Sunday, April 29, 2012
My, what shocking red rain boots you have on!
Yesterday was the first all-sunny day we've had this week. Even during rainy season, a gray day is rare in Haiti but the past week has been cold and drizzly, scattered with pummeling rains.
When I had to go out on Monday afternoon, I pulled on my sturdy boots, my rain jacket, and grabbed an umbrella -- as any practically-minded woman would do, right? Without a functional waste management system or drainage ditches, the streets in this city become rivers of nastiness when it rains.
My feet are my favorite mode of transport and, maybe I'm just oblivious, but I don't think I typically draw that much attention when I walk around. To get where I was going on Monday, I walked the equivalent of 4 blocks and counted the highest number of stares and jokes EVER, every single one directed at the fact that I was wearing rain boots. In the rain.
Here's the thing: in Haiti, city folk don't wear rain boots. Rural 'peasant' farmers wear rain boots to work in their fields. Construction workers wear rain boots on job sites (and it doesn't have to be raining). But, never ever have I seen anyone heading home from an office job thus adorned.
Social and class divisions run deep here, and the urban-rural divide is one of the most acute. Though most people living in and around Port-au-Prince have come to the city within the past thirty years or so, the social status (and norms) gained by education, a desk job or perhaps just by general city living precludes use of rain boots and other things associated with rural life and manual labor. Instead, people in the city take off their shoes -- to keep from ruining them -- and walk barefoot when it rains.
It's a good thing I've always had a rebellious streak.
(On a far more serious note, we don't remember past year's rainy seasons beginning with so much ferocity. This week's rains have been devastating. By midweek, 9 people were drowned or killed by landslides in Haiti and 11,000 displaced by flooding in the Dominican Republic. Roads have been damaged, bridges washed out, streets are blocked up, and the situation for those still in earthquake displacement camps is beyond abysmal. Cholera is on the uptick, too.)