Site Visit 26th Dec 2012: Bel Air, Port au Prince

 


On Boxing Day I decided to go and visit the site of the Presidential Palace. At 4pm and with Port au Prince traffic even taking a moto taxi (the back of a guys motorbike) it would take at least 30 minutes and eat into the hard fast rule of the visit which is not to be out after dark. The site of the Presidential Palace initially was a scary place. The first time I was approached by a hustler was here and his trying to sell me Haitian art quickly turned into friendly banter after he told me I was the whitest person he had ever seen. After I had to explain about where Newcastle was and a genetic inability to tan he asked where I was going next. The most confronting question which can often be impossible to answer. I told him I wanted to the see the Cathedral, well the ruins of the Cathedral. He laughed and told me ‘bad men are there’ to which remembering my mental image of the Port au Prince map could not be any more dangerous than where I was as it was only two blocks north. I start walking and immediately feel a change. The streets become wooden structures and not concrete and as I go further north I am asked for the only time, “hey blanc, give me a dollar!’ I ignore the child replying by asking for money in return and avoid interest by taking a photo of a ruin. A worse idea as hearing the beggars conversation the column moves and a man in grey rags emerges from the foreground of my photo staring at me. Alone I press on towards the cathedral and stop blending in. Two streets away I am an expat walking down the street with often not even a glance from a passer by. Here I am a target of money and attention. I keep walking down the street knowing that I would not be back here. If I pass up this opportunity to see the Cathedrals ruins Id be loosing my site of one of the most iconic images of the Haitian earthquake along with the ruins of the Presidential Palace. I enter the crowd which is closing up the market and see the masses of people. To the left the cathedral behind a line of men breaking up TV sets, to the right a camp made up of tents emblazoned with the words seen everywhere in Port au Prince, ‘USAID’ the oxymoronic acronym for an organisation designed to offer sustainable solutions to disaster relief. The shouting, the stares, the fear are all emotions I had not felt anywhere else in Port au Prince. I ask the store owner with the largest pile of TV sets what his name is and I am undertaking a project on Haiti in London. After the pleasantries he takes me up to the locked gates of the cathedral grounds. The orange glow is the sign its time to leave, we talk a bit longer, the usual topic, of my project and what England is like and grab a motor taxi out of the area. When I return to the hostel the guy who had told me the presidential palace was safe was horrified when I told him I had been to the Cathedral. Apparently there were two gang incidents the 2 days prior with a number of shootings. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

 

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architectural association school of architecture diploma unit 16 ©2012