Everything in Haiti is a feat. A simple trip to the grocery store to buy a couple of food items can often feel like a major accomplishment. What did you do today? It’s a weighty question, indeed, but the response often sounds much less impressive than its reality because to get anywhere almost always takes longer than expected. The island itself is not that large. In fact, many foreigners are surprised when they find out it’s the land mass bordering the Dominican Republic. Do most even realize that Hispaniola is actually two separate countries? Haiti’s size is comparable to Maryland, with a population of over 10 million people, almost a third of them living in the greater area of Port-au-Prince. But the roads of the capital struggle to support this many people, condensed into a 25 mile radius. Vehicles, many of which are from the United States, are daily shipped into Haiti’s ports. Haitians buy and resell the used cars, hoping to make a profit on an older vehicle, hardly ever worth the prices they are asking. And as more wheels take to the streets of Haiti, the already pitiful roads worsen.
With one major highway, Route National 1, extending through the country, the number of drivers accumulating and the traffic laws, or lack thereof, remaining much the same, Haiti is finding itself obligated to note and attend to the condition of the roads. The combination of potholes and one lane streets make it nearly impossible to get anywhere in a timely manner. It can take up to an hour just to travel 7 miles, no matter the shortcut one may choose to take. Other than the nationally marked “highways,” most streets are unpaved, made of gravel, only contributing more to the problem of dust. Motorcycles dodge in and out of traffic, a seemingly quicker and more efficient mode of transportation, but it comes with a risk.
Despite the poor infrastructure, Haiti has made progress. Within the past five years, the once gravel national highway running along the coast to the north, is now paved, and slowly construction continues to take place on major routes and side streets. In 2015, the first overpass was developed in one of the busiest intersections on Delmas, connecting downtown Port-au-Prince to the more affluent Pétion-ville, a landmark now recognized nationally. In addition to the improvements initiated by the government, independent workers can also be found shoveling dirt and rocks into potholes, always extending a hand to those passing by in hopes of collecting a few dollars for the day.
Perhaps, as a foreigner to Haiti, this issue is most relatable in regards to the commute to work. In developed countries, the greatest obstacle between home and the office, between point A and B, is traffic. But there are ways to avoid rush hour, to alleviate the amount of time spent in the car after a long day. One might need to spend an extra half hour behind his or her desk in order to miss the busiest time for those traveling home. But in Haiti, it’s almost impossible to determine whether or not you’ve left at the right time in order to avoid the havoc, testing the patience of all who endure it. Haitians spend many hours of their day, sometimes up to four hours round trip for those working at Papillon, crammed into the back of hot tap-taps in the sweltering heat, sometimes leaving before their children rise and often arriving home long after they’ve returned from school, depending on the distance they travel. There are several men and women working at Papillon who do just this, every single day. But despite the lengths they travel to get to work, it is more worth it to them to own land outside of the city where their dollar stretches a little farther, to claim something that is theirs, than the time they spend on their commute. They press on, knowing what is to come again tomorrow when they close their weary eyes at the end of a long day. And as Haiti continues to develop, as it continues to build it’s tourism industry and as it continues to improve its infrastructure, the roads will surely take priority, with time, slowly but surely.