There is a French word that is the most apt to describe how I am feeling right now: "effoirer". It sort of means flattened, squished, reduced to a pile of mush. Today was the day that I knew would be the hardest, and it lived up to my expectations. This was the day that I spent down in the lower town, visiting the city hall, if you can call it that, of Port-Au-Prince, then to see some markets and finally a school.
It is so hard to put a day like this into words. It was full sights and sounds and of smells. At breakfast in the morning there was a putrid pall over the city. The smell of burning garbage and the slums was heavy in the air. We had heavy rains the night before and the air was moist and heavy. Not a good combination to descend into.
As talked about, the rains wash all the detritus down the slopes into the lower town, and there is a lot of detritus! Going into the markets at the bottom of the hill, at the best of times, can be a challenge. They are rows of haphazard stalls, made of whatever materials can be found. Often there are tarps around that are so filthy and tattered you wonder how they can actually accomplish anything. Mostly though, people spread their merchandise on the ground. Ground that is covered in garbage, refuse, broken concrete and mud. And I was informed that this market has been cleaned up.
Here you can buy all your food needs, from fruit and vegetables to freshly killed chickens and other kinds of meat that I couldn't identify. You can purchase tires and motor oil, shampoo and tampons, clothes and shoes. It is all available here, strewn amongst the garbage and sewage. And the market goes on for acres. This is just one of many across the city, some better than others, many worse. This market is pretty average. I have seen much worse in my time here.
I got to see much better today as well. The Marche de Fer was rebuilt after the earthquake. It is indoors and with a more formal stall structure. There are no haphazard stalls here, no frayed and filthy tarps; it has an order to it. Each stall is packed more full of product than you could imagine possible. You can find all the same items that you could find at the outdoor market, but here there are lots of carvings and paintings as well. There is also a lot of voodoo material here, which is quite beautiful. It is visually quite overwhelming. Everywhere you turn are people and product, each loudly clamoring for your attention. The stimulus level was an absolute maximum.
The atmosphere, from the stench in the air to the visual and aural stimulus, leaves you completely drained. You look around and it is incredibly overwhelming in every sense of the word. The poverty of people, sitting in the garbage trying to sell a few mangoes, leaves you with a sense of despair. But then, you see people working to make the best of their lives selling the trinkets, sculptures and wares that they have made with their own hands and you see determination and hope.
As I have said many times, Haiti is a country where the contrasts kick you in the teeth every single day.
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