Ups and Downs

April 1, 2012 § Leave a comment


Up and down…down and up…these are the two directions in Port au Prince.

It is an unforgiving place, this mountain of a town, one that plays out its history, its politics, and its complexity in this most raw of daily commutes.

The first descent starts before dawn, around 4 am.

It has to,

otherwise you won’t make it to market by 6 am, and you won’t get a prime spot to sell your mangoes, grapefruits, cell phone chargers, and t-shirts.

Step by step, hopeful sandals and dusty, dress shoes, the same used for weddings, baptisms, graduations, and every other occasion make their way down hill.

The shredded concrete of the long past its prime road meets local legs. This daily battle ultimately wears down both the path, and the feet.

Up and Down

Around 7 am the second commute begins, slowly pressing uphill. The gardeners, security guards, cooks, and nannies are heading up to the mansions that keep Port au Prince’s socio economic structure in place.

100 Gourdes (Haitian monetary unit) for their thoughts. Many would probably take that deal…times are tough in post earthquake Haiti. But they were tough before too.

Standing on the top of a cinderblock roof, just off the road, serenaded by roosters and feral dogs, the view is of dominoes disguised as houses, waiting for the next shift in the weather or the ground to start sliding down.

Carefully they ascend, one step, two step…

They shift from the road to a small sliver of dirt or grass, as their employers speed down with ease and abandon, smashing the road into pieces with Land Rovers and Toyota pickups.

Businessmen, politicians, foreign ambassadors, UN coordinators, and other elite are shielded from the emerging sun and growing heat by tinted windows, air conditioning, and designer sunglasses.

Some slow down and let locals hop in the back.

Mostly they check their Blackberries as they are escorted down hill by their drivers and bodyguards.

These beastly vehicles blast the economic pilgrims walking up the hill with a cloud of exhaust, a kind of dark, toxic ‘bonjour’ to bring in the day.

The smell of burning garbage and brush also covers what centuries ago must have been a crisp morning air.

Young schoolboys in pink dress shirts and grey shorts race downhill, followed closely by older sisters in blue blouses and grey skirts. Their book bags slap against their backs as they skip over potholes.

The children slide

down…down…down…

slipping by women heading

up…up…up…

carefully balancing baskets on their heads full of bread, mangoes, and bananas.

As locals head up Port au Prince’s winding spine, they hit Montagne Noir, the stretch of road known as the dark mountain.

A neighborhood that now hosts one of Haiti’s darkest heirs, the recently returned “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

Instead of prison, he’s freely allowed to gaze down on the mess he and his father wrought, during decades of dictatorial mayhem, human rights abuses, and self-enrichment.

And while impunity may reign on the dark mountain, the people still move, as they always have, up and down, down and up.

Like blood they flow through the veins of Haiti, keeping traditions, good and bad, alive, and giving this island a chance to keep breathing, and to keep changing, one step at a time.

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