I first visited Haiti in June and July of 2001. I was born in the Caribbean, spoke French fluently, and had visited several poor countries before; but I was strikingly unprepared for the heady mix of pride, decadence, misery, culture, and energy that defines Haiti. The dirt, destitution, and bustling activity of Port-au-Prince were straight out of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, complete with begging lepers. Some crossroads had traffic lights, but it took me three weeks before I saw one function. The potholes were so deep many reached the sewers five feet below. They were filled with garbage that no one picked up; homeless orphans filled used plastic bottles with the trickle of water making its way through the waste. Piles of garbage also lined the streets, with the occasional man scavenging through them. Nondescript dogs, all bones and skin, wandered around; they were not the hungriest living beings to be found. Downtown streets were choked full with vendors, pedestrians, the SUVs of well-connected businessmen with windows shut tight, the overloaded tap taps (shared taxis) and publiques (public buses) that serve as public transportation, and antediluvian trucks spewing black smoke that mixed with the acrid smell of burning garbage. Sweating men pulled wooden carts stacked high with tires and water jugs. The city’s prodigious activity matched that of an anthill, but one whose inhabitants roamed with chaotic freedom rather than heeding the whims of some all-powerful queen (figure I.1).
KeywordsDominican Republic Economic Shadow Fund School Aircraft Carrier Tropical Night
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