Resilient Haitians reopen for business

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PORT AU PRINCE, HaitiHenri St. Cir’s neighbors think he’s nuts. While they meander in increasingly squalid conditions of Haiti’s capital, living on the sidewalk, their homes and businesses destroyed, he is reopening his Internet cafe amid the ruins.

He may just be one of the most industrious and optimistic — or oblivious — people in Haiti.

The small one-story building that houses his Ajesech
Cyber Net was relatively undamaged, in contrast to everything around
it. On Sunday, he positioned a large generator in the street, somehow
found enough gasoline to keep it running and ran a cable up into his
establishment.

That will be enough (he hoped) to eventually power
some electricity in the cafe that would in turn make it possible to run
computers. His computers fell to the floor during the earthquake, but
he thought he could make them work.

“I’m luckier than most Haitians,” St. Cir said
Sunday afternoon. He figured he could welcome his first customers by
the end of the day.

“Even if no one comes to help, I want this to work,”
said St. Cir, a burly man of 35 with a thick beaded necklace. “It’s a
chance to show we can rebuild.”

After generations of natural disaster, political
instability, crushing poverty and one of the most egregious
socioeconomic inequities on the planet, Haitians are famously
resilient. In the worst of times, which is most of the time, they
manage to survive, most of them getting by on less than $2 a day yet somehow sustaining themselves.

Whether that spirit revives now will depend in large
measure on many factors, including how international aid efforts are
managed.

“I know how to work, I know how to fix things, I wanted to take care of the people in the neighborhood,” said Gerson Almeda, alias Toto. On Sunday, he reopened his tiny barber shop on Rue Cadet Jermie and by midday had clipped and shaved maybe a dozen customers.

Almeda installed a car battery in the shop to power
a razor. He then extended power strips onto the sidewalk and invited
the neighbors to plug in their cell phones. With no electricity still
in much of the city, this was a godsend.

“We are the survivors!” chimed Jemina Desmornes, whose phone was amid the tangle of devices and cords.

Inside, barber Fred Claremont snipped, trimmed and shaved. Under a fluorescent orange sign saying
“Welcome” in English, he cut the somewhat failed dreadlocks of Roosevelt St. Paul, a singer.

“I will continue working until I can’t anymore,”
Claremont said. “I have responsibilities. I need the money. If I can
work, I will.”

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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