“It’s easier to build strong children, then repair broken men.” -Frederick Douglass
Motos (motorcycles) are cheap and easy to access. Their presence has drastically increased and moto drivers are perceived as causing a lot of traffic problems; which, they do. These young boys and men drive recklessly in the street. However, the perception of moto taxi drivers and of moto drivers/passengers is also racialized/colorism/classism/sexism that results in motos being primarily, driven by young, black boys, young men and an increasing cohort of middle-aged and older, adult males. Although I did notice a notable exception to the gendered norm, that I cannot yet fully explain. In a regional city, it was normal to see female moto owners, drivers and riders. Although these women seemed more socially conservative, than their Port-au-Princienne sisters. In general, moto drivers and passengers, especially in Port-au-Prince, are discriminated against by the Haitian middle class, elite and foreigners.
The moto taxis can’t legally (C’est Interdit!) drive me or their other passengers to the Port-au-Prince international airport’s entrance doors or parking lot. Why? Because motos are presumed to be driven by vagabonds, robbers and kidnappers of those privileged enough to be able to travel to and from other countries. So they’re not allowed to drive to the airport. So people like me (diaspora, interning students, volunteering for now but (aspiring) full-time development workers, low and middle-class Haitians, cheap travelers, adventure backpackers) who cannot afford to pay for a car taxi every time or honestly just rather save the little graduate student stipend money for something else would ride motos that dropped them off as close as the moto could get and walk the rest of the way of a busy road intersection to the front of the airport door. Now, I know Columbia University administrators would not approve of this activity; but hey, that’s what happens when you’re young and poor and willing to make compromises to your safety to try and “make it.” But how can I be mad, the two young men who robbed me in 2011 were riding two motorcycles. They did follow me; one of the people privileged enough to travel to and from other countries. They did stop us at gunpoint when we inevitably got stuck in Port-au-Prince’s famed back-to-back blokis (traffic jams). That’s how they robbed me; I can see the simpleminded solution of just banning all motos apparently solves the problem of “public safety”. Now the more elite of the cadre of people who are privileged enough to travel to and from other countries are questionably safer from moto robbers and the less elite of that group get to cross dangerous, busy road traffic with insufficient, proper pedestrian crossing pathways with a travel back pack and/or luggage (basically a target sign to robbers to say rob this person, they have money or valuables).
How the moto taxi guys aspire to one day buy a car and get out of the burning sun, it’s hard work. How he wears long-sleeved shirts in the Haitian heat just to try and cover and protect his skin from the sun’s continued damage of his once light, mulâtre, skin that was becoming blacker by each-day that he worked/baked all day outside under the sun hoping he’d get a few one-off customers on the streets where they wait at ad-hoc “moto stations” or the faithful, repeat and more lucrative customers (usually foreigners but Haitians too) that call him on his cellphone as-needed for a ride. How he became a high school dropout once his family couldn’t afford to pay for school anymore but he has completed vocational training and is certified as a plumber but can’t get the plumbing jobs without those critical kontak and social networks so he works as a moto driver instead to provide for himself and his family. How he takes pride in being independent and in having his own place and in being able to provide a home for his younger, female cousins originally from their mutual hometown in the Haitian countryside. How he complains about them repeatedly but really loves being this male, head of household figure. It’s like he’s a father to a hen house of crazy teenage girls who are really younger sister figures to a boy who was the youngest in his large pack of siblings. How when his own son is born; he eventually becomes a doting father that rushes to finish building the house for his son, the mother and her other child to live in. How he gets contracts from a brothel house that serves elite Haitians and foreigners with their imported, light-skinned Dominican sex workers while their darker-skinned Haitian sisters ply their trade outside on the street corners in the elements. Waiving at any fancy or white, person-filled car that drives by in hopes of making some money that night and praying for the rain not to come. How the moto drivers save their gourdes and have bank accounts where they save their money over years and buy a small, piece of land in the slums or way up in the mountains in the few remaining places where you can buy affordable land in or near Petionville and build houses cement bag by cement bag and move in their families. How it really hurts emotionally and financially when they find out that the title to the land they purchased is fraudulent so they have to hire a lawyer and go to court to try and get their money back. Why we need urban planning to fix the land tenure problem in Haiti so that young men and women like this don’t suffer so much unnecessarily in life and lose money that they worked so hard to earn. I’m mixing and melding the stories of primarily two young men that were my primary chauffeurs while I lived in Haiti; but I also blend in the stories of the literal team of 10 or so other moto taxi drivers that I used as needed to fill in the scheduling needs of Sophonie’s research/work schedule when my two main motoguys weren’t available. I grew close to both of these guys. I grew close to their families. I bought their kids gifts. I overpaid them for work that they deserved; of course I had to pay my customary Blan (foreigner) tax (overcharge). It only makes sense. I gave them in-kind, gifts, birthday/holiday presents, extra cash and loans which usually became cash gifts when life’s unexpected medical scares or gas prices went through the roof periodically or whatever unplanned life event occurred. But I trusted them with my life and vice versa; because we went through several scary moments together. One jumped off his moto to rescue me when we had my only moto accident over two-years of field, research the entire time I was in Haiti. These moto drivers are really great drivers! They take pride in their work and record of safety!
How when one moto driver shows up to pick me up for a ride with a bite mark on his face. The story of the physical fight he had with another gentleman for calling him a name. The street logic he uses to justify getting involved in the physical altercation despite being an adult man raising a young boy that reminds me too eerily of the Latino, Black diasporan & African-American boys and young men that I grew up with in inner-city Fort Lauderdale and suburban, NJ. How I monitor over the next few weeks the slow healing of his otherwise, gorgeous and handsome face. How the melanin slowly populates, dot by dot the slow healing of the lighter, pink, deep tissue back to his original deep, chocolate brown outer skin. Lord Jesus, save our young, Black men please? (I know religion is frowned upon for academic writing but there’s a spirituality and planning theme in my dissertation as I write elsewhere an analysis of how the missionaries and their parallel build-up of churches and support services is drastically and quickly changing the Haitian landscape; I make religious references as a writing tool across my dissertation writing as a tool to tie otherwise disparate themes (transportation planning/missionary influence) across the dissertation.)
How when one’s moto driver’s new, second home (he built for him to live in after deciding to separate from the mother of his child with funds made as a moto taxi driver and a part-time construction laborer) is invaded by a jealous gang who come in like the thieves in the night who come to steal, kill and.. He and a girl are brutally beaten up. She is raped. He is devastated. He has to move out of the home that he worked so hard to buy the land and build the house and go live elsewhere because he is afraid to return in case the gang of thugs returns to beat him up again. The physical and psychological violence of everyday life is intense; for these young men just trying to make an, honest living.