When Brillant and I arrived at the Route des Rails median tent camp for the third time (See Route des Rails Median Tent Camp, Carrefour and Route des Rails Moving Day for accounts of our previous visits), it was immediately obvious that major changes had occurred, but whether for good or ill remained to be seen. Whereas before, there had been almost a solid row of tents running down the median for half a mile or so, now only a relatively few remained, separated by long stretches of empty ground littered with rubble and the detritus of the residents who had departed. The question was, where had they gone, and did they go willingly?
We approached a couple of guys sitting in front of their still standing home and Brillant inquired. They responded that all of the residents who had left had moved to the new USAID and ACRA sponsored housing by the sea. There were still eleven families on the median, but they expected to move soon. Apparently, the residents’ fears, expressed to us on our last visit, that only ten families would be allowed to move and that everyone else would be evicted with no place to go, were unfounded. Given this, we set out for the new beachfront subdivision.
As we entered, the roll of barbed wire that had blocked the entrance on our last visit now tossed aside, the first thing that caught my eye was a row of laundry hanging to dry off the back of an orange house. Once among the houses, we immediately saw people going about their lives, children playing, a young woman combing out another’s hair while a friend sat nearby with a tray full of candy, gum and cigarettes for sale, a man shining his shoes and people walking to and from their neighbors’ homes to visit. After a few minutes, one of the young men who had intercepted us summoned an official of some sort, who arrived shortly thereafter.
Once Brillant explained, yet again, who I am and what I was doing there, the supervisor escorted us through the neighborhood facilitating my asking questions and taking pictures. As we meandered along, we ran into a number of the same people we had met on the median. Without exception, they said that they were happy with their new homes, and indeed, it was obvious even without them saying anything. Their manner and activities clearly expressed their joy and excitement. The old woman I photographed in her home on the median with her grand-daughter beamed at us from her new doorway, before going inside to pose on her relocated bed.
Because closing the wood door and windows the houses come with isn’t really a viable option due to the heat, everyone had hung curtains, usually white or pink, and sometimes a little sheer, to provide some privacy and decoration. Inside, peoples’ belongings, regardless of how many or few they possessed, were neatly arranged around the walls. We came upon one woman busily painting a metal frame that appeared to be intended to hold shelves as a string of laundry hung between two houses behind her. All in all, it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood, but not a perfect one.
Short term, the buildings that will house the toilets are still not completed, leaving the residents to continue to fend for themselves in this regard. Longer term, there are at least two matters that should be of serious concern. One is the question of what chemicals have leached from the adjacent refinery into the soil the houses are built on and the water that embraces that soil, and the effects those chemicals may have on the residents. And the second, and most obvious, is the question of what happens to these houses built at sea level when the next hurricane hits.
The foregoing notwithstanding, however, I must admit that my initial impression of the neighborhood, and of the local authorities, was unfairly critical. The Caribbean colored houses are a huge improvement over the Route des Rails tent camp. And the authorities do seem to intend to move, at their own pace, all of the residents of that camp to the new housing. Clearly, attempting to impose U.S. standards of health, safety and efficiency on Haiti is not only unrealistic, but unfair. Pass the crow.