Snowing in Haiti

Location: Haitian Border
Date: 11/2/2010
I get picked up at a park, where the bus driver dropped me, promising Francisco would soon be there. Ten minutes passed, and finally a young girl eyeing me from the street garnered enough courage to approach me.
I explained my friend was coming to pick me up. When she asked for further explanation it only exhausted her, and her deep brown eyes widened in horror when she supposed I was lost— or at least at a different park than my friend thought. I tried, much to my dismay, to assure her I was in the right spot—-faith, after all—-but she
finally called Francisco’s number and suspiciously eyed me when he confirmed my story. He rapidly arrived, with Tejinder—the project manager—in tow, children screaming and laughing at his turban. And thus we began the trek to cross the border.
The road into Haiti, when traveling with a swarthy, safari-geared Sikh and a Dominican, is a surreal one. The landscape folds into itself at the gates, where kilometers of humming crowds bottleneck on the Dominican Side, and a strange whiteness dusts crumbling hills and lagoons. Francisco gives me a Dominican word for this material, this
ghostly sheet of pollen or chalk or maybe just the dry snow from this new Haitian winter. But it sits on everything, dousing everything, drowning everything straight to the soil. The canvas UN trucks bump
along the dirt roads, lifting off the ground, avoiding debris. The landscape is weightless and these trucks are crisp alien things, in focus against the fuzzed ground. Lance Armstrong hitting the rocks with one foot. Like we would float up off the ocean and hills were it not for the weight of the car. A young Sikh, a wandering American, and
a Dominican voice, just careening through outer space.
The white disappears and we are back on earth again, and the sound of a market bludgeons the windows on our SUV. Scents, both ripe and rotten, laughter, bickering. They rush in the truck. I try to explain
how much I like the market, and it is lost on both passengers. Peace I like too. But the life of the market is all vivid colors and buzzing sales, and even though it has an honest stink of sweat and refuse, there is a human familiarity in this ocean of interaction. And I am so happy, so joyful to see it is alive in Haiti. Sadness can’t be seen
on these faces. Certainly it is there, but the market blurs it out.
Packets of UN supplied rice, individual portions, make their way into a new future. Francisco and Tejinder sigh. They are frustrated with the commodification of food, as if food were not a commoditiy. I think this is a conflict, all-pervasive, through most wings of disaster relief. People’s spirits are intimately connected with food, and
crisis forces an imbalance that favors physical nourishment. When we see food being sold, a thing prized above all else in relief work, really we are seeing the mind at a momentary triumph. The need to sell, to imagine, this fills the mind with the pleasure of self-sufficiency. Though it may appear brutal and crass, these are people stepping back from absolute dependency. These are people moving
on in their lives, and the resiliency which allows thoughts of markets and exchange in place of hopelessness is admirable, if not miraculous.
I put my camera in its case and roll the window down. For now, the preciously simple parts of life, the economy and entrepreneurship fill me with hope and I see that Haiti is not just broken with her soul intact, but she is alive in conclaves across the country which keep staples of merchant’s days and church hours– things inerasable by
natural disaster.

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