Editor’s note: Grassroots’ staff members Daniel Moss and Azalia Mitchell have traveled to Haiti to visit with our partners and allies and to assess the situation on the ground after this winter’s Presidential elections and this week’s parliamentary run-offs. Azalia has sent along her first impressions of Haiti (below) and we hope we will hear more from them in the coming days.
In Port au Prince there are obvious signs letting a visitor know that presidential elections were recently held. Hanging from buildings, telephone wires and poles are huge banderoles reading: «Rene Preval: President» and «Everyone in Agreement: Magnigat for President.» The Preval banners, as it turns out, proclaim the results of the election, while the Magnigat are reminders of his supporters’ disappointment.
It’s odd that months after the fact, the banners have not been removed, and it’s even odder that there seems to be little hint to visitors like me that parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in just a few days. Some of the people I talk to are discouraged that there has been little campaigning and one barely feels the usual excitement that accompanies an election. Port au Prince is fairly calm, at least in the areas that I visit.
[Editor’s note: Early reports suggest that there will be very low voter turn-out for these important national parliamentary elections.]
Daniel and I get from place to place by traveling in a jeep. Our driver has the kind of name that one must live up to: WillSage, which means «Will the Wise.» One of the first things that WillSage said to me suggests that he is well-named. He noticed me staring out the car window in awe trying capture all of the sights and sounds of Port au Prince and said, «?It’s a very beautiful country with poor leaders.»?
He was right on target with my thoughts. I am in awe of Port au Prince. The hills are lovely. There are bougainvillea in bright magenta and mango-orange–?colors that I previously thought only existed in a crayon box. The taxis, called «tap taps,» are rolling works of art with words and images that have been hand painted in primary colors decorating all sides.
There are also things that remind me that some things are universal. For example, a women’?s hair and beauty salon on every block. My favorite so far is called «The Chic Woman.» ? Women everywhere want to be chic. I am including myself as I was tempted to visit the salon.
When I am an optimist, I tend to notice these elements of beauty, color, grace and resilence. But there are plenty of reminders that everything is not beautiful, things that seem to drain the color out of the landscape.
A security guard holding a rifle was the person who greeted us when we arrived to visit a NGO. When we arrived at our hotel, another guard pointing a rifle. These are obvious signs of counter-violence that happens in every place where there is striking inequality. Having a rifle pointed at or anywhere near me makes me nervous, but I know it is nothing compared to living with the structural violence that manifests itself in more subtle ways: houses literally stacked one on top of another, high unemployment, little health care, few roads, people walking two miles up and down a mountain to fetch drinking water, people begging for food, people dying of hunger. I notice these things when I am being a realist.
One of the reasons Daniel and I a’re here is to decide what some of the most important next steps are to alleviate some of these painful realities, but it’s very hard to know where to start. When Daniel asked a human rights worker what he thought the country’?s priorities should be he responded, «?Everything is a priority here. Everything.»
And so I go back to noticing the colors. There are flowers blooming and there is artwork almost everywhere, ranging from paintings to metal work to rock sculptures. This is what awes me about Haiti. If Haitians are still creating art and recognizing beauty there is a creative spirit. And where there is a creative spirit there is hope.
As one woman said to me today, «?We have hope. So much hope. Perhaps, too much hope.»