Haiti: Beauty in the Trash

by Chloe Jeffreys · 11 comments

in Haiti

“There was a beauty in the trash of the alleys which I had never noticed before; my vision seemed sharpened, rather than impaired. As I walked along it seemed to me that the flattened beer cans and papers and weeds and junk mail had been arranged by the wind into patterns; these patterns, when I scrutinized them, lay distributed so as to comprise a visual language. —Philip K. Dick, Radio Free Albemuth

While I’ve been to some dirty, trashy cities (I’m looking at you, NYC) nothing I’ve ever seen in America–or any other country I’ve ever visited–could have prepared me for the trash of Haiti.

Brass Band in Haiti

There is no trash service in Haiti. I suppose the frequently recurring military coup d’etats resulting in a nearly complete lack of any functioning infrastructure would make regular trash pick-up difficult. It is amazing how easy it is to take something as seemingly simple as trash pick-up for granted, and to fail to recognize how essential an organized society is for such luxuries to exist.

Anyone who spouts off that revolution and anarchy are good ideas (I’m looking at you Russell Brand!), needs to head on over to Haiti and check out what government collapse and revolution look like up close and personal. From my perspective, it looks like lots and lots of trash and human suffering.

But the Haitian people aren’t without solutions. They just set their goats, chickens, pigs, and sad little dogs free (or tie them to something) and let them clean up the mess. And when they get hungry, they simply walk over and kill their little recyclers for supper. It’s a brutal circle of life in Haiti. Which is likely why the tourist industry there is way down these days.

Not in Kansas Anymore

My first day in Haiti was an assault to every American sensibility I have, and boy do I have a lot of them. Between the lawless traffic in Port-au-Prince–the only discernible rule appears to be that might makes right-of-way–and trash everywhere you look, it is hard to not feel frightened and overwhelmed.

Obviously, none of this should have come as a surprise to me. To a man, every person I told had a visible, physical reaction upon hearing that I was planning to go to Haiti. Everybody knows that Haiti is a mess.

And then you see it for yourself.

Now the fact that Haiti has trash everywhere isn’t the news of this post. Everybody knows that’s true. But what you might not realize is how quickly your brain habituates. By Day 2, I stopped seeing all of the trash.

Beauty Beyond the Trash

And once you stop seeing the trash you see a place that was once very beautiful, and still is in spite of  itself. (Click on images for larger view)

From the Hills of Hinche









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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dawn Quyle Landau December 7, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Very moving and beautiful… when I was in grad school, dear friends went to Haiti for their honeymoon– before the coups, the environmental destruction, and the earthquake to end all earthquakes; it looked beautiful! It would be great if one day Haiti could truly recover.
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rodalena October 31, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Chloe, everything about this post is moving.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 1, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Thank you, Rodalena. There is beauty everywhere, but sometimes we really have to search hard to find it.


Patricia October 31, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Hey Chloe
Great photos. Because I have been to Haiti many times (not recently) I know you could not go there and not be changed by your trip. Ever read Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. Hopefully as things settle you will only focus on the beauty and what you can do in the world.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 1, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Hey Patricia! I was hoping you get a chance to see some of my posts or pictures since you’ve been to Haiti yourself, and have some sense of the struggles going on there. It’s an amazing place. Hard in so many ways, but beautiful at the same time.


Julie Chenell DeNeen October 31, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Those photos are hauntingly beautiful.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Thank you, Julie. Almost all of those landscape pictures were taken from a moving vehicle, so I was really pleased to find some of them did come out so well.


Connie McLeod October 31, 2013 at 12:48 pm

To say that I’m enjoying your posts from Haiti, doesn’t explain what I mean. I’m moved and horrified by your experience and filled with pride that you did this. You made a difference, just by witnessing it and telling others about the reality.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I’m so glad you came by and checked out my trip. I think it is important that we don’t turn our backs to suffering, and while everyone should not go to Haiti, I hope that I’ve brought something of the flavor of it back home.


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