The Haitian airport was just as chaotic as I expected. Men impatiently crowed around the baggage claim, hoping their fingers might land on someone’s bag who was willing to accept help—someone who could spare a few dollars in exchange for helping the bag out to the car. When so many Haitians only make $300 a year, you can understand why every dollar counts.
In the city, trash is everywhere. No space is safe from its presence. Plastic bottles push through the overgrown grass. Gutters are a river of garbage, with brown stained water snaking its way through the crevices between aluminum and plastic. People tip toe around the mounds of shredded garments and the waste that sprinkle the pathway. Men balance baskets on their heads with even more bottles resting inside—bottles that are likely to join the litter on the streets.
Walls too are everywhere. A walled city with walled neighborhoods and walled homes beyond that. Guards and dogs and barbed wire all meant for protection. Safety has left its ideal form, but to the people, it’s protection none the less.
Walls and trash. I realize that I haven’t painted an alluring picture of the city at all. But the highlights are only as valuable when the lowlights stand beside them: a beautiful contrast that shows the city for both all that it is and isn’t.
As I passed yet another mound of litter from the back of the rickety bus that carried me to the compound, the image before me was not one of desolation. A single, black flip flop poked through the trash. Behind it, a girl was walking just beyond the garbage. She looked strong, beautiful and perfectly at peace with the place around her.
There’s an embrace of simplicity and an acceptance of life in its beauties and shortcomings that exists. Beauty created in its juxtaposition with the mess. Bright, vibrant walls standing out against the barbed wire that decorates them. Bright, vibrant people standing out in the environment of pollution and litter that surrounds.
The city is fiercely alive with its people—a people of strength. They don’t seem broken or worn down. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. There’s a sense of pride and a soft resilience hidden in the crease of a smile. They are the people of Port-au-Prince: a beautiful mess of a city.
Enjoying and learning from this chapter as the pages turn