Two tap-taps and two buses, or the rough equivalent thereof, are required to get from the Ideal Villa Hotel on Delmas 53 to the Route des Rails tent camp in Carrefour, at least for Brillant and me. The first tap-tap deposited us next to the national soccer stadium where, unfortunately, a mob of people was flowing in for the Franklin Graham, son of Billy, crusade. Wading upstream through the flow of mostly well dressed attendees, many carrying Bibles, we finally reached the departure point for buses going to Carrefour. There, we entered into quite an alternate reality, boarding the Gangsta Rap bus
This “bus” was actually not a bus at all, but a long-bed truck of the type furniture stores use to deliver their merchandise, which seems fitting. A domed door had been cut out in the middle of the right side of the orange, red, green, blue and white passenger compartment, flanked by two cut out shamrocks where windows would have been if there had been windows. After climbing up into the bus using the considerately placed handrails on either side of the door, Brillant and I had to climb up again to slide into the first bare wooden bench seat we came to as the bottom of the seats were at the level of the bottom of the cut-out shamrocks.
Settled against the left side of the bus, where there were windows, I realized that my head was about two inches from the ceiling and that I could end up with a serious headache if we hit any major potholes along the way, a not unlikely prospect. However, looking around, I comforted myself by contemplating the calming décor. The bus’s owner had lined the interior walls and ceiling with pressed sheets of metal in a baby blue and white tiled pattern, with black diamonds at the corners, reminiscent of a summer sky being traversed by a flock of crows. Unfortunately, my bucolic idyll didn’t last long as the driver soon decided to entertain us early boarders, and perhaps attract like minded customers, by cranking up the music.
So, from five small speakers, each probably three inches across, pocking the front wall of the cabin like large caliber machine guns, the serenade began with a boom of bass that shook, only slightly, the window by my head. By the time the bus was fully occupied fifteen or twenty minutes later, my discomfort was somewhat reduced by a significant, and I hoped temporary, loss of hearing.
As for the songs themselves, I only recall a lot of apparently very angry “yo, yo, yo’s”, and the requisite liberal use of what I shall here delicately refer to as the “F word”, in pursuit of money the singers seemed to feel they were being unfairly denied. Oh, and I believe there were some “Ho’s” thrown in as well, probably as a counterweight, but perhaps as a complement to, the “yo’s”. In any case, by the time I reeled from the bus into the bustling Carrefour street scene, it seemed as placid as that cumulus blue sky on the roof of the bus had before the music started. Crossing the street, Brillant and I came to a gate through which was the wrong camp.
This isn’t the camp.
No? But this is the only camp I know here.
It’s not the one we want, Brillant. The one we want is in the middle of the road, the Route des Rails.
So with that, Brillant began asking around and soon he had a lead. We set off in the same direction we had been going on the bus, but I was more than happy to be walking. After ten or fifteen minutes we boarded our second tap-tap of the journey. This took us perhaps a couple of miles to where the street we were on dead-ended into the Route des Rails, where we debarked. Once again, Brillant asked around, but no one seemed to know anything about the camp. After a few minutes hesitation, Brillant said, Okay, let’s walk this way, and turned right. I don’t know why he thought the camp was to the right, but, trusting his judgment, I went along. We walked for a while past empty median before he asked me, Are you sure this camp is on this road?
Unless it’s been torn down. But the last information I have is that it’s still here.
Okay, okay. We will walk a little farther.
But only a short while later we boarded a traditional bus. The boulevard died out and we bumped over rutted dirt roads, through oil refineries right on the sea, heading back in the direction of Port-au-Prince. By this time, I had pretty much given up on finding the camp. I figured we had either turned the wrong direction, or the camp had, in fact, been dismantled since the last story I’d read about it had been written. Then, suddenly, we were back on the boulevard and Brillant said, There it is, and it was. A row of tents and makeshift structures filled the median from curb to curb as far as the eye could see.
Exiting the bus, we found ourselves on the back side of the camp, so we slipped through a gap where a tent had probably once been. All along the row of tents, people were standing in the street, or sitting on the curb, outside their homes as the traffic whizzed by. Children played on the curb. Women swept the street. Not quite sure how to proceed, Brillant and I withdrew to the gap we had come through to think about it. While we discussed what to do, basically concluding that we would have to ask people for permission to photograph them, a young, clean-cut young man, probably in his late twenties, approached us and asked what we were doing.
Brillant explained in Creole that I’m a photojournalist here to report on the one year anniversary of the earthquake and when he finished, the man, Joseph Emmanuel, said, Okay, now we’ll speak English. As it turns out, he’s an unemployed English teacher who lives close to the camp. He told us that on Friday, January 14, all of the residents of the camp are supposed to move to new housing a short distance away and asked if we wanted to go see it.
We set out down a dirt road in the direction of the sea and within a half-mile, after passing some houses and shops, came to a spit of land at sea level protruding into the Caribbean. Perched on it were 160 brightly colored, fiber-board, one room houses for the residents of the tent camp. With a refinery in plain view not more than a quarter-mile to the left and the shoreline covered in plastic bottles and other garbage, a more forlorn subdivision could hardly be imagined. Still, the structures here were more substantial than those on the median, and there was no danger of being hit by a speeding vehicle. I raised my camera to take a picture and, naturally, a fat functionary came running at us waving his arms.
Brillant explained who I am and what I was doing and the functionary said he would call the deputy. After a few minutes the deputy showed up and after hearing Brillant out, said that I couldn’t take pictures at that time, but that I could return on Friday to document the tent dwellers moving into their new digs. With that, the functionary escorted us out.
Back on the boulevard, I asked Emmanuel if he could help us get people to allow me to photograph them, as the people living in the camp know him. He was amenable, so we started down the row of tents. The first people to agree were two women, one standing in the doorway of her home and the other her neighbor. Then the neighbor threw open the flap to her tent to reveal her mother sitting, and a child asleep, on the bed that almost filled the structure. The grandmother agreed. And from there word seemed to spread that I was okay. But then we came to a group of six or seven young men who seemed suspicious of me, and this could well be cultural bias, vaguely threatening.
They more or less surrounded us, wanting to know who I am and what I was doing there. As Brillant explained and asked if I could take their pictures, there seemed to be a fair amount of jocularity, but I couldn’t tell if we were meant to be included, or were the target of it. And no one had agreed to be photographed. Then one guy, wearing a green cap backwards and a white tank-top with green piping around the neck and armpits matching his cap, his hair in short dreadlocks and with a drooping left eye, very possibly drunk, stoned, or both, waved his left arm in a manner that clearly meant, Okay, take my picture. And with that, the dam burst. All his buds then wanted their pictures taken as well. The only difficulty was getting away from them.
We worked our way to the end of the camp, and very few people along the way objected to being photographed. It was certainly the most thorough job I’ve managed to do shooting the residents of a tent camp. And yes, I do plan to return Friday to capture their reactions as they move into their new, government approved homes.
To see more pictures, go to www.vichinterlang.com