Occasional Musings – 12, tap taps, okada and guns
I’m visiting Florida for a couple of weeks, and if I am to be honest, I needed a break to get my bearings and to refresh my energy. PAP is sapping of energy: heat, noise, people, market – here its difficult to know who occupies the greater number, buyers or sellers. Every few yards women and men stand in groups each group selling the same item – onions, bags, pens, avocados. If I shut my eyes I could be in Lagos or Port Harcourt, everyone is on a hustle, a struggle. My own personal nemesis is the Tap Tap. I try to sit on the edge seat, exposed to blazing heat stuck in the blokese [go slow, jam,] for hours but at least I am not squashed between two elbows and backsides at least as large as my own. .Now I’m away I can admit to becoming frustrated, jumping out and catching an okada [motorcycle taxi]. My most traveled journey is the couple of miles from Frere junction to Penier where I have become so familiar to the Frere drivers, they call me “Penier Ven Sis”.
The dangers of this form of transport were evident when one crashed into a truck I was traveling in. Neither the driver or passenger fell off but I know for sure I would have gone flying. One thing PAP has taught me is that I have no balance. On another occassion a family member returned with cuts and bruises after a crash in which she fell off the bike. Still the calling is too great when faced with the choice of arriving in 10 minutes versus 90 minutes. Whatever bumps and dust I experience is better than been squashed and burned in the midday sun. I do try whenever possible to take the Tap Tap front seat. For this one needs to dress appropriately so the driver notices you whether out of pity or becuase he believes you a potential attractive proposition. Alternatively, and my preference, is to take control and assertively open the door with a bonjour or bonsoir and climb in. Even here you run the risk of having to share your seat with one other person though not quite as bad as sitting in the back. If I had the money and the courage I would buy my own scooter or bike and have the freedom to roam, weaving in and out of traffic at will. Really thats a fantasy, there are too many steep hills for me to brave motorcycling the streets. Even as a passenger I am fearful of some journeys, so lacking confidence in gravity, its difficult to know which is more frightening, going uphill or downhill.
Still I miss PAP, solidarity house, the family and look forward to returning at the end of the month. The night before I left a friend visited to say goodbye and as we sat down he asked a profound question. How optimistic was I about Haiti? I thought for a while and I guess I took too long because he interrupted my thoughts with “I’m not optimistic” “We’re are near finished”. I know what he means. The popular masses had their moment in the 80s and 90s when Lavalas was indeed a revolutionary flood but things are different now. USAID, Clinton and their Haitian puppets are busy consolidating their power. Many of the missions and NGOs have gone or stripped down to the bare bones. Those that remain maintain control of their sector which does not include the poor neighbourhoods. Millions of PAP residents are not even on the margins, they are forgotten, hidden from view in Cite Soleil, Carrefour, Jalouzi or in camps on the outskirts of town or off the dusty beaten paths. Yes there are pockets of support – the odd clinic staffed by 10 people and catering to 50,000 is so far off the needs that its hardly worth mentioning except for those that can attend it is literally a life saver.
One visible sign that raises alarm bells along with the presence of police armed with automatic rifles, the ubiquitous security guard also armed with automatic weaponry. MINUSTAH automatic weapons, trucks, tanks. Police Nationale d’HaÃ¯ti pistols, rifles, batons, para military. Private Security – rifles, sticks, iron rods
Every gas station has at least two guards and of course those shops, grocery stores, cafes, hotels frequented by middle class Haitians and foreigners. The presence of these forces give us the impression we are in the midst of danger. Watch as three or four people gather on the street and within minutes the police will intervene, so assembly in public becomes a de facto civil disorder. Granted these exist in other countries but Haiti’s uniqueness lies with the concerted government policy to disenfranchise and exclude the popular masses from society and governance.
It’s the private security that I find most worrisome given the history of the para military in Haiti [See Jeb Sprague: “Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti”]. Questions such as Who runs these companies? What kind of training to officers have? I am told ex Haitian military, Duvalierists, or Haitian elite – are all three in one. Are these private security firms really militias in the making to be used against the popular masses? Or is this just a business strategy whereby the threat of violence is being hyped up to encourage businesses to employ armed security? I grew up surrounded by guns. I am used to living under military governments with armed soldiers on the streets, at checkpoints, in doorways and markets. I do not feel intimidated by armed men of the state on my streets but I am wary and I certainly don’t feel safer.
Yesterday Thatcher died – people sang and danced on the streets of Brixton, rather perverse but I had a quiet drink myself to the 80s, the women and black and brown folks who sank into deeper poverty, the miners, the workers movements decimated, public housing sold off so that today millions more are homeless and jobless, support of apartheid and thats for starters. Bottom line – Good Riddance, she’s dead the rest of us are still living the price of her actions!
In months to come expect to hear more of the “Haiti is Rising” “Haiti is open for Business” [see “Africa is Open for Business, Rising” for what to expect] etc etc – there are more Porsche Cayanne’s on the streets of Petion-Ville today than three years ago. There are now at least 6 new multi millionaires in Haiti since 2010! Possible investigative reporting project – how much money has been made by independent contractors and Haitian businessmen as a result of the earthquake and disappearing aid money.