Thursday, August 16, 2012

City Boy Now (part 1 of some)

New organisation.
New project.
New town.

New ramblings of a Irish boy moving back and forth between a cubic comfort zone and its elliptical orbit.

There are plenty of people in the greater metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince who could more accurately communicate the day-to-day nuances and idiosyncrasies of the city, but sure I'll give it a bash, with the expectation that if you've not been here, you'll verify the information you deem overly-subjective using some other platform, and if you have been or are here, you can berate me in person. I will also, more than likely, compare it to Dublin on more than one occasion, something a significantly smaller proportion of people would have the means to do.

I arrived on Monday afternoon, just as the working week was getting into its stride. A driver had been sent to collect me from the airport, and he was standing at the exit of the terminal, holding an envelope displaying my last name first and my first name last, raising his eyebrows at every white male who passed him by. His NGO credentials had no doubt given him an advantage in getting to the head of the dense crowd that was leaning and tip-toeing to identify the faces coming out of the airport building.

We took off out of the airport car park and into the melee of dust and vehicles. The areas surrounding Toussaint Louverture International Airport appear to be a hub of the construction industry in the city. Large warehouses, with freight trucks and cement mixers in the car parks outside, line the road back towards Petionville, until they are eventually replaced, further south, by UN logistics compounds, and the strikingly new facade of the US embassy. At some stage, the driver pointed out the residence of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former Haitian president who returned from exile in South Africa only last year, following a coup d'etat in 2004. The bars of the large white gates to the estate were narrowly spaced, and so did not allow anyone to peer through to the property beyond. However, as we drove by, I got the feeling that on the bustling street outside, I was the only one trying to do so, such was the normality of the situation to others.

We reached the office, where I was introduced to some members of the staff, and given some briefings on security. I was then driven the kilometer back to the expatriate residences, a large gated building containing a number of apartments. The majority of NGOs here house their expatriate workers in the areas on the hills around Petionville, to the south of the city, presumably for security reasons. The elevation, not to mention the superior build quality and appearance of the buildings, give the area a slight air of middle-class, which I find slightly uncomfortable, possibly due to a perceived fragility of this air, but more likely, out of guilt.

The apartment building has a balcony, that is positioned such that it allows one to view one-hundred and eighty degrees, taking in an amazing view of the sprawl down the hill below and beyond the bay to the west, and the mountains to the north and east. However, the rising hills behind, to the south, are blocked from view by the building itself, giving one a polarised vision, of all that is lower, and none that is higher. You can see those on a similar level either side of course, but no further up.

Some boys were playing football on the flat roof of a building across from the balcony this evening. In Petionville, a flat surface is a commodity, it seems, and the traffic winding its way around the myriad of cliff-side streets seems to be permanently lifting its collective hand-brake. Small steps. Up the hill. One car length at a time. Then brake. Two lengths if you're lucky. Or the slalom downhill, one foot hovering over the brake at all times, gauging the weight of the passengers against gravity, all the while craning to see around corners, to see where the next line of traffic ends.

There was lighting last night, and again tonight. I tried in vain to film some. Always the wrong direction at the wrong time. Despite the severity of the storms and the rain, (and my admittedly small sample size of two days), they seem to be quite predictable in terms of timing. Five o'clock, dark clouds begin to gather overhead. Six o'clock, the first patter of rain. Six-thirty, darkness with flashes of fork lightning. Eight o'clock, calm, with occasional blasts of pounding kompa music, or a man with a megaphone.