This is the season of dust. Lapli pa tombe, people tell me, looking at crisp-burned heads of millet drooping on tall yellow stalks: “the rain doesn’t fall.” Between November and April, a fine, silky dust comes to cover everything, turning the landscape of pale greens and yellows a monotone khaki. In 2015, there was even less rain than usual, with a mostly dry October and November. It won’t rain in earnest again until April – three months from now. When it rains, the water will rush over the hard-packed earth below, swirling the dust into a squelching grey mud that sucks sandals into the deep rivulets between the road’s rocks, cementing them there like plastic headstones. In the dry season, though, walkers urgently cover their faces as the occasional SUV tears down the road, leaving them in a cloud of dust so thick that wandering goats are invisible at 30 paces. I feel the memory of water press up against my sneaker soles, as I navigate the ridged road.
the north-west, where some people say it has not rained in 3 years.
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.”
These palms are in the North-West, not the Central Plateau.
“Rache manyok, ba nou te-a blanch”
A field ready for planting in Papaye
“Pull up your manioc to give us a clear field.”
Legislative elections – 5 years overdue – were held in Haiti last Sunday, the 10th of August. Heated debates continue as citizens wait for the results of the vote. More than 1,000 candidates were running for deputy, the lower house of Haiti’s Parliament, and nearly 200 for senate. After the dissolution of Parliament earlier this year, a provisional electoral council (CEP) was convened to oversee the elections. As reports of “irregularities” in the voting process, as well some incidents of violence and intimidation circulate, I am thinking about what rache manyok might offer to Haitians, and in particular the rural poor, who have been pushed to the political margins for so long.