Preparing for the World Cup in Port-au-Prince

By | June 7, 2010

People are getting ready for the World Cup in Port-au-Prince.  This is a country where taptaps are decorated to reflect the drivers’ allegiance (to Brazil or Argentina) or even to honor a particular player, and where cell phone companies put up billboards with the national team that proclaim “One People.  One Passion.  Football!  Together, we’ll go farther.”

Friends tell me that the government skimps on giving kouran (electricity) in the weeks leading up to the World Cup in order to guarantee that there will be enough fuel to run televisions during the matches.  And electricity comes on at funny times of the day, often later in the evening or earlier in the morning, according to when World Cup or important qualifying matches are being shown.

Last week, I went to what’s being called Site Bèbè — the City of the Deaf — a camp where many of Port-au-Prince’s deaf residents have come together in camps.  My friend Marlène speaks sign language and often works as an interpreter for the deaf, so I’d met many of these people before the earthquake.

Reunited with Dolores for the first time since the earthquake, we sign "Mwen kontan wè w!"

We went together to visit the camp, which is in a treeless area near the old Hasco abandoned sugar refinery, loomed over by the enormous flagless flagpole that Aristide erected before the 2004 coup, just down the road from Cité Soleil.

"Site Bèbè"

Tents targeted for the deaf

View of uninhabited tents and Hasco from Site Bèbè

The day was hot and cloudless, and the sun was high, so Marlène (a Brazil fan) lent me her new sunhat, which she’d been given by some Brazilian MINUSTAH.  The hat became a conversation piece.  “Are you Brazilian?” asked camp residents, either through Marlène or by speaking to the best of their abilities.  (Many of the deaf in Port-au-Prince were not born deaf, but lost their hearing as children, generally as a result of typhoid.  So many of them speak clearly, in spite not being able to hear.)  “Are you a fanatik Brezil?”

Twelve-year-old Nancy, the hearing child of two deaf parents, in her soccer T-shirt.

I have to confess that I am not any kind of fan.  I brush the thumb of my right hand forward under my chin to negate, and then slowly finger-spell “F-A-N-A-T-I-K.”  I am not sure how one goes about cultivating allegiance to the national team of a country that is not one’s own and to which one has no historical or experiential connection.  Eventually I decide that, because I have cousins who have lived in São Paulo for several generations, I can be a Brazil fan.  “Why?” signs one camp resident, disdainfully.  “Why don’t you like Argentina?”  Another volunteers, “I’m a Messian.”  I discover that there is a distinctive sign for “Kaka.”

Laura (in Brazil hat), Marlène (in yellow shirt), and residents of "Site Bèbè" sign "I love you" for the camera.

Given the extent of soccer fandom, the number of people who are “malad” (“ill”) for soccer and weep when their team loses, it should not surprise anyone that the World Cup is a big deal in Haiti.  But perhaps it is an even bigger deal this year.  “We didn’t have Kanaval this year,” a friend told me.  The earthquake took place just as Kanaval season began in January, disrupting and preventing one of the biggest cultural rituals of change, new beginnings, and community.  “So the World Cup has become even more important.  People need it, now.  They need something to think about.”

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