One of the great delights about being in Haiti is abandoning so many things I feel the urge to control in the States. I turn off my cellphone, I don’t follow the time. I get outside the airport gates, hand off one of my heavy duffels to Cherabon, settle into a passenger seat and leave the driving to him as I survey the wonder that is Port au Prince. Today there were eleven of us in a large van, four other visiting missionaries and six Haitians; I guess lots of people had business in the city. I am well versed in the road from the airport by now, past the pastel Oxfam houses that are slowly supplanting the tent cities, the gigantic and smelly open market, the port, city hall plaza that is sprouting weeds, the treacherous Cite du Soleil and the oil tank farms that stretch until space opens up near Carrefour and we are in the country.
But today we took a different route, right through town, past sights I had not seen since my first visit to Haiti in 2009, before the quake. If you squint Delmar Road has a European flair, houses tight to the winding street with colorful vendors lining the sides. True, the buildings are flat grey and many are damaged, the street vendors are woman squatting in front of wide baskets of rejects from American superstores, but there are treasures to be found. We passed some long, sculptural bars of local soap and elegant wands of sugar cane. A statuesque woman carried a platter of the reddest cherries atop her head.
After scaling the rise we hit a straight street that heads back towards the sea. This is the furniture district, rows and rows of poorly lacquered bureaus and wire beds with garish mattresses. But ahead of us stand the remains of the Cathedral, now a single wall anchored by a pair of toppled towers. The remnant of the rose window is still in place, but instead of stained glass inserts, the masonry voids create cutouts of the clear blue sky beyond.
We wind to the left and enter the Federal area, broad boulevards with gracious traffic circles, wrought iron fences that define formal gardens, and the impressive Second Empire President’s Palace. Just keep squinting and ignore that the palace dome that toppled in the earthquake still sits skewed and unmoved for the past two years, the gardens are overrun with tents, the wrought iron fences are capped with swirls of barbed wire, and the circles are lined with port-a-potties whose doors open right into the traffic.
Our final sights in Port au Prince take us by what must be the import district. Fat bags of 50 pound flour from France, stacked like bricks over eight feet high. Rows and rows of the stuff. It is no small wonder that in the past three years Haiti, like virtually every place else in the world, has gotten fat. Flour is not part of Haiti’s native diet, but the First World’s surplus is here for the taking. Starvation is on the wane, but the dichotomy of malnourished fat people is on the rise.
Eventually Port au Prince falls behind, we meet up with Route 2 and make our way along the familiar route to Grand Goave. But I really enjoyed our scenic detours through the city.