One of the biggest downtown intersections in Port au Prince is named after the preacher who holds forth--or did, I don't know--at a big church on one corner. Friends I know told me that that man's son, who's also a preacher, once spoke at chapel at the school his kids attend and introduced himself by apologizing, not because the intersection is named after his father but because it's such a grand mess.
There are no red lights, no traffic signs, no traffic cops, no lines painted on the street. There is absolutely nothing to direct traffic but a thousand drivers leaning over their steering wheels seeking their own blessed directions. Cat-and-mouse doesn't describe movement because cat-and-mouse is far too controlled.
Here's what happens in that sprawling intersection--you move, he moves, that other guy takes a left, then the Tracker goes behind him, leaving room for guy in the Nissan, who then gets to go left if the cabbie lets him go, which is doubtful because there's a Land Rover over there surrounded by motorbikes so who knows how long it'll take. Inch by inch. Seriously. Haiti offers true libertarianism, but it would turn Rand Paul into a socialist.
There is pavement. Some. But there's also lots of roads that are simply rock because Port au Prince is built into a mountain. Potholes are an American invention; they occur when chunks of concrete break or sink or something. There are no American potholes in Haiti, but neither are there any Chevys or Buicks or anything close to a sedan. What you drive needs a high wheel base. An automatic transmission has to be a liability because so many roads are steep and just plain rock. Let me rephrase that--just plain rocky.
Going down city streets is something like being thrust into a blender, without the blades. I don't know that anyone would be ticketed for not wearing seat belts, but not to strap yourself in would mean jouncing around like that bb in any can of spray paint.
Did I mention, dust? It's everywhere. Some men get their daily bread by dusting off cars on street corners, where--yes--you sit long enough for them to do it.
Oh, and this too--when there is a stretch of pavement, anything more than couple dozen yards is a runway; you simply floor whatever it is you're driving. If you can get up any speed at all, you do. I couldn't guess how many fender benders occur per hour on Port au Prince streets--thousands, I'm sure. If you're smart, you've got a banger bars hung from the front of your truck. My guess is that few are killed. No one goes fast enough.
And then this. Because lots and lots of habitations are little more than sleeping quarters, the streets, most of the day and night, swarm with people. They're all over, masses of them. Wherever you go, people line the road. Even when there's pavement, there are people on both sides of the road. If you stick your arm out of the window, you could straighten a thousand collars. Honestly.
The streets all looked the same to me during our short stay. I can't say I remember any of them specifically. They're all full of people an arm's length away.
But I saw one old woman twice, I'm quite sure. She was sitting beside a cement step, her bird-like legs scrunched up beneath her. She'd spread some things she had to sell--some trifles, some junk, really--because selling stuff, whatever it was, was her livelihood.
I have no idea how old she might have been, although I know that in 2013, Haiti's average life span measured just over 62 years. My guess is she was younger than I am, although she couldn't have weighed more than seventy pounds and she seemed ancient.
I couldn't see her face because it was down, as if she were sleeping. If she had a customer, I don't think she would have been awake to sell her goods. She was crumpled in the same corner, no more than three feet from the bumper of our SUV, fast asleep, or so it seemed. There wasn't much to her really--imagine someone thin as an easel folded up, crumpled up in a corner, people walking by, us driving. I don't remember what she wore.
I actually saw her twice, I'm sure. Both times she was sleeping, what there was of her fitted into that corner like something someone else had packed away, a greasy spot on the wall where she'd laid back her head. Obviously, she'd been there before, often. Maybe she'd always been there.
I was right next to her really, right beside her in a car I'm sure she never saw. We went right by, as one does in Haiti. All. the. time.
She might have died. She might have actually been dead. I saw her twice but never saw her move.
Who would know? Who would stop to check?
Who would think of her?
I don't know.