Let’s Go Flaneuring in Haiti
Today we are flaneuring with Ruth Hersey in Haiti. Enjoy! I have to say I love one photo in particular, I think you’ll be able to guess which.
I step out of my gate and try to look at my street with fresh eyes. I’ve lived in my house for 13 years, and the general area for longer than that, so each sight has layers of memories.
Sure, the rocky road is peaceful now, but remember that time protesters were burning tires right in front of the gate?They raise chickens at that house for cockfights. The cockfighting ring used to be right there, but they knocked it down to make room for the house next door. Come to think of it, there used to be a lot of colorful characters that hung out there; probably that move raised the general tone of the area.
That wall is a second attempt; the first one fell right down, into the ravine. The neighbors pulled out chairs and watched while the owner worked on pulling his truck up the side of the hill!
I remember running down this road at 5 PM the afternoon of the earthquake, seeing fear in every face. I remember seeing people sleeping in the streets because they didn’t trust that their houses wouldn’t collapse on them.
I remember when those houses down there were new; a friend used to call that area Miami because of the paved streets and because the houses were so big. Also, because she hadn’t spent much time in Miami.
It’s a mostly quiet residential neighborhood. Quiet except when someone’s having a party, or when dogs or roosters chorus at all hours. Quiet except when there are gunshots, either rejoicing at someone’s soccer goal or scaring off intruders. Quiet except for the calls of merchants, selling their wares from buckets or baskets on their heads, describing loudly what they have today.
Everyone in my neighborhood lives behind walls. The walls have barbed wire or broken bottles across the top. The houses have dogs. Some have security guards with guns.
And yet, the people you meet are friendly. They greet me, and though they call out “Blan,” it’s not usually insulting, but almost informationally, as a way of pointing out to me, as though I’d forgotten, that I’m a foreigner with white skin. People are selling kitchen equipment, clothes, notebooks for school, soap, matches. Some practice their English on me. Others ask for money.
There’s a school, a government building, a church; there are chickens, goats, and stray dogs; there’s the chicken man, whose cooking we sometimes buy for dinner on the way home; there’s a lady selling candy and sodas. Sometimes there’s a dead rat in the road; sometimes there’s a vehicle shaped like a rat belonging to the exterminators. There are some abandoned cars and there’s a carwash. There’s a spot where kids regularly play soccer in the middle of the road. There are shoeshine men and people carrying brooms on their heads. There’s a corner bar. On New Year’s Day, the air is fragrant with pumpkin soup, the traditional celebratory meal.
I never feel unsafe walking in my neighborhood. Even at the height of the kidnapping time, it felt fine. After the earthquake my husband showed around a journalist from a major publication who was horrified to be out on foot because her editors had told her it was much too dangerous. It wasn’t, he told her.
There’s a ravine full of trash. When water pipes break in the streets (and they often do), people come from everywhere with buckets. See that transformer? We got together with our neighbors to buy it, because the city power company wasn’t going to replace or fix the one they had issued us, without which we couldn’t get their service.
From first light until well after dark, there’s always something going on in my neighborhood. Maybe it’s a domestic squabble, maybe a teenager is going by way too fast on his ATV, maybe children in uniform are hurrying to or from school. On Saturdays, the flower merchant brings a fresh bouquet to my door. One morning last week, there was a fire burning in the center of the street, but it was just someone’s trash, not protesters.
Who am I kidding? I can’t look with fresh eyes. But I can look with amused eyes, curious eyes, loving eyes. Lakay se lakay, home is home, they say in Kreyol. This street, this neighborhood, this is home.
Ruth has spent 18 years in Haiti. She is married with two children, both born in Haiti, and she teaches seventh and eighth graders at an international Christian school. She blogs, mostly about books and poetry, at www.