Commerce thrives in Haitian tent cities

Marketplace Staff Feb 10, 2010

Commerce thrives in Haitian tent cities

Marketplace Staff Feb 10, 2010


Bill Radke: In the aftermath of last month’s earthquake, roughly 600 tent cities have sprung up around Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince. Reporter Sabri Ben-Achour says these tent cities have become little centers of commerce.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Point du Jour Gilbert is using a little shovel to mix up some crushed ice in a cooler.

Point du Jour Gilbert (voice of interpreter): I’m selling snow cones. It’s just ice, syrup, and a little cup. They go for 10 cents.

We are in a tent city inside a soccer stadium — 4,600 people live on the Astroturf here, sheltered by sheets hung on two-by-fours. Gilbert is just trying to maintain business as usual, selling little pieces of continuity in a cup to people whose lives couldn’t be more upside-down.

He pushes around a red tricycle cart with flat tires and a sign that reads:

Gilbert: Penitance Gens Jour.

Or loosely translated: Hard days, I got ’em. But Gilbert says the days aren’t actually that hard here — people are buying.

Gilbert (voice of interpreter): Lord knows why. I mean our situation is impossible, but you know snow cones aren’t that expensive, its a treat for the kids.

Near the entrance to the tent city, Edna Delice stirs a pot of spaghetti and herbs.

Edna Delice (voice of interpreter): This is my business. It’s kind of like a little restaurant.

Little it is — just a cart, a charcoal-fired pot, and some ingredients: eggs, vegetables, dried fish.

Delice (voice of interpreter): People can benefit from my cooking, and I can make a little bit of money.

People here get free rice from the World Food Program, but those who can afford it opt for something different now and again. Delice’s business is steady, if not brisk.

About 30 feet away, you’ll find the city’s tech sector.

Willy Reynold Bissent (voice of interpreter): There are a lot of people here who have cell phones that need charging, and theres no electricity.

Willy Reynold Bissent sits at a table with two surge protectors connected to a gas generator. This is where the tent city charges its phones.

Bissent (voice of interpreter): If a customer doesn’t have their own charger, its 60 cents. If they have a charger and just need to plug in, it’s 40 cents.

And the business is expanding, Bissent is reserving one of his plugs for a barbershop — i.e. a friend with a set of hair clippers.

From Port au Prince, I’m Sabri Ben-Achour for Marketplace.

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