i woke to a completely new set of sounds and smells this morning in downtown cap-haitien, a cacophony of tap-tap horns and shifting motorbike gears. street peddlers shout out their goods, “dlo! dlo!” mosquitoes buzz in your ear. an old man sings a sweet melody as he cleans the streets in his flannel shirt, cap, and rubber boots. he sweeps the water and dirt away each morning as if he himself swept in the new day.
pedestrians flood the street in every direction as their chatter is nearly drowned out by the sound of running engines. they form single-file lines to navigate the giant, swollen ponds of water from last night’s rain, a quick and short form of order in their morning passage before scattering in either direction again. i can’t tell if some people look both ways before crossing a street to avoid getting possibly hit or to see if they have any friends down the way who’re just killing time. breaks squeal and women sing. men with wheel-barrows full of fresh, brown sugar cane, each as tall as michael jordan, begin skinning and chopping them with machetes. peanuts crackle as they roast.
then there’s the rumble of the un, bright and early. in fully-loaded, white armored transports, the un winds through the tight streets in true war-zone fashion. the rifles of the blue-helmeted soldiers are loosely slung, and the 50caliber machine gun bounces with each bump. its ammunition box is full. they shout in a language no one really knows. in return, the residents shout back in a language the soldiers don’t know. i hear these things just as much as i see them when the sun hits my face. if the sun could make sounds, this is what it would sound like.
there’s a gentle breeze blowing over the harbor. i swear the ships there don’t move, these older shipping boats from a more prosperous time.
here is a sour smell too. there’s no garbage service in haiti, so the only thing you can do with trash is burn it. and burn it they do. it smells like a campfire gone wrong, horribly, horribly wrong. and then there are sweet smells, like the scent of sizzling breakfast peppers. with rice and beans too! you smell the haitian coffee brewing and the sugar cane waiting for a buyer–five gourdes for three pieces. you can begin to smell the salt in the peanuts, and you hope they’ll taste as salty as they smell. you can catch another spicy sniff of something, but will never be able to put your finger on what exactly it is before the breeze takes it to the next lucky sniffer.