“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.
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)