Crazy Town, Crazy Island – On the Streets of Port Au Prince

It gave me a chance to see the melee around me.  The streets were full of both pedestrians and hawkers.  Everything was for sale along the narrow strips of pavement or sidewalk, shoes piled high, clothes of all sorts jumbled on any surface  – maybe just a sheet of cloth or tarpaulin on the ground.  A pot pourri of  skirts, shorts, shirts, dresses, blouses, knickers, bras, briefs, socks, caps, jackets, suits, wraps, children’s school uniforms, t-shirts, vests, trousers, swimwear, beach shorts, Hawaiian shirts.

There were small stools with old women or young boys selling a couple of peppers, pineapple, bananas.  There were traders of other goods; maybe just a couple of plastic buckets, utensils, pills, dope, phone cards.

But then I saw a mismatch.  Hundreds of pedestrians walking up and down past these stalls, and hundreds of stalls and people trying to sell their wares.  But rarely did I see any transactions.  Amongst the ordinary people of Haiti there was not enough money in circulation to make markets thrive.  And yet people were also desperate to earn whatever they could that they would spend all day trying to sell their meagre crops on the streets of Port Au Prince, or work for peanuts to sell the usual mix of wholesale goods from richer middle men.

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Hawkers line the roadside

Through a lot of nerve on the part of my driver, we inched out a taxi to join the main thoroughfare and crawled up and up the main road.  It was near straight and the scene hardly changed along its length.  A complex mix of cafes, shops and small businesses fronted by rows of market stalls and people, bikes, animals, cars, and belching buses and trucks crammed together going up or down the hill.  At one point a broken down lorry stopped our progress for ten minutes, and my driver found a gap between the buildings to head round one block – for a second or two we reached about 30kmh-1 but then we had the joy of trying to rejoin the traffic once more.

As we got up into Petionville itself (there was no gap between the capital city and the ville), the houses were more substantial.  In the central square (which took ten minutes to navigate round) there were some trees, the first public greenery I had seen since leaving the airport.  We continued on upwards in a much more suburban, well constructed and greener environment.  High walls concealed the high status housing .  Up some steep cobbled roads off the main route south out of Petionville, we veered off down a red dirt driveway and stopped next to a high white wall with a heavy metal gate blocking an entrance.  I walked over to the gate, where a small shutter was scraped open and I made my introductions.  I had to hand over my passport and wait a few moments in the blistering heat.  Two heavily armed security guards were ambling around on the driveway.  Eventually I was let in to a  narrow courtyard packed with diplomatic cars and through a glass lobby into an amazing house.  The back was converted to administrative offices, the front was a huge open plan area fronted by three storeys of glass looking out over the city.  This was the European Union’s offices in Haiti, our funders for the project, and my two colleagues were already deep in a meeting here.

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