Tag Archives: Port-au-Prince

Scenes and portraits in the streets and settlements of Port-au-Prince

A simple photo post today.

Taking pictures in the camps of Port-au-Prince is an exceptional experience.

There are almost 350 spontaneous settlements here, ranging in size from a couple of dozen to several thousand people.

We have been visiting these sites, ensuring they have sufficient infrastructure, water, medical support. We are now going to start a major effort to remove rubble, in order to clear the areas where the people come from, giving them a chance to get back to their home areas and rebuild. A gargantuan task, a truly gargantuan task.

The Haitian people are extraordinary. If you take the time to chat, be polite, listen to their stories, they are delighted to pose for pictures, and take great joy in looking at them, giggling. I have come to believe that in some ways, taking a photo, and sharing it, offers an opportunity for people to act with dignity, feel significant, even in the most undignified of surroundings.

Yesterday, we took Kris Allen – last year’s American Idol winner – on a tour of one of these sites, in Place de la Paix. It is a breathtaking scene, a massive labyrinth of temporary shelters, crammed together but well organised, supplied with water, latrines, and a population of deeply welcoming people, delighted to chat about our respective philosophies, the future of Haiti, the international system, footballers, and rock stars.

Out of nowhere a kid came up and started rapping with Kris Allen, playing guitar on a condom. Hilarity ensued. Amazing scene. I hope the US showbiz industry isn’t too nervous to show it.

You can see the whole Flickr set here, and another set here.

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On house arrest, regret, reading gawker from Port-au-Prince and the therapeutic effect of traffic jams

A mild sensation of house arrest (I know, I know… hear me out before ye judge). The transport issue remains unresolved, so I have been getting two brief trips a day beyond these four walls – to deposit and collect Dorian from school. Tomorrow that will be reduced to one. I feel a little trapped.

There is a common emotional cycle amongst expats in challenging poor countries: elation (all those new sights and sounds!), slump (what am I doing here when I could be there?), then equilibrium. This cycle can play out repeatedly over multiple timeframes, and rarely fully disappears.

This is not entirely helped by finding oneself reading gossip on gawker.com about the latest celebrity bar in New York, and how fabulous it all is; although one finds comfort in snarky reader comments decrying said celebs as worthless.

In these moments of reflection, a nasty and dangerous parasite called regret can sometimes rear its ugly head. Regret is an insidious worm. It writhes in the creases of the mind, and casts pernicious shadows over past decisions. One’s better nature counters with rationality, with practicality and perspective (this too shall pass), but the worm slithers deftly past these defenses and burrows ever deeper.

Regrets? What's he talking about? He's got it made.

Yet help arrives from an unlikely quarter. The traffic jam on Port-au-Prince’s Route de Freres is a permanent fixture, and as one settles into its unhurried rhythm one cannot help but contemplate – as an expat – how carefree one’s life remains.

Hey mate - when you've finished feeling sorry for yourself, how about you buy an aubergine?

Market stall women crouch all day on dirty patches of crumbling concrete, beside stinking mounds of vegetable refuse. Sweating porters struggle past with overloaded wheelbarrows, finding scant purchase with collapsing tennis shoes, most likely cast offs from the US. The radio blasts a steady stream of uplifting Caribbean tunes; Benson tells me how, since the day he was born, he never knew a president who did not eventually run away from Haiti carrying with him all his ill-gotten gains.

Traffic jam? Pah. I'm a cop on a buggy. See me roar.

Benson is a trained network engineer; he has found no proper work since 2004 and is now driving expats kids to school. His wife, a university trained manager, has found no work either. It is an exercise in humility for intelligent people. Yet Benson finds genuine pleasure in playing the “sticky!” game with my three year old, and tells me of his struggles without any apparent resentment of the fact that mine are so minor in comparison.

At the school kids crowd round me while I cuddle Dorian goodbye, and I snap a shot of their fun-filed faces. I am looking forward to telling stories from this place, if only I can find an audience.

Kids wave to me at nursery school