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Americas

Port-au-Prince life goes on amid the rubble

©

Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2010-01-27

The Canapé Vert district of Port-au-Prince is soldiering on amid the chaos produced by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. Our special correspondent meets some young Haitians rebuilding their lives in the razed district of Canapé Vert.

Canapé Vert was one of the more “well-to-do” districts in the east of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince - before it was destroyed. That’s how Brice Velon (pictured in slideshow), now living in a makeshift camp in the old “village square”, describes it.
 
Canapé Vert - which translates as Green Couch - gets its name from its once lush vegetation.
 
“But people around here call it Canapé Vert because the well-off residents would recline on their sofas, and green is the colour of hope,” Brice says laughing and with a twinkle in his eye.
 
The young Haitian seems to know everyone in the area. “No,” he says, “It’s everyone who knows me. The last ten years I have been the star of the local football team. I am a very good player.”
 
Brice sleeps on a carpet at the edge of the square. His house has not completely collapsed, but as he explains, “the concrete is fragile, the walls are cracking”.
 
A spirit of entrepreneurship
 
His large extended family is spread around this makeshift camp. His mother, who is ill, keeps out of the sun underneath a thin tarp. One of his aunts sells corn on the cob at the market that has sprung up on the other side of the square.
 
Brice's sister, nieces and another aunt camp under a tiny tree surrounded by odds and ends they have rescued from their former lives – camping gas, tinned food, plastic containers, and blankets.
 
For the moment, Brice is living off his savings and praying that they don’t run out too quickly, even if he can rely to some extent on his friends and family.
 
In Canapé Vert those whose lives have been wrecked by catastrophe help each other out. Not so everywhere – in other districts the gangs rule supreme, as if the disaster of the quake had not made people’s life enough of a misery.
 
"The city seems full of life"
But here, a spirit of entrepreneurship has galvanised the residents left destitute by the catastrophe of Jan. 12. Small food and second hand clothing stalls are flourishing.
 
Fabienne (main picture) has found two big vehicle batteries that she uses to re-charge people’s mobile phones, at 15 gourdes (about 50 cents USD) a go. “We do what we have to,” she says. “We have to be able to buy food, which has suddenly become very expensive.”
 
An aftershock every day
 
Here no one uses the word “earthquake” to describe the tragedy that razed already poverty-stricken Port-au-Prince. Haitians prefer “the event”, or talk of the “7.3” in reference to the magnitude of the massive quake.
 
And there is another threat looming for a city that has suffered at least one aftershock a day since the main quake, which claimed up to 150,000 lives.
 
“We are praying for it not to rain,” says Brice, looking anxiously at the sky. “With all the bodies buried in the rubble, diseases would spread fast.”
 
There have been occasional showers in the last fortnight – nothing big but everybody scans the sky for signs of a downpour.
 
But for a district that has effectively ceased to exist – almost every building has been wrecked – people smile.
 
Brice’s friend Peter explains: “I don’t know where I’m going to sleep, but I keep my smile. Why? Because I am alive and I can still fulfil my dreams.”

 

Date created : 2010-01-26

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