Friday, December 10, 2010

This City's Rhythm pt 2

One reason I wanted to go with my Kreyol teacher to see our neighborhood was to show that I am not afraid. I wrote previously about the culture of  fear here, and I wanted to counter that. I do not know if it makes any sense, but I felt like being out in the city, walking around, not being a reporter, would show that we are not afraid.

The streets were slick from the rain and everything was covered in a soot. Soot from burned tires and cars, mixed with a fine drizzle, created a fine sludge that stuck to your shoes, socks and ankles. It was everywhere, on every street, in every part of town that we walked in.

Very quickly I realized a few things. First, this protest is big. Starting from our school and working upwards, there was some form of roadblock ever 100 yards or so. Dumpsters, burning tires, burned shells of cars. The worst was at Delmas 75, and it seemed to really die down around Delmas 60, though all over the city there were smoldering piles of old fires. People kept getting tangled up in the wires that made up steel-belted radials.
In many places, groups of people were just hanging out on the street, waiting to see what would happen. It was quiet until we walked past them. Bearded Tony was with us, and he makes quiet an impression on Haitians. He does not go anywhere without drawing comments on his beard, which he has not cut for over 2 years. Countless times he is called  Jezi, Moise (Moses), Papa Noel, or Bin Ladin. It is crazy, and funny. I play a game where I say another of the characters he is called. So if they point and call him Jesus then I say, "No, he is Moses!" 80% of the time, this is met by riotous laughter.

The second thing I realized is that there is very little hostility directed at us. All of it is directed at the current government and the UN. Now, this might be because I also realized that our Haitian escort and his friend are heavily involved in the protest movement. He is not just out taking pictures. Every roadblock we come to, our friends know someone there. They would shake hands and point to us. We would shake hands. Everything would be cool. We could stand around, take pictures- we were in.

Actually, we never shook hands. Our guides were Rastas- Haitian Rastas. So it's a lot of fist bumps and Respekte, or "One Love!"
In Petionville, Tony's beard attracted the man in the picture above. Afterward there was debate about him. I think he was mounfou, crazy; others thought he was drunk. Both are a strong possibility.

Our guide wanted to take some pictures at the CEP headquarters. CEP is the central election committee responsible for running the election. They are extremely unpopular right now. Their office is in Place St. Pierre, and was heavily guarded when we arrived. There were few Haitians around and Aaron and our guide started to snap some pictures. Our new crazy/drunk friend decides now was a great time to start taunting the UN guards.

Most of them take it, realizing one loon was not a threat, but his act soon grew old with one solider. He was  a mean looking dude. His face was scarred and he looked like he wouldn't put up with much. His country's flag on his shoulder made me feel like he was not familiar with human rights. He broke rank with the other troops and started shoving the Haitian away. From a distance the mounfou continued to taunt him, so he took a tear gas round from his vest, loaded it into his launcher and pointed it at the guy.
Let me say this- in the whole 4 hours I was walking around the city, I never felt in any danger. The crowds were vocal but peaceful, calm-ish, and none of the Haitians had any weapons. Weapons make me nervous. They make me nervous because they make other people nervous. So when this solider leveled his weapon at the crazy guy who had been taunting him, I knew we were one trigger pull from having a situation, and I was worried there might be danger.

I quickly stepped towards the solider with my arms stretched to my side, hands open so he could see that I was not going to do anything, and I asked him if he spoke English. His eyes darted to me and to his target; his gun didn't go down. I told him that the man was crazy, he didn't know what he was saying. I asked him to lower his weapon, no one wanted trouble. His commanding officer walked up and we shook hands. The Wyatt Erpp wanna-be lowered his weapon, and we went on our merry way.
Walking away, Tony asked me if I thought it was a good idea to be seen shaking hands with the UN. I told him I thought it was better than letting them fire tear gas, get the crowd angrier, and someone possibly getting killed.

Walking home a Rah-Rah band was leading a march of protesters; drums and chants for Martelly and against Preval filled the streets and we stood on the sidewalk watching purple posters with Tet Kale printed on them jog past. Again, the city's rhythm changed while a few thousand people ran by.
By nightfall, the rhythm changed again. Silence. Total quiet. No one on our side street, even with the street lights on. Someone said that a bulldozer came though and cleared the big roadblock by our school. Drove right through it, pushing everything to the side. The CEP has agreed to a recount of the votes and there are reports of meetings between Preval, the US ambassador, and a conference call with the UN Secretary General. Even though the flights are still canceled till Monday, I am hopeful that Haiti's natural rhythm will resume soon.

I like the familiar sounds, the honking of horns, the chants of the marchans, the noise of a city full of life and people making ends meet.

Please keep praying for Haiti. Pray for the leaders and the decision makers.

-B

P.S. All photo credits go to Aaron Hendrick who was brave (or crazy) enough to take his camera with him on our excursion today. He and his wife blog here.

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