- Posted April 5, 2011 by
Cite Soleil, Haiti
Celebration in Cite Soleil- Martelly for president
I spent last night at our cholera clinic in Cite Soleil, awaiting the presidential election results with our staff and dozens of sick patients. A small team of us were there in case things went south, which would be entirely likely in this insecure and unpredictable slum. It is an understatement to say that this is a critical moment in Haiti’s history. The role of president for the next phase of rebuilding Haiti comes with a huge undertaking for a battered country that has barely survived decades of corruption and political strife.
Many Haitians have put all their hopes in this election as the one that would finally make a difference. The next president will be faced with the daunting task of leading the people through continued recovery from last year’s earthquake, which killed more than 250,000 people, and an ongoing cholera outbreak that is still affecting thousands in the urban and rural districts of Haiti.
The entire country seemed to be holding its breath late yesterday afternoon, and the air was thick with anticipation, on the edge of two extremes: chaos or rejoicing. Michael Martelly, better known by his stage name “Sweet Micky”, was the country favorite. A carnival singer turned political candidate, his promises of reform and hope made him an easy favorite, someone who had also weathered the storms of the last two decades.
Route 9 was eerily quiet, a stark comparison to the usual blur of moving cars and tap-taps, blaring horns and bumping of ‘konpa’ music. Crowds of pedestrians and motos that usually clamber their way through the streets were replaced with blowing trash and the sound of helicopters overhead, monitoring the downtown area. Small groups of people were gathered alongside the road, listening to their radios near their ears. Bicyclists pulled over on the side of the road, their bikes balanced between their legs as they listened intently.
Time seemed to stand still. I’ve never heard quiet and calm in Haiti like I did then.
“Shhh… they are starting!” yelled Lamar, one of our Samaritan’s Purse employees working at the cholera center. They gathered around, sharing headphone and cell phones as they awaited the news. A Haitian doctor ran in the front gate. “Sorry I am late. It’s crazy out there! Everyone is rushing home to hear the results. People are marching down the roads chanting ‘Martelly, Martelly! The town is hot.” This is a common description here in Haiti to describe a politically charged situation, where at any instant, things could go ablaze-- both figuratively and literally. We heard repeated rumors that all the machetes were purchased in the markets, the masses seemed were preparing. The already delayed announcement, along with allegations of fraud, were poised as a match ready to be flicked over the tinder of shattered hopes if things didn’t play out as expected.
Minutes passed as they announced other elected seats and deputies. Some of the patients sat up in bed, like Jean Francois, who showed me his pink Martelly bracelet and said proudly, “I’ve been a part of the group in Cite Soleil that has put up posters and rallied behind him. Even though I am sick, I am with everyone out there in spirit.”
Finally, it came.
High fives, hugs, dancing, shouting. A myriad of expressions erupted as dreams were actualized. The country exhaled. Outside, the activity started immediately, as if someone flipped a switch and life was set into motion again. Tap-taps drove up and down the road, flashing their lights and honking to the symbols of Martelly’s name as they yelled it out. Motos breezed by, as captured in this video, with passengers holding the flag of Haiti and yelling out. Others cried out “tete kale” or bald head, rubbing their heads to imitate Martelly’s look as they cruised down the road. Firecrackers were set off, mobs of people came out into the streets. A large parade of children and young adults carrying posters and palm branches began, a procession of chanting to make the way for the new leader.
The excitement lasted late into the night.
This morning I talked to Jean again. He was sitting up and smiling. “After I heard the results, I felt as if I was healed.”
Scattered pink ‘Martelly for President’ posters swirled in the wind this morning, remnants of a long night of celebrating. Life is getting back into the swing of normal- but this time, with a smile. For now, the tension has been diffused. Time will tell how long it will last.