A quick, first trip to Haiti opened a window on a world that Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers had wanted to see for years. The occasion was the recent opening of the Best Western Premier in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. Beyond the art-filled public spaces, halls and rooms of the hotel was another Haiti entirely. Gay's first dispatch follows.
A weekend in Haiti barely taps the surface of what is going on in this struggling country. I have impression overload due to tight security, little time, a very short trip, long hours spent in traffic and my deficiency in Creole talk.
The view from my room at the Best Western was a palette of scenes and sights of ordinary Haitians early on Saturday morning of street vendors, motor scooters jostling with pickup trucks that serve as mini-taxis or buses, women arranging tee shirts and articles of clothing for sale on fences and stucco walls.
In the early-morning light, the small pastel houses high up on the hillside of Petion-Ville looked like a painting.
Haitians have perfected the art of balance. They carry everything on their heads, from huge woven baskets of flowers and baguettes to cellophane-wrapped bags of plantain leaves, tubs of plumbing equipment, and even animals. I saw a live goat atop one vendor’s head and chickens in a crate on another.
Most were okay with having their photos taken, but I always asked and then tipped.
“Merci, merci,” said one while another quickly pocketed the $1 U.S. I handed him. Mistakenly, I had first given him a 10 gourd note, which I later learned equaled about five cents. No wonder he waited for more.
Haitians are entrepreneurs if nothing else. They recycle everything.
My one and only purchase, due to lack of time, was a bag made of recycled gum wrappers. The guy knew his stuff and how to seal a sale. We reached an agreement that made us both happy.
Some of the street scenes were distressing. Lack of sanitation, piles of garbage and views of tarps and makeshift lean-tos for housing attest to the fact that this country — so full of music, art, culture, Creole, cuisine and natural attractions from beaches to mountains — is struggling still.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.