Have you ever been to an outdoor Haitian market place in Port au Prince? Have you ever walked through the masses of humanity huddled on top of each other selling their wares; selling their spices, or their oranges, vegetables or meats? Have you ever smelled the air or the dank odors that rise up from below your feet as you try and make your way around -- avoiding, if you can, stepping on someone's merchandise, all the while swatting at flies? Bonjour Madame... Bonsoir Monsieur... Market ladies talking, laughing, quiet, arguing or simply still, lying on the used clothing for sale or rearranging for the umteenth time a pile of three eggplants that refuses to sell itself. Watching, taking it all in, planning.
It's not healthy. It's not right. It wouldn't be acceptable in Europe or Canada or the United States. The health inspectors would close the market down; the fire marshals would be bought or chased out. The wooden markets have already burned down. How many people are permitted to exist per square foot in the Western world? How many toilets must you have per person in the Western World.
Since Haiti's January earth quake, I've been complaining about the living conditions in the tent cities (bed-sheet-cities too) and then I started to realize that the living conditions in the tent cities aren't that different from how Haitians were living before the quake. Sure, before the quake the homes were often made of cinder block, tin or cardboard instead of tarp or canvas, but these pre-quake homes didn't have running water. These pre-quake homes didn't have indoor plumbing. These homes didn't have refrigerators or stoves. So really, how much adjustment had to be made to go live in a tent? Not Much.
The international community is rightly concerned about water and toilet facilities in quake-stricken Haiti but how come they were never concerned about the living conditions or Haiti's urban poor before the quake? How come the UN never shouted out before the quake? How come the UN didn't scream out before the quake about how Haitians are living? How come the UN thought it was so important to drive around in bullet proof vehicles with their weapons out but they accepted so openly the way people were trying to survive in the cities? The UN adapted to the squalor instead of putting an end to it.
Last night, while I was sitting at my desk, it suddenly occurred to me that Haiti's new tent cities actually look like the suburbs when I compare them to the fly infested, mud strewn conditions of the Haitian market places. The economic conditions which cause people to stay, live and work in the market place environment are ironed out in the fancy restaurants of Petionville and the meeting rooms of Washington D.C. Even more disconcerting; I'm assuming that most of the people that are going to the Haiti Donor Conference are strictly going to get a piece of the 11-14 billion dollar pie that's being recommended for Haiti's resurrection from the rubble. The people at the donor conference are not really concerned about the inhumane living conditions for Haiti's urban poor. If they were, they would have shown that concern before the quake. Are the market ladies going to the donor conference? Are RAM musicians who live in Tent Cities going to the donor conference? The folks going to the donor conference are probably the folks who created Haiti's current economic condition. Should we expect change for the better from the same folks who gave us change for the worse?
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