Monday, February 12, 2007

Port-Au-Prince - by David

This was originally an email but I decided to turn it into a posting on the blog. I hope you enjoy.

I am sitting on the roof of the Hospice St. Joseph in Port-Au-Prince. This city is hard to describe and it is quite unfortunate that i have only 2 days here. That said, I imagine most of the city is similar to what I saw today. Trash not only lining the street but composing the street. Beggars holding out their hands, hustlers walking with you and telling you names of thanks and demanding to be paid for this information.
It is quite difficult to look a child in the eye and deny them a dollar yet if i gave him/her a dollar i would have to give everyone a dollar. As my Haitian friend Patrick is just about beyond hope for Haiti.
The city faces west into the Atlantic Ocean. It is bound by mountains on all sidesand slums within. The most notorious slum is called Citi Solei and it lies on the water next to the road leading to the airport. That is a major reason for most of the kidnappings. Gangsters in Citi Solei can see when rich blancs fly in and they make prime targets for kidnapping or robbing. Kidnappings, muggings, torture and shootings occur almost daily in this city and in the evenings you can hear in the distance the pop of machine gun fire from the slums.
I walked through the largest market in PAP. This borders another dangerous slum appropriately called Bel Air. The market is really unbelievable. People sell everything and anything you could want or buy in all of Haiti. From food, art and soap to collanders and prostitutes this market is so infested with humanity you can barely breathe when inside the wrought iron edifice. It is more crowded than the Arab quarter in Jerusalem. You cannot make out where you are supposed to walk and what happens to be just a small space between vendors (there usually isnt any space at all to walk and you often must turn around and find another route).
The triaffic is its own story. Hundreds of tap-taps ferrying thousands of people clog the streets. Vendors compete for space on the curb (the curb is just where the trash begins to get less dense). These vendors, mostly women protect their baskets of merchandise or food from the pedestrians, motorpeds, tap-taps and UN convoys that fill the streets with black smoke and the perpetual caucophony of horns blaring.
As I weaved my way in and around these vendors the constant honking of tap-taps kept me aware that i was not invulnerable to being hit. The joke in Haiti is: Q: How many people can you fit in a tap-tap? A: One more.... This is true as people hold on and squeeze in together in ways the Vatican would call indecent. They all wear long pants and many are in suits or at least outfits that resemble business attire. Despite this you could not find a bead of sweat on the whole bus. It is remarkable how they stay cool while I am in shorts and a t-shirt nearly soaked through with sweat.
By this time the sun had begun its descent into the ocean and I began to hike back up the hill where St. Joseph rests looking out over this destitute city. The kids at the house were so intrigued by my sunglasses they demanded to try them on. It was great fun for all of us as each child (about 15) got to pose as a Tonton Macoute (the notorious private army that killed dissenters during the Duvalier era) wearing my sunglasses as I took their picture. It was marvelous! There was such joy in these kids' smile and it so contrasted the hardness of life that I saw downtown. The girls would take your hand and lean in for a kiss on the cheek, even the littlest ones. I would bend down and greet them in this fashion and it would seem that all trouble they have seen and will see is irrelevant. "Bonsoir" is all you have to say for their eyes to light up like a flash of life. It is exhilirating, intoxicating and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Are these kids not rich in life? I should think so. Most of them live in conditions that would considered cruel for our pets back home. Their parents earn in a year when we spend in a week to kennel our dogs. It is not the money as I see it, rather the byproduct of money. A carelessness about the simple pleasures in life perhaps. They are rewarding for these children whereas for us blancs we require much more to satiate our appetite for pleasure.

As I explore further into this place and her people I believe my first impressions will be confirmed. This is a place of devastating poverty. Much of which is the result of foreign economic dependence and domestic political and social unrest. Additionally, many Haitians I have come across represent the mindset that the world is out to serve them. They complain that they cannot feed their families yet they refuse to work when it is available. However, despite all this, those who have not yet become hardened by the horrors of this place have in them a genuine humanity that rips through your soul and makes a nest in your life. It is in these people that the future of Haiti rests upon.