Author Archive

Signs of Rebuilding in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Author: Chris Oxner, Market Analyst, IEM
Reports from the ground in Haiti

The mountains and hills of Port-au-Prince are surprising.  I didn’t expect to the find the city located in such beautiful environs.  And anytime I start thinking about the natural beauty of a place, I like to imagine what the first people to see it thought.  Like at the end of The Great Gatsby when Nick is thinking about Gatsby’s house and then he “gradually became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world.” Here, you might think of Columbus and his crews or later Spanish sailors.  But long before Europeans arrived there were people living on the island and beholding the splendors of hill, mountain, and ocean.  All over Port-au-Prince you’ll see the name Quisqueya – on schools and buildings and in the names of organizations.  It’s a very old word.  Older than the European explorers.  This is what the people already living here called the island before anyone else arrived.  People likely migrated across the sea to Quisqueya from the Yucatan and found it a paradise.  The word means “mother of all lands” or “mother of the earth.”

Haiti earthquake picture of damage in Port-au-Prince

Earthquake damage still visible in Port-au-Prince

Driving around Port-au-Prince today there is still a lot of destruction.  And some progress.  I saw a field of bricks baking in the sun.  New bricks being made for new construction.  Rubble has been moved into piles so that most streets are passable.  As far as I can tell there are no rules of the road for Haitians, so if the gap is wide enough between the car in front of you and the oncoming vehicle, you can just shoot the gap and hop in front of the car that was in front of you.  The presidential palace is a sad sight.  I could imagine how splendid and dignified it had looked before the earthquake; now it’s a complete wreck.  There are incredible sights of buildings leaning over to their seeming limit.  People everywhere selling goods on the streets – people lining every street.  I wondered where they get the goods in the first place, and I learned that for many of them – the women – these are microfinancing programs.  They go down to the port to buy wholesale some merchandise (shoes, soap, etc.) and then sell it on the streets for a meager profit.  This is their $1-a-day or $2-a-day income.  And sitting outside on the busy, noisy, hot streetside, coming early in the morning to set up and leaving at dusk with their goods bundled on their heads.

Supermarket fruit at Haitian market

Supermarket fruit at Haitian market

At the supermarket in Pétion-Ville—the tiniest neighborhood in Port-au-Prince—the food was outrageously priced.  All across Port-au-Prince, food prices have skyrocketed since the earthquake.  The food at the grocery store is twice as much as the same food (brands) at a U.S. store.  Only the top echelon can shop there.  The people on the streets eat food aid, if anything – or they eat cheap street food and inexpensive produce from the market.

And there are tent communities all around.  In fields, in parks, on sites where buildings were completely destroyed, up and down hills.  At the former campus of Quisqueya University,

Tent communities in Port-au-Prince

Tent communities in Port-au-Prince

there are 6,000 people sheltering and receiving medical care.  At the new campus location, on the site of a former president’s residence—the new location was just launched and it was the day of opening ceremonies that the earthquake struck—there are tents set up for students and teleconferencing equipment provided by an NGO for class instruction.

Haitians are working hard at rebuilding their homes, their businesses, their neighborhoods, and their country.  While the government is absent, the people of Haiti are taking action for themselves and for their neighbors.  There is graffiti all around.  And a word you’ll see often is Solidarité.

Home Grown! Haitian coffee. Haitian porridge. Haitian orange juice!

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Author: Chris Oxner, Market Analyst, IEM
Reports from the ground in Haiti

Haitian Orange Juice

Haitian Orange Juice

I haven’t yet mentioned the coffee in Haiti – it is fantastic. Locally grown. Haiti is the rare coffee-exporting country that has a local market for coffee. In fact, the Haitian farmers believe they are getting the better of the exporters, because they will export the larger beans, and keep the small beans to sell in the local market. But the smaller beans have much richer flavors. So, the orange juice and the coffee are great in the mornings. And Pascale made a huge pot of porridge, and I thought, I’m going for cereal. She saw me grab the box of cereal and hold it over my bowl and she was giving me a look and pointed at the porridge and said “tu ne l’aimes pas?” And I hesitated, not really wanting to eat it, but I dropped a few ladle-fulls in my bowl and sprinkled a little raw sugar, thinking, this should help it go down. But it was awesome. Haitian coffee. Haitian porridge. Haitian orange juice. Even Haitian raw sugar. Local, organic. No fossil fuels burned transporting these goods across an ocean.

Arrival in Haiti; Start of a Recovery Mission

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Author: Chris Oxner, Market Analyst, IEM
Reports from the ground in Haiti

When I got off the airplane in Port-au-Prince, there was a band playing what sounded like New Orleans French Quarter music. That tells you something right there. And it is hot, even by Louisiana standards. I’ll tell you what was hotter – standing in a madhouse group of people trying to collect my checked bag. They just dump it on the floor and you have to scramble for it while fighting through all the other people. The streetside scene near the airport alternated between heavily fortified compounds (UN, US Embassy) and rubble.  Street vendors are everywhere, even selling in what seemed remote stretches of road.  The road itself was mostly gravel, deep ruts and large sections eroded.  I can imagine that come the rains in the next few weeks it will be mud and even more of the roads will be washed away.

Haiti street vendors

Haiti street vendors

The villa where we are staying is possibly the only property in the neighborhood without extensive damage from the earthquake. The outdoor pavilion does have some structural damage, so it has a yellow card (caution).  There are plans to fortify the damaged supports. There is a high wall around the compound, but from the upper rooftops there are fantastic views of Pétion-Ville, the mountains, more mountains, and many different communities.  The wind is blowing up here and hopefully we can tour downtown Port-au-Prince tomorrow.