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March 12, 2011

Haitian Winter, Part 5: Saturday Morning Kaleidoscope: JFK, Tourist Troopers and the Road to Truttier

By Mac McKinney

In part 5 of my Haiti series, we hit the road quickly and extensively on Saturday morning of our trip, witnessing UN troops playing a reversal of roles, a "Kennedy" market in action and more.


On February 4th independent journalist Georgianne Nienaber and I flew into Haiti for a five day whirlwind investigative tour facilitated by our driver and "fixer", Andre Paultre, a journalist's best friend in Haiti. This is the fifth piece in my series, "Haitian Winter".

For Part One of this series, CLICK HERE
For Part Two of this series, CLICK HERE
For Part Three of this series, CLICK HERE
For Part Four of this series, CLICK HERE


I'm backtracking from Part Four of this series, the stop at Fort Dimanche, to the beginning of our trek on Saturday morning, February 5th, to catch up on the photo record for the day. We stopped once again at the "White House", Haitian slang for the earthquake-wrecked National Palace across from the giant Champs de Mars IDP camp, our having stopped here as well on Friday evening. But now it was early morning and there was a freshness in the air as I stare at the tent city's Haitian flag fluttering in the breeze across from me:

The camp houses thousands within earshot of what used to be the heart of the Haitian government:

Speaking of which, here is the Presidential Palace again, right behind me:

Now for an ironic moment. Yesterday I was taking shots of omnipresent MINUSTAH, the UN security force occupying Haiti, on patrol all over Port-au-Prince. Well, they have just arrived again, an entire busload full! What the Hell is going on?

Are they about to launch a raid on the Champ de Mars camp?

Well, they WERE here to shoot up the neighborhood, but not in the sense you might think I mean. Look at this UN soldier's left hand:

Yes, instead of tourists taking pictures of them, they were here to reverse the tables today, Saturday. They are all from foreign countries, and they all want mementos of their deployments.

even though they still have to dress as hard-ass storm-troopers.

Yep, they were hear to play tourist themselves, posing with each other against the backdrop of the White House. They even asked me to pose with a few of them. I didn't bother to ask them to send me a copy though.

Meanwhile, life is stirring in downtown Port-au-Prince,

even though the place, and the Palace, are still a wreck.


And now we are back in the Toyota 4Runner,

heading toward the Truttier refuse and medical waste dump near the giant slum area of Cite Soleil adjacent Port-au-Prince, a dump, to quote from my last piece: "already controversial because even cholera-laced human feces was being dumped into an open and unlined pond there, threatening to contaminate an actual water source that serves Port-au-Prince, Plaine Cul-de-Sac Aquifer."

But we were also taking a route that would go right through the shanty coastal town of La Saline and its massive open air marketplace, which was now rapidly approaching:

Here we are passing street vendors setting up shop, while below, a truck is delivering goods for sale in this poverty-stricken, grimy neighborhood:

We are on the fly, no time to stop, so I am shooting right through the window while trying to avoid blurring. There are a tremendous amount of cheap clothes for sale, many of them actually second-hand clothes imported from America and called "Pepe".

This is such a storied phenomenon that started decades ago during the presidency of John F. Kennedy in the early 60s, that an actual documentary has been made about it, and to top that off, here is an excerpt from an article about the documentary AND what came to be known as the "Kennedy" markets in Haiti:

From: Our Past is Haiti's Present: An Interview with "Secondhand (Pepe)" filmmakers Hanna Rose Shell and Vanessa Bertozzi

In the 1960s, as part of an international aid program, the US started shipping huge loads of secondhand goods to Haiti. Many older Haitians still refer to their secondhand clothes as "wearing kennedy," a nod to the president at the time. Another word commonly used to describe these goods is "pepe." Preachers were said to cry Paix! Paix! ("Peace! Peace!") to calm down the excited crowds awaiting new loads of items to sort through.

Today, anyone in the Miami, NYC, and Boston areas -- cities with large Haitian immigrant populations -- is likely to run into someone at a flea market or thrift store collecting goods to take home to Port-au-Prince. Secondhand (Pepe) (clip) is a short documentary showing this remarkable trade in goods, as it explains the history of secondhand clothing in our country. Filmmakers Hanna Rose Shell, a Ph.D. in the History of Science at Harvard, and Vanessa Bertozzi, a graduate of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program, who now works at Etsy, were curious about the tradition of secondhand clothing. From 2003 -- 2007 they visited ragyards in Miami, went through archives in London and Washington DC, and traveled to Haiti to see the pepe markets for themselves.

That is not all that is sold here though. There are also the traditional food staples:

Another truck delivering goods to market:

And now we have moved on past the marketplace and headed for a a nearby surprise stop:

This is the shanty neighborhood surrounding the ruins of infamous Fort Dimanche, , partially shown below, where the Duvalier dynasty sent its political opponents or those even suspected of crticizing them for  torture and termination through untreated illness or execution:

This is the subject of my fourth article, with a number of photos, which you can visit HERE.

Leaving the Fort Dimanche compound in this poverty-stricken still struggling with earthquake debris a year later, we see a crate of junk metal that will eventually be sold for whatever the seller can get:

As we leave La Saline, still en route to Truttier, we begin to pass through stretches of countryside, which intrudes everywhere beyond the capital:

We are still close to the sea and the Bay of Port-au-Prince, as we pass by this fetid canal, just one more eyesore in a country with a horribly weak government and collapsed infrastructure:

We pass by a store riddled with graffitti that advertises selling Clairin, a strong, made-in-Haiti only spirit very similar to rum, since it is also made from cane sugar, and it is also used extensively in herbal folk-medicine remedies. But it is cheaper and less refined than rum, and also less regulated, which has given rise to some recent health disasters that Georgianne writes about in her article, Death in a Bottle for a Handful of Haitian Coins.

Now we are approaching the Truttier refuse dump, with, sadly, makeshift tents and ramshackle dwellings camouflaged in the background of this rather unsanitary area:

A Jedco sewage collection truck drives toward the entrance of the dump, where it will unleash its toxic ingredients into an open, unlined pond of sewage, the subject of another Haitian health scandal that I will touch upon in a future article as I take you inside the dump for some shocking sights.

Submitters Bio:

I am a student of history, religion, exoteric and esoteric, the Humanities in general and a tempered advocate for the ultimate manifestation of peace, justice and the unity of humankind through self-realization and mutual respect, although I am not a pacifist, nor do I believe in peace at any price, which is no peace at all but only delays inevitable conflict. There are times when the world must act. Planetary consciousness is evolving, but there are many retrograde forces that would drag us back down. I have also written one book, a combination of poetry, photography and essays entitled "Post Katrina Blues", my reflections on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans two years after Katrina struck. Go to the store at http://sanfranciscobaypress.com/ to purchase. And I also have a blog called Plutonian Mac.