By Candice Russell
A South American psychiatrist searches the streets of Port-au-Prince one morning for country eggs, because a voodoo priest saod they were necessary for a concoction to ease his son’s asthma. Another foreigner is said to be under a voodoo spell cast by his love, the 19-year-old daughter of his Haitian cook. How else to explain the sway that the young woman, hardly fair of face or figure, has on this handsome older man of means?
But voodoo cannot solve political intractability. Some who have lived here in the most recent worst times now want out. An elegant European couple who own a gallery in Petionville, the prosperous suburb up the mountain from Port-au-Prince, are considering a move to Cuba, which they deem a potential improvement of their lot.
Another gallery owner whose work with the United Nations and the Organization of American States helped restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the country’s first democratcially elected president in 1994, is planning an exodus. He has spent nearly 20 years in Port-au-Prince, raising four sons and surviving in spite of an international trade embargo and great political unrest. But increasingly violent crimes, a hungry jobless majority, and a government not moving fast enough to help are making well-off residents like him and others examine the sanity of staying.
Even moneyed Haitians who chose to endure in the tumultuous 1990s are leaving. Maggie, a sultry woman in her 30s, tells a story of imminent escape. She is sitting ont he balcony of Villa Peabody, surrounded by the capital’s elite class of doctors, politicans, journalists, and expatriates. The occasion is the 60th birthday party of Jorgen Leth, the esteeemed Danish filmmaker who lives six months of the year in the villa that some call the most beautiful gingerbread hosue in Port-au-Prince. The joyous mood of the evening belies som private dark thoughts.
“This country has nothing any more,” says Maggie dispiritedly. “No police, no safety, no freedom.”
After robbers took a watch and some cash found downstairs while Maggie slept in an upstairs bedroom, she started plotting a move to Miami. The first step is closing her retail textile business in downtown Port-au-Prince. The second is to become a go-between for Haitians needing American goods and services.
Even the simple act of getting around the capital is not simple anymore. Stop signs are ignored. Stoplights are inoperable. Get in a car accident or disagre with a taxi drive about a fare and there is no policeman to call to settle a problem. If gun-toting authorities halt your car late a night, it is wise to let them search the vehicle without question.
But Haiti’s excesses and insufficeencies are forgotten in the sublimation of music. Visitors and residents baptize themselves in pure sound every Thursday night at the Oloffson, watching and dancing to the folk-based roots music of RAM. This 12-piece band is led by Oloffson manager Richard Morse. Wife Luniece sings and dances with the group,rocking the shaky rafters of the gingerbread hotel more than 100 years old. The crowd of hundreds, mostly Haitians under 40 with a future, know the words to each song. Recently signed to Jimmy Buffett’s record label, RAM is likely to become the country’s best export since Barbancourt rum.
(see next Sunday for conclusion of essay).