CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti- On Monday they cleaned the mud.
On my arrival in Cap-Haitien, I found streets caked in mud, trenches that partitioned the main roads into pieces, openings in the road large enough to fall through, and garbage strewn everywhere. I heard a group of American volunteer girls rejoicing in the fact that they were on their way out to the Dominican Republic: “I just can’t take all the trash in the street,” one said while taking a drag on a cigarette.
This was on a Saturday. On Monday morning I awoke to a much different scene:
A virtual army of civilians and workers were out cleaning the streets, picking up the garbage, shoveling up the loose mud, and sweeping the sidewalks clean.
I was impressed. In the span of an hour or two, the excess of trash, mud, and grim that caked the streets of Cap-Haitien during the weekend was gone. The streets were clean, all set to be dirtied again.
It means a lot to see people cleaning their city. It means something when the people sweep the sidewalk in front of their doors — or, in the case of Cap-Haitien, shovel up the mud. It means something when a city employs a legion of street cleaners fully equipped with shovels and wheelbarrows, and sends around garbage trucks:
It means the people care. For even if the checks on littering are extremely pliable, the people do clean up what they seeming toss so carelessly to the ground. In the mornings, the streets of Haiti are clean. This simple act shows that the people there do notice the trash, the mud, the grime, and they know that it should not be there — that their city is a better place to live in without it.
This may seem rudimentary, but this is a big window into a culture. I have been to many places where the people really did not care about the appearance of where they lived — the streets of provincial France are caked in dog shit, I have seen trees in India completely covered in plastic bags, the down slope of a hill seems to be the best place to deposit trash in Latin America — but this does not seem to be Haiti. In Haiti, the people throw their trash in the streets, but seemingly do so with the notion that they will eventually pick it back up.
I even saw a few garbage cans.
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