Monday, August 18, 2008

Driving through Port Au Prince


Today we went into Port-Au-Prince to see an apartment that's available. We love the apartment. Or, to be more accurate, love the apartment's terrace, which wraps 3/4 of the way around the apartment and has a view over the city and the Bay of Port Au Prince. The landlord lives in Miami, so we told the caretaker that we'd take it, but have no idea when exactly we'll be moving in. We have almost a month left of orientation anyway.

It's quite a drive to get from Gwo Jan to our future apartment. The roads in Haiti are in terrible shape, especially in the city where traffic is heavy. But even so, the city is less chaotic than I expected given the bad press on Haiti. We pass street cleaners, wearing yellow and funded by USAID, and markets where vendors are selling produce, used clothing, plastic sandals, rum, electronics and motor oil. We pass Belvil, a pretentious looking gated community (one of many in Port Au Prince). Advertisements are painted in bright colors on concrete walls and storefronts: soft drinks, Prestige Beer, soap, Barbancourt Rum and the ever present yellow Pante (Panther) condom ads. Everywhere are red and white Digicel banners, t-shirts and hats. We pass hardware stores, barber shops, beauty salons and borlettes - small scale lotteries. We pass God Power Auto Parts, Good Taste Restaurant, Body Perfect Gym and Grace Divine Truck Service. There are a lot of vehicles on the road, mostly trucks, SUVS, used school buses from the U.S. and motorcycles. It's easy to pick out the United Nations' shiny white Nissan SUVs, with UN in big block letters on the hood and side. Closer to downtown, UN peacekeepers patrol the city with assault rifles from the back of jeeps and flatbed pickups. For public transportation, there are tap taps. Tap Taps are pickup trucks with a fiberglass cap over the truck bed and bench seats. With their bright colors and intricate designs, tap taps are a tribute to Haitian artistry. Each is decorated with a name: Chicago, Merci Bon Dieu, Jesus Revient, Yes Manman, I Love You Jenny, God Before All, One Love Baby.

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