Tires burn in the streets to barricade the open routes. Vehicles are set ablaze, creating vast clouds of dark smoke which seem to be ever looming over the greater area of Port-au-Prince, the capital city suffering from pollution and too many people. Gun shots are fired, rocks are thrown, and the people march in the masses, expressions of anger and frustration driving their controlled madness. It’s difficult to imagine this scene, something that could only be portrayed in the movies. But this is reality for the people of Haiti. For too long, they have been oppressed, their voices silenced before they’re even given the opportunity to speak. The poor are minimized, reduced to nothing because what can they contribute to society? So they fight to be heard in the only way they know how. Much like the revolution against the French in 1804, they join forces because strength is greater in numbers, wreaking havoc which cannot go unnoticed.
I will never forget a moment I was caught in the midst of a manifestation. Forever etched into my memory, it was one of the only times I can recall ever feeling genuinely scared in Haiti. Shirtless men with dark sunglasses and du-rag covered heads surrounded the bed of the truck as we, the passengers, were exposed and vulnerable at their mercy. The fists were clenched around rocks, their arms pulled back ready to release and our bodies were the target. I was immediately overcome with fear and panic and realized the power they possessed over us. But suddenly, they dropped their weapons, allowing us to pass as they prepared to overtake the next vehicle to cross their path.
And yet, after years of witnessing the oppression the Haitian people experience almost daily, I have begun to understand their actions, their desperate attempt to fight a system of injustice that can hardly be broken or changed. Until 2014, the currency exchange consistently hovered around 40 Haitian gourdes per US dollar. But over the past three years, the US dollar has grown significantly stronger, and in March, the gourde skyrocketed to just over 69, a roughly .50 cent increase in a matter of months. This extreme fluctuation significantly hurt a majority of Haiti’s population. Employers often pay a set salary in gourde, but suddenly, their currency grew weaker. Their wages could no longer stretch as far as they used to but the cost of living only increased. The prices of food products and other basic necessities have climbed, making it even more difficult for the Haitians to survive. They already struggled to daily feed their families. What about transportation fees, getting to and from work? What about education for their children because no school is free?
Just last week, the government released the 2018 fiscal budget which includes a tax increase that will go into effect on October 1st. Not only has the gourde grown weaker and the US dollar stronger, but now the people will be forced to sacrifice more of their paycheck. Cue the chaos. The anger and frustration ensues, rightfully so, as the people turn to what they know – physical action. They express their voices in a way that, to the outsider, appears unruly and somewhat barbaric, but in reality, they will not be heard otherwise. So they plunge forward until a decision is made to appease them. I ache for the people of Haiti who are forced to turn to what seems uncivilized in a first world country. I ache for them because it’s what they must do. They are suffering, and yet, they will only continue to suffer more as the gap between wealth and poverty grows. Planned transportation strikes will determine traffic on the road which means anything with wheels is prohibited from being on the streets (of course, with the exception of those with authority and power). This is not an uncommon problem in Haiti. Unfortunately, it seems the political problems only escalate. But employment offers the people of Haiti security. It offers them stability when so much around them is unstable. It offers them a chance when hope seems to be lost. Thank you for supporting this business. Thank you for supporting these artisans. Thank you for believing in those who often feel forgotten. Thank you for choosing Papillon.