Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dancing to an unstable beat

It began at the airport, where a Haitian band was making music before we even got on the bus to the airport gate. Canadian police men and women, who apparently were sent to assist during the presidential elections, started nodding with the beat. As I walk through the SOS Children’s Village Santo two weeks later, I see a group of boys standing around an empty plastic barrel dancing to the rhythm they are drumming on it. Two girls on the way home from school sing together as they balance their schoolbags on their heads. A few steps further on I walk past a house where children are practicing a choreography for their christmas show. Music coming from a radio from an SOS family house accompanies a group of children as they play. Music is omnipresent in Haiti and everything has it’s own rhythm.

Dany’s barbershop is exactly what it sounds like, except it is also a bar. Haitian compas tunes flood from crackling speakers at deafening volume. Several men drink their beers while the barbershop owner sways her hips in a slow shuffle. Next to the hairdresser's chair a couple is dancing cheek to cheek. Outside, two men get up and, keeping a one-meter distance, mirror each others movements. All this happens in the face of instability, as uncertainness in Haiti increases around the presidential elections. Just a few days later hundreds and thousands of Haitians fill the streets, clamoring for a system without corruption and economical injustice.

Dancing is an important thing on the caribbean plate. Children learn to feel the rhythm, dance and sing at the same time as they learn to walk and talk.

A sense of rhythm, dance and song come as naturally as walking and talking to children in Haiti. - Photo: Sophie Preisch
 Sunday morning, Ylasse is tired. Asked whether he would participate in the elections after work he reacts almost appalled: "No. That’s too dangerous. Haitians kill other Haitians". He’s in the last hours of his 24-hour shift as a guard. Every week he does three of those shifts. At the end of the month he earns about 6.000 Gourdes, which is about 150 USD. Prices in the supermarket are as high as in central Europe, for some products even higher. That is just one thing that corners Haitians more and more. And in this corner Ylasse is just one of many who decided to not participate in the elections, one of many who seem to be just waiting until a decision is made and life can go on.

For some days around the elections public life seems to be sleeping. Only a few means of public transportation remain operational, protesters on the streets keep others from leaving the house and most public institutions stay closed. On Tuesday 30 November the SOS School opens again, the SOS Social centre as well. Still, there are many co-workers who have to leave at noon since public transport is still unreliable. During the nights it sometimes gets noisy in Santo: it seems like small demonstrations take place just at the other side of the fence. But the noise is not just shouting, it is people drumming and singing. Meanwhile, Ylasse walks around the SOS Children’s Village, listening to bachata music on his mobile phone.

"There was quite a lot of movement", states Cap Haitien’s SOS Children’s Village Director Arrol Francoise on the Monday following the presidential elections. Fortunately, no one in the programmes of SOS Children’s Villages has been hurt. And fortunately, as well, Haitians know how to dance to the beat of the eternal back-and-forth between tranquility and frenzy.

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