From Kingston to Port-Au-Prince with love

port au prince haiti

The young man was walking through the Pétionville in Port-au-Prince at about 1 am when residents watching their neighbourhood challenged him. He wasn’t from there. Hours later as locals started heading out to work, his body still lay in the street.

“They were like ‘If you’re not from PV what are you doing here?’ So they took him and they burned him. That’s Haiti and everyone is taking pictures and acting like its normal, but it wasn’t a dog – that’s a person! Though still it’s nothing compared to what happened in 2010, what happened in 2000.”

This was set against the backdrop of post-election protests; with what seems like the entire wall space of the city is plastered head-to-toe in ‘vote for me’ posters. And at the same time violence by gangs unconnected to politics. 

Coming here from Kingston it’s hard not to sympathise: raw poverty and politics; and how the country is then channelled through the lens of global media. Jamaicans are of course highly sensitive about that, but Haiti is a country that has been made to suffer more – by history and natural disaster – multiple times.

PAP is a city where foreign visitors interact with the city in a strictly airport-work-hotel kind of way. But it’s also one of if not the most culturally vibrant city I’ve ever been to – where you feel its heartbeat the moment you step foot.

Artists sit on the sidewalk painting, their completed works lining the fences and walls behind them. Kreyòl with its French rather than English influence has a beautiful sound…not that I have a clue what’s being said.

The street noise seems even more anarchic with a bit less loud music but a lot more car horn. Many of the buildings are enviably elegant, even dreamlike.

artisan business network haitii

One lunchtime we drove a few blocks into Pacot, a community where numerous artists are based, including the Artisan Business Network where you can find arts and crafts way more sophisticated than in Jamaican craft markets, but ridiculously affordable. Starting next week is the enviable Ghetto Biennale featuring Haitian, Caribbean and international artists.

Not that their patties are as good! Haiti’s version was more puff than meat in the pastry, but their Solomon Gundy served with plantain was pretty damn fine. And you can wash it down with the local brew Prestige, served in a similar bottle to Red Stripe, thanks to an old-time relationship with D&G, just that [sssssshhhhhh] it tastes better.

Meanwhile the Haitian people, such as those I’ve worked with, are really welcoming. Yeah you’ve got street hustlers, which our North Coast also has, and there is a security situation; so don’t be careless, just like you wouldn’t in any city or its varying neighbourhoods. 

Remember that this is a country which has received one-sided attention ever since it achieved the world’s only slave-led revolution. Just like Jamaica, most of the violence is inter-gang, mostly limited by geography, and so unlikely to touch tourists.

PAP is definitely a place those of us with an open mind should try and explore. Just be sensible, and don’t order the stupid tourist food nachos that left me still lying on my back days later on my lay over in Miami airport. Lesson: when in Haiti, eat proper Haitian food!


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