched on how risky it is to have blackouts at night.
“This is just causing more insecurities, more misery,” the 30-year-old said. “Big and small businesses can’t function, there’s a curfew at eight at night. It’s like we’re in prison but we have conditional liberty.
“I feel like things are getting worse every day God gives us like we’re going backward.”
E.D.H. doesn’t have the means to provide electricity
Blaise understands the pain but E.D.H. is incredibly limited to fulfill the people’s desire.
“Yes, a lot of people don’t have electricity,” the E.D.H. intervention agent said. “Some had it but went two, three weeks without it. It’s not our fault. No one is bound to do the impossible. There’s nothing we can do. All we can do is stand with our arms crossed and watch.”
Out of the eight motors they have, only two are working — barely working. These two motors don’t have enough kilowatts to light up the entire city, therefore E.D.H. is forced to give different town electricity during opposite times. Even with this method, some towns will remain in blackout because the motors are too weak to reach them, Cite Chauvel, for example.
The government ordered tools to fix the motors, but COVID-19 prolonged the date of arrival. Blaise still isn’t sure when they will arrive, and he said that it will cost $768,000 to fix all of the eight motors.
The 34-year-old doesn’t think that repairing the motors is a long-lasting solution. They’ve been running for 10 years. Blaise said that the long-term solution is to build a new center of electricity.
E.D.H. doesn’t communicate with the Cap-Haitien residents on a regular basis to tell them why there’s a lack of power or why some places would get lighted up when others don’t. If they did, Alcimbert doesn’t believe that he would’ve gotten attacked.
“That would’ve never happened, never,” he said. “It’s because the person doesn’t know what’s going on.”
He later added:” When someone talks to us the wrong way. We calm him down and tell him what’s going on. They understand, we find some people who say ‘Oh, it’s not their fault, they’re only sending them.’ Some understand others don’t. But that’s not enough, we’re not on the radio.”