At first glance the streets of Haiti are complete chaos. There are almost no traffic signals, no sidewalks, not even a curb and gutter and street vendors infill the small spaces left between a wall and the cars passing by. Pedestrians dodge oncoming cars and everyone fights for the right of way. But the longer you’re here, the more an underlying sense of order becomes apparent. Car horns create a language between drivers and to pedestrians in the absence of signals or traffic laws. And so many of the other seemingly random occurances take an order and meaning as part of the rhythm of the Haitian streets.
There are of course traditional brick and mortar stores for every level of clientele. Some are behind ornate gates with guards and others are simply a room in the front of someones house. And then there are the street vendors. Everyday they go to their spot on the side of the road and unpack all of their wares and then sit and wait in the blistering sun for customers to come by. They congregate together forming a mini outdoor mall. What is most impressive is what they sell. There are those who sell fruits and veggies, or art or motor oil. But then there are those that are more opportunistic and they sell whatever they have. You might see them with ten or so shirts (all different and only one of each) and a few pairs of shoes and a couple of accessories or maybe just a piece of furniture. The randomness really strikes you. They are selling to a clientele who can’t go into the regular shops. There are no ads and the inventory can’t be planned for so you wander from one to the next to see if they might have something you need today. They seem to form “districts” as well with some traffic corridors specializing in one market. The road to the house here features building supplies, furniture and art. You don’t realize just how well all the gaps are filled until you take the long slow drive and see concrete blocks here, gravel and stones in varying sizes there, lumber a little further down, PVC pipes beyond that and handmade furniture beyond that. So they may not have the formality of being in one big store or in a mall but if you pay attention you can find most things you need.
The other thing that strikes you is the desparity between elite and the average Haitian. The high-end shops with air conditioning and guards verses the street vendors, the tin shack verses the resort. How two such different things can exist just feet apart from each other is surprising. Everywhere you look in Haiti there are walls to keep people out and they are both literal and figurative. If you’re lucky enough to have a house you will have a wall around it and in most cases the wall will come first. If you’re doing well here, you’ll have an armed guard around the clock. If you can’t afford that they you buy guns and patrol your own property. The opportunites to advance are very slim here and the system is set up to favor the wealthy so there is little chance of change. The only way up is education which is what we are working to help provide with our project. At an education conference this past weekend they presented the following statistic: Of the 800 children born everyday in Haiti only 7 will make it to college and of those 6 will stay abroad and only 1 will return to Haiti.