One morning, I set off early from Papaye to visit a friend’s garden in Mirebalais, about an hour’s moto ride down Route Nationale #3. Heading down the muddy hill from the farm where I live, the air is still slightly cool with the night’s moisture, the sun shining through a fine mist that hasn’t yet burned off. We pass through the already crowded, grey-dusted streets of Hinche, vendors edging out into the road with plantain- and charcoal-laden donkeys and wooden carts, the moto-taxi station packed with rows of drivers leaning on their rides, the line at the gas pumps 30 or 40 deep with moto drivers waiting to fill up. After passing Hinche’s leaning gingerbread edge, we cross the rutted bridge that spans the Guayamouc River. We are now on the delightfully wide, smoothly paved National Route #3, heading South towards Mirebalais, the biggest town between Hinche, the provincial capital, and Port-au-Prince. I can see far across the rolling low hills of the Central Plateau, ringed with the mountain ranges that form Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic and that separate the rural Center region from the “Republic of Port-au-Prince.”
When I open my eyes in the grey light that filters through my window slats just before dawn, I usually hear a few hummingbirds buzzing past my shutters. The noise of their tiny wings is surprisingly loud, a rich hum that sounds mechanical in its loopy whirring. These birds — the “Hispaniolan emerald,” or wanga nègès mòn — are tiny, the smallest hummingbirds I have ever seen, and they are drawn to the small yellow flowers outside my window. Like everything on MPP’s campus, they are mostly green. Often I confuse them with the “Antillean mango,” or wanga nègès fran, a sapsucker with appetites akin to those of the Hispaniolan emerald. The similar nomenclature suggests that I’m not the only one to do so.
One of the central explorations of my dissertation research is how plants and animals do political work in rural Haiti. Stories of failure, killing, and expropriation brought my attention to the political life of Haiti’s agrarian ecosystems, but not in the way that I had expected. The replication of the kinds of stories — of suffering, violence, and insecurity — that so often focus public attention on this tiny crescent of mountainous land troubled me, and clashed with what I know of rural Haiti’s anti-colonial agrarian history. Although most Northerners know little of what Haiti’s peasants grow, they know that their fields are pitifully small, the soil degraded, and the crops prone to failure when buffeted by the latest hurricane or gummed with mud sliding down the treeless mountainsides. While ‘we’ in the global North hear of Haitians’ hunger, their poverty, and their dogged survival within a massively unequal global political economy, this litany of lack offers little towards understanding how rural Haitians — long termed the moun andeyo or ‘people outside’ — have nonetheless made and unmade political worlds on local and global scales.