It didn’t rain the day of Michel Joseph Martelly’s inauguration. It didn’t rain the day after either. I would have remembered, I think. Rains are something that stick in my memory now, each downpour bringing with it a different rhythm, a different kind of destruction. I still remember the rains one Friday afternoon in September, how dark grey clouds curled across the sky, layering and pooling to turn it black. Winds whipped plants, trash, tarps and things in frenzied circles, ripping through fragile tents and makeshift wood-and-blue-plastic shelters, rain shooting down in heavy pellets to drown it all. I remember other rains in October that turned parts of Tabarre into a great, brown river, rushing and disappearing into the cracks and holes where pavement had collapsed.
The rains in May are different. The clouds come in more timidly, usually around late afternoon. They start in the mountains, drizzling down over Thomassin and La Boule first, crawling across the skies over Pétionville, until they reach the Centreville of Port-au-Prince, close to where I live. It rains most evenings, sometimes in the late afternoons. Water cascades from the sky in ribbons, though not for long, and not as aggressively as September. Not yet. On the days it doesn’t rain, the stickiness coats your skin, making it wet another way. It’s a wetness you carry with you, heavy, hiding under your clothes and trickling along the back of your neck.
Last week I marked eight months in Haiti. I’ve been quiet here, but not still. When I arrived, the election campaigning had not even begun. The first posters had not yet been pasted or hung, the first radio jingles not yet stuck in my ears, the already snarling traffic not yet crushed to a standstill by the first campaign tours, parties or parades. The walls, mostly bare for that brief two-week window, would soon have their cracks and stresses covered in blue, red, green and pink headshots of the candidates. Some walls were already dotted with spray-paint scrawl, like a never-ending news ticker: down with MINUSTAH, down with Préval, jen kore jen and fas à fas and other Wyclef slogans, pleas to Obama for help. Nou bouke, we’re tired. These gave way to messages about cholera, the provisional electoral council, and slogans and insults for the presidential hopefuls, by then whittled down to a tangled three and then a final two. “Give me my mother” battled it out with “Tèt kale,” the bald-headed slogan winning the ultimate battle: marketability. In the republic of logos, the best packaging wins.
Today it rained twice. First, mid-afternoon, while over a beer with a maybe-future Minister in the new administration, he told me he had predicted Martelly’s rise 15 years ago. “I said to my daughter in 1996,” he went on, his assertive enunciation carrying the softest of rolling French arrrrrrs, that Sweet Mickey was the only one capable of taking on Aristide and winning. Mickey had an organic connection to the people, he explained, because of his music.
It’s raining again now, rolling past with a purpose, thunder exploding over the building across the road. There is months of this to come, and storms, and after that, the hurricanes again. But for now the sticky heat has broken. The cicadas will be quiet tonight, and all over Port-au-Prince people will prepare for sleep on sheets and mattresses and ground that is very very wet.