Children's Books Saga: A letter to Jean-Francois and Anne-Sophie Gueguen

August 23, 2017

Hi Jean-Francois and Anne-Sophie,

Believe it or not the books from Biblionef are in Haiti. But what a saga! If anything could go wrong, it did.

It started when I received a copy of the Waybill from Biblionef, showing that the books were on their way across the Atlantic to Newark with a company called DB Schenker (DBS) being the shipping broker. I immediately called DBS in Newark and was told "We do not have any record of this shipment and it should not be on board a ship until we have received notification". I pointed out that the notification should have come from their own company in Europe and this was not a problem that we had caused. So I determined that they had a brokerage department who could clear the books through US Customs, for onward shipment to Haiti. The ship arrived  in Newark on April 29 and I was told it would take 4 days to clear the books and they would be ready for the GSF to truck to Miami through another volunteer.

A week later they were not cleared. DBS told me there were new Customs regulations, and, whereas the Waybill showed 1 pallet, Customs needed the number of boxes, which I didn't have - nor did Biblionef. I suggested DBS should have someone count them - not too difficult a concept! It was established that there were 28 boxes. Another week went by and still the books were not cleared. By this time I was pretty mad with DBS, and, after a very unsatisfactory phone call, I drove to Newark and arrived at reception of the beautiful new building, in which Prudential Insurance is also a tenant. I asked security if I could speak to my contact. They called up, asked me to wait, and 15 minutes later, not 1 but 4 people arrived at the ground floor communal reception desk. I thought it was a posse! As they commenced by trying to explain that this was not their fault, the conversation didn't start well and when I got a little loud, the security guard came over and suggested we move away from the reception area. The manager suggested we go further along the corridor, at which I told her that we were going to her office and nowhere else. Once there, we had a more temperate conversation and she agreed that they had messed up to such a degree that they would pay for the trucking to Miami. I also got the phone number for Customs, whom I called, and who explained that DBS had sent the paperwork in incorrectly and had to re-submit it.

A further week went by - by now the books had been in Newark for 3 weeks. DBS sent me an email with the shipment identification for picking up the shipment at their warehouse in Miami. When our trucker arrived to take the shipment to the Haitian shipping company in Miami, it turned out that the identification info was wrong and they were unable to pick up the shipment. So phone calls ensued, and our shipper went back again. The info was still wrong and they were again unable to pick up the shipment. More phone calls ensued and our trucker went back a 3rd time. This time they were able to pick up the shipment with a new Waybill issued by DBS.

My fellow volunteer phoned me. He said 'I have the good news and the bad news". The good news was that the shipment had been picked up. The bad news was that the Waybill showed that it was to be trucked to Newark!!!!!!! So we had a further week's delay while it went to Newark and then back to Miami.

Moral of the story - if you ever have an opportunity to ship anything through DBS - DON'T!!!!!!!!!!!

Once the books again reached Miami, we trucked them to the Haitian shipping company that runs a roll-on, roll-off boat, as their main business is transporting cars and trucks. At that point the Haitian shipping company informed me they couldn't ship the books. They had shipped the swimsuits previously, so I spoke to the owner's husband and he said he would see what he could do. I knew the boxes would have to be unloaded from the pallet and carried on to the boat individually. About 3 weeks later I got a call from someone else in the Haitian shipping company to say that the books were in Miragoane but nobody was there to pick them up. I explained that as nobody had told me they were being shipped, it was no surprise that there was nobody to pick them up. However, a mad scramble of phone calls and emails resulted in them being picked up that afternoon.

The boxes were all wet!!!!!!!!

Fortunately, the Principal of the Petit Goave school, Yolande Caristyl, was able to unpack the boxes and dry out the books. As far as I know all the books were salvaged and half of them have now made their way to the La Hatte school on Ile a Vache. They arrived about a week ago. I am attaching a photo of the school librarian, Lucien, at the newly built book shelves with many of the books received from Biblionef.

Let me once again thank you for your introduction to Biblionef and your kind donation to defray shipping costs.

Clearly the shipping arrangements for the books were completely unsatisfactory, though under normal circumstances, I don't think getting goods to Miami should be as difficult. However, getting delicate items to Haiti remains a big challenge. If possible, we will never use Seacoast Shipping again. So if you are still keen to sail to Haiti to take stuff for the GSF, and if you can find a solution to the insurance issue, I would be very glad to hear from you. If I hear of anyone planning to go and who needs a crew, I will let you know.

Robin Bolton

The French American Academy at http://www.faacademy.org/