Port Au Prince (PAP), Haiti is not a nice place. The city is grimy, filthy, mosquito ridden, potholed roads abound, snarled traffic rule and noxious fumes from cheap gasoline can make you instantly nauseous. It is also a very threatening city, her people on the move, exceedingly belligerent, constantly hustling, looking to score; this brings in food for the day or they sleep hungry. It is also a very dangerous city where her citizens are not shy using firearms to settle scores, whether for personal rivalry or most often, settle a busted drug deal.
This is my second trip to Haiti within a year; I had spent all my time in Cap Haitian last time however, not PAP. Within this hellhole of a city live a thriving Muslim community, particularly those that are lovers of Ahlebeyt (A); they number about five hundred scattered in three diverse areas of the city. Shu’aib Brioche, who has taken a leadership role for the community meets me at the airport and we limp-drive our way for Zohr salaat and then to my hotel in a vehicle that has a bent axel. I am in agony within five minutes waiting for the room to be cleaned; mosquitoes have a blood feast and I am hopping around like a manic futilely slapping at them; Shu’aib gives me a I told you so look; he did email me, advising a mosquito repellent.
Halal foods are non-existent in all of Haiti and use of pork and pork products (lard) is so common, it is a challenge eating a doubt-free meal; I stick to broiled seafood, dumping so much hot sauce in it makes the waitress’s eyes pop in unbelief. He’ll burn his intestines and rear end she complains to Shu’aib in Creole, snatching the bottle away from me. I spend the night fearful of mosquitos, seemingly invincible creatures kept at bay by noxious insect repellent coils and a furious fan that provide some succor from their deadly stings.
Next day, I face the full fury of anger that PAP has to offer; from snarled unyielding traffic, impossible roads, filthy garbage blocking intersection to murders. We are stopped at an intersection for about thirty minutes, moving inches. Shu’aib asks a cop who shrugs – a man has been shot dead in his car up ahead, it’ll be a while, have patience;I immediately feel pressure on my bladder and the somewhat jovial banter in the car between Abbas (the driver), Shu’aib and I dry up. I see a man in sitting position in a car, eyes closed, as if he has decided to nap in the middle of the road, only his once white shirt is crimson red with blood. That night, it is this image that haunts me; even the mosquitos sense my despondency and seem less thirsty.
Shu’aib runs a ramshackle school in a slum area of Tesus Palum Kafu. Here, amongst the ruins of earthquake, once a drugs and violence infected neighborhood, is a budding elementary school that is making a real difference to the local population. Within this ‘school’ is a worship center where services are held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sunday school. Today, a Monday, like Thursdays, members are fasting and iftaar is being prepared for about ten people.
Our next stop is in Bellaire neighborhood, just past downtown. Shu’aib laments that the center there is in ruins, people can’t pray because it floods whenever it rains and the place is inhabitable. I ask him to take me there; he shakes his head, fear in his eyes. No, Habeeb (he means Habeebi, actually), too dangerous. How dangerous? I ask. No Habeeb, I can’t risk it. I insist. Well, let me ask Jebraeel, the local Imam there. He jabbers on his cellphone in Creole for a while, glancing my way now and then. Okay, he says after a while, we’ll go. But you must hurry, no more than a couple of minutes. If the gangs find out there is a foreigner come visiting, there could be trouble, they’ll think you have money to give away. Nothing will happen, most probably, but I don’t want to take chances.
The locality looks and feels tough, with ‘houses’ no more than cheap tent material for walls and nylon sheets for a roof; consequence of the earthquake. We park real close to the Islamic Center; Shu’aib and Jebraeel hustle me between lanes of creepy looking homes, to one room made of cardboard and wood slates for roof. You got two minutes, hisses Shu’aib; I begin taking photos quickly, the guy is making me nervous. A sodded, stinking carpet is out to dry after recent rains; the whole thing looks very rickety, ready to collapse. Jebraeel pleads for repairs, promises US1,000 will do the job of keeping rainwater out and the community can start jamaat salaat again; CAI will help in this project, insha’Allah, if I am guaranteed accountability and transparency. Jebraeel is jubilant and thanks me profoundly, says nobody has been forthcoming with help the last three years they have appealed, not certain governments, nor world organizations in London, Toronto or elsewhere he has tried. Happy to help.
Shu’aib wants me to visit many more small centers but we make it to only one more, in another part of the city. The center turns out to be a rented house of a local Imam, Fulton Moosa. Salaat and other programs are held underneath the sky but we pray zohr in his house; Moosa leads jamaat perfectly, I am much impressed.
Driving back to Mariawi, by the hotel, I marvel at how much Haiti resembles East Africa, especially Nairobi, except for the filth and guns. But the women, they are differently different. The French might have introduced Jesus (A) and Mother Mary to the Muslim slaves from Africa but they forgot (perhaps?) to teach the women Mary’s modesty or the need to wear underwear. It is difficult, no, impossible to keep eyes averted from these women; lo, they are omnipotent! One provocatively dressed damsel after another - there is no end. I complain to Abbas, the driver about this. He laughs easily. Our country may not have much to offer but it is a land full of flashy bosoms and meaty thighs he jests. Not really. They have excellent mangoes, soursop, roasted corn, plantains... Since the gang moving with me are all fasting, I resort to these, even the White mango, the most succulent of all in Haiti. During French occupation, it was illegal for the slaves to partake this most delicious fruit; violators were lashed if caught. Thus the fruit was named White Mango.
By the time we return to town, it is getting dusk; I retire to my hotel room and mosquitos for company. I eagerly depart for home next day.
Haiti Muslims are a neglected lot by many in position to help. In my two trips there, I have seen enough imaan in these new Muslims to get ahead in Islam. As I have stated, Haiti is tough for sure, survival of the fittest rule. These new Muslims need guidance, so CAI will work with the new Hawza in Orlando for educational opportunities for two identified individuals. There is definitely a need for a central center, one that can be used for prayer and educational activities and act as a pivot for the diverse communities. In addition to Islamic literature in French and Creole (if available?) CAI is committed to getting them this as well, a first for Ahlebeyti Muslims of Haiti.
Few photos here.