Haitians, ever fastidious even in crisis

Have you noticed how incredibly clean everybody looks in the footage on Haiti?  The only people who appear unkempt, on the whole, are the foreign reporters.  Well that’s an exaggeration of course, but not much of one.  Really — look closely at just about any picture or video from the earthquake aftermath and all the Haitians are miraculously clean.  Their clothes look freshly pressed, their sneakers shiny.  If Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, I think we can also safely say that Haitians are also the snappiest dressers in the western hemisphere.  What’s more amazing is that Haitians can manage to dress beautifully with the most meager resources.  I’m left wondering at the moment: where the heck are they finding those spotless clothes?  Even in normal times, clothes and laundry are a major enterprise but now the effort required to be so fantastically clean now must be even more daunting.  Maybe it’s a small thing, but somehow I don’t think so.  Their ability to dress beautifully is simply awe-inspiring.

Bathing two and three times a day is normal.  You know how many of us Americans like to point at certain people (countries unnamed!) who don’t bathe enough, don’t wear enough deodorant, and are generally scuzzy in personal hygiene?  I’m pretty sure that WE are those stinky people, though no Haitian would be rude enough to even hint at that.

There are virtually no stores in Haiti where you can buy new clothes.  Nearly every piece of clothing in Haiti comes from abroad, generally part of the large mass of secondhand stuff that is traded globally.   The secondhand stuff sold in the streets is called “Kennedy,” a term that arose when President Kennedy shipped huge amounts of aid to Haiti.  Now the stuff is more often called “Pepe” and covers anything secondhand (which is nearly everything): stereo components, cars, shoes, underpants, McDonald’s toys.  When clothing manufacture (and sweated labor by Haitians) was still a viable business, there was a nice trade in factory rejects on the streets, but this has long dried up.  The massive influx of secondhand goods helps to ensure that local businesses like tailors and seamstresses have virtually no chance.  The wealthy simply shop outside of the country, in the Dominican Republic or Miami.  There is not one mall in Haiti, and before the earthquake, the Caribbean Market was the largest in the nation, with a massive array of — get this — SIX cash registers.

A personal note for the day — after nearly two years of not teaching Haitian dance, I did a class today, as a benefit for the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, which was flattened in the earthquake.  I miss dancing a lot.  That’s one thing I realized.  We raised $185! St. Josephs trains some of the boys in folkloric dance and has a wonderful dance troupe, which is why we decided to support them.  Here’s a link: http://www.heartswithhaiti.org/

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to get that container to Miragoane.  Going to sic a sorority on making the hygiene packs, which we will try to ship to Miami in a week or two, and then on to Miragoane — before the container — to test the waters.  Somehow a sorority seems like the right group to get to do the task.  One of my favorite students is a member, which doesn’t hurt.

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