26th July 2016
I arrived in Port-au-Prince last Sunday as I am flying back home on Thursday and a car was bringing others for a flight on Monday. It seemed the obvious thing to do. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to stay in the Religious Sisters’ of Jesus and Mary house in Port-au-Prince until I catch my flight on Thursday morning.
All I know about the city is what I have heard on the grapevine. It’s very hot, it’s not very safe; you daren’t go out alone and everyone lives in a compound set up!
Well, this morning after spending two nights here in the city and being confined to my room for the most part, I decided I would take a walk a bit further afield before the sun became too hot.
In reality I haven’t a bull’s notion what area of the city I am in or how to get from one place to another, should I wish to do so.
My little walk took me quite close I would think to the centre of the city as I ended up at what seemed to be a memorial garden to Haitian independence. I went for cover out of the hot sun and sat under a tree to watch a bit of the world go by. This is one of my favourite pastimes when visiting a new city. I love to sit at a pavement cafe and watch all the goings on. But on my travels this morning I didn’t come across any such entities in Port-au-Prince.
The route I took brought me down-hill and I passed many street traders selling everything from bread to Rhum to beer and soft drinks. I passed shoe-shine boys busy shining their fellow-country men’s shoes, women cooking bananas and other Haitian delights by the roadside and others selling the basics staples such as crackers, onions and tomatoes, while others stocked pineapples and watermelons.
There were other traders in abundance also, selling clothes – everything from shirts to sandals and bags to books. They make use of every inch of space, pavement space, wall space, car-boot space and of course head space. The head spacers are unique in that they don’t seem to have a designated spot along the pavement but wander around the general area with a large container perched on their head, holding their wares as they encourage those passing by to make a purchase.
My morning stroll took me along what I might call the ‘educated route’ as I passed university after university, college after college and school after school. The main thoroughfare while not exactly teeming with people was certainly very busy as people went about with a definite sense of purpose.
Meanwhile some of the traders were still only setting up their stalls and their wares. Two women were busy hanging string from nail to nail along a wall where they would then set up their wares – handbags and sandals. I was tempted to take a closer look at some of the sandals, particularly those I saw with Haiti on the cross-strap but I didn’t want to get into a bargaining situation and so continued about my business. On the other side of the street a man was setting up his bookstall complete with shelves and all. He had the shelves attached to the wall of what I think may have been a hospital or clinic of some kind.
It seems anything goes in this city. It is vibrant with movement, traffic and purposeful people.
At the park/garden I sat close to a monument constructed to celebrate Haitian independence and ‘La Constitution de 1801’.
It’s a nice park with trees and walkways and I noticed it is still very green considering the heat we have here in Haiti. From here I could kind of watch the world go by for a short time. That’s when I noticed the mountains in the background, it reminded me somewhat of the mountains that surround Nice although they are higher here in Port-au-Prince and I would say also greener considering its July. (When I visited Nice in the south of France it was May and its mountain vegetation, if I recall correctly seemed much sparser).
I came to the conclusion that many of those I passed by during my stroll were students of one kind or another. Throughout Haiti it seems there is an abundance of students from pre-school to third-level and beyond. And they come in all ages and sizes, with the hope of a better life for themselves and their children. The problem of course is the lack of opportunities here for those even with education, never mind those who haven’t been lucky enough to receive that basic necessity.
Despite the fabulous weather and the glorious sunshine there was another vibe going on in the background. I came across people sleeping on pavements, beggars sitting on pavements with their hands out and dirt mounting up in certain spots not to mention the occasional bad smell from one area or another that had obviously been used as a toilet. In the park I also noticed lots of rubbish (and not a rubbish bin in sight) and some people making it their home.
I stopped off on my way back for a cold drink and a seat in a Sol Shop which are attached to some of the National gas stations. Here I was glad to sit down inside in the air-conditioned building and savour not only my cool pineapple juice but also the busyness of Port-au-Prince outside and regard the entrepreneurship I had just witnessed all along my route.
Everyone I had encountered had something to sell and would remain selling all day long, despite the intense heat, in order to make some kind of a living for themselves here in Haiti. If they didn’t do this they would simply go hungry as there is no State support system in place.
As I neared my destination I remarked to myself how, for the most part, the city seemed to be green and glad with the trees holding onto their foliage, the sun splitting the trees and the people busy as bees. And I hadn’t felt unsafe at all.