CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti- Haiti is an in the streets culture. An “in the streets” culture is one where the people play out a large portion of their days in the public sector, simply put: in the streets. Most of these people have homes to go to, but they seem to prefer just hanging out in chairs in front of shops, in their doorways, on street corners, and in parks — talking, and watching the world pass by. There are people everywhere in a Haitian city.
Because of this, Haiti seemed to me a very safe country to travel in.
I don’t cringe when I step into a foreign city that appears chaotic, crowded, out of control, as I know that if I ever needed anything all I would need to do is peak in the nearest doorway and request assistance from the people who will invariably be sitting there. Aggressive crime — unless you are being mobbed — tends to happen in the shadows, and if a city’s streets are full of people there are far less dark, deserted places. A main attribute of an in the streets culture is that the people all tend to know each other, there is often a strong sense of community, and crime is dealt with by lynch mobs.
Streets that are full of people, are often streets that are ruled by the people. In such places, the police often have little to do.
In this way, Haiti seems safer than many urban areas that I have been to in the USA or Europe — places where even the streets of otherwise bustling cities are often devoid of pedestrians, cities where people live behind closed doors.
There are “in the streets cultures” and “behind closed doors cultures,” most countries fall into one of these categories. This is not only a demarcating factor in living strategy but also one of psychology as well. When I walk down the streets of Haiti or the Dominican Republic, India, China, Albania, Eastern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, the people look me in the eye, they open themselves up for an exchange of greeting, for some form of interaction (entertainment perhaps?) — their doors are open. When I walk down the streets of Western Europe, the USA, Japan, the people I pass tend to look straight ahead, as though no other person exists in the world — their doors are closed.
It is interesting when these two cultures mix. In the Dominican Republic, it is almost like going over a speed bump when I walk past a foreigner outside of the town center. The Dominicans usually look at me and nod or say hello as we pass each other in the streets. This becomes a habit, one that feels really odd to break when passing one of my fellow countrymen or someone from Europe: they tend towards avoiding eye contact, they seldom say hello. I stare at them and they look straight ahead like a chameleon trying to blend invisibly into the background. It throws off my rhythm. Walking passed these people is like driving over rumble strips on the side of a USA interstate — it shakes you up.
USA and Europe cultures don’t know how to be in the streets. While the Haitians and Dominicans are pros. It is interesting how social skills, senses, and sensibility erode in proportion to how developed a country is. People from the villages of the world know how to talk to each other, they know how to make each other laugh, they seem to talk to more people in a single day that the average American does in a month. They know people, they know how to talk, get what they want — they still have a basic sense of social intelligence and fluidity that many people from the highly developed countries have lost.
It is my impression that before people watched television, they watched people: they sat in the doorways of their homes, they hung out the windows of their houses, looking out into the streets to see what was going on. The streets was where the action took place, watching them was recreation. The early television sets even looked like windows — they had thick wooden frames that enclosed the screen, just as windows are enclosed by their panes. Staring into a television set is just the modern equivalent of looking out of a window upon a street full of action, a street full of people.
Open doors often indicate an open culture: people who are willing to meet a stranger, sit down, and talk, ask questions, inquire, teach, and learn. From mid-morning on towards night, the doors of Haiti are open wide.