Today we picked up two instruments north and south of the Gonaives area, and drove up to Port-de-Paix on the north shore, where we installed a GPS receiver on top of a police station that shook so much during the earthquake that the chief of police didn’t want to talk to us inside the building. Nobly, they did not hesitate to help us onto the roof and stay with us while there. To do otherwise would have been impolite, and the Haitians are incredibly gracious hosts.
Our drive today took us form the scrub valleys, through the mountains, to the sea; through rural Haiti that connects these two big cities. You hear expressions like “third-world” and “80% under the poverty level” and “poorest country in the western hemisphere”. But to see it is to appreciate what those terms really mean. From the big cities where venders sell a card table’s worth of items, to the farmlands where the soil is tilled with their backs, to the rivers where people gather the water that is not available in their homes, these beautiful people are scratching out an existence.
Through the eyes of foreign scientists, there is much to be pitied and it delivers a great sense of compassion and empathy. We see deforested mountains and plains, people living in freight containers and little shacks, a lack of sanitation control, crowds of jobless citizens, guards with shotguns at the grocery stores, overcrowding, children sucking on AAA batteries (we quickly traded for a lollypop), poverty almost everywhere, and dirt roads everywhere in need of grading and repair.
We find it interesting that people here seem to be always on the move -early in the morning, in the heat of the afternoon, in the darkness of night. The streets in every town we visit are cluttered with people going somewhere. Few people seem to own cars, but brightly painted pickup trucks and small motorcycles are used as taxis. It is quite ordinary to see 15 people in the back of a pickup or 4 on a small motorbike – including children.
There is beauty here; women in warm colored dresses balancing huge loads on their heads while walking back from market or field; children everywhere playing, no matter the conditions – we’ve seen little kites made of a thin wood frame with plastic from grocery bags that float on the slightest breeze. We actually found one wrapped around one of our tri-pods today and dropped it off the roof into to the children’s hands, provoking a big smile (no worries about the data; the kites are super light, we were still on point, level, and oriented north). The sense of community both in the smallest and biggest towns is clear. All-in-all, people seem to be honest and up-front too. It’s easy to take advantage of foreigners but we haven’t come across that so much. We’re happy to say that from what we’ve experienced, the Haitian culture promotes politeness, humility, and community.
Andy and Sarah