The following day, a Saturday, I joined my colleagues on a further field trip. Way out west was a large lake where fish cages had been set up and we were to go see them, and along the way visit a couple of other fish farms. Despite it being the weekend we still had to sneak out very early to get through the traffic, made worse by the fact we had to pass close to the centre of Port Au Prince itself.
We dropped down to the town along the same road I had travelled to CNIGS. We started to get clogged up as we approached the city centre, and we needed to get fuel and a few snacks for the road ahead, so stopped off at a filling station. I had a chance to view the street scene. We had parked close to a major bus stop. Buses in Haiti are works of art rather than functionary units. Every spare surface is adorned with Creole artwork, a mix of designs, pictures and symbols and flamboyant word art. As well as the metal work of the side panels, the cab and roof, there were additional cow catchers, side pieces, and sometimes hoods over the front windscreen almost obliterating any chance of visibility. Window frames may have additional wooden slats, again heavily painted. Even the windscreens in some cases would be adorned with stickers, transfers and tinted glass to make them impossible to see the destination board. Many countries have painted mini buses or buses that either cheer up the journey or case dreadful eyesores depending on your point of view or mood, but in Haiti the embellishments were fantastical. In one or two cases, you could just see a trace of the original vehicle and realised, stripped down, it was an ordinary ISUZU minivan.
The other element that dominated the scene in the streets of Port Au Prince was the fight for dominance of mobile or cell phone networks. Again, I have seen how cell phone companies have overtaken the old cola drink wars for plastering the landscape in their marketing material in many countries, but in Haiti it appeared to have reached saturation point. Not just the kiosks and stores selling phone cards, but every market stall umbrella, people’s t shirts, hundreds of metres of walls, telegraph poles, flags, vehicles. And their seemed to be distinct zones. It was like it was general election time, but instead of political parties being supported it was Digicell , Natcom, Haitel and Voila, and each with their distinctive colours.