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102 Formwork April–May 2012 The pilot of American Airlines Flight 1291 into Port-au-Prince makes the craziest descent today. He remains high in the air until the city comes into view, then circles through two complete arcs, 720 degrees of centrifugal pull, to reach the ground. Outside my window the view rotates from sky to water to coast to city to coast, and then the sequence repeats. The pollution is worse than usual. We descend from clear blue to sooty green. By the time the pilot levels over the runway, the sky and the water are the same disorienting shade of lima bean. On the ground this disequilibrium continues. The airport gauntlet is quiet; the red shirts barely heckle me. Lex picks me up, which is unusual, and describes the situation as we drive through the city. A member of Haiti’s Congress was stopped last week at a police checkpoint. The officer found a concealed weapon on the congressman’s chauffeur, arrested him, and put him in jail. The congressman, irate, went to the jail and demanded his chauffeur’s freedom. Three hours later the arresting officer was shot and killed. Lex is unclear whether the congressman, the chauffeur, or a hired gunman shot the policeman. In any event the congressman enjoys immunity from prosecution. The police, in solidarity, went on strike today. The dominoes fall fast. Stores close, as shop owners feel unprotected from thieves. Schools close, as parents fear for their children . Gangs gather. They throw rocks and build barricades and set bonfires at busy intersections. The rationale for their protests is as murky as the thick smoke enveloping the city. They riot because 103 Formwork they can. The streets are empty; there are few pedestrians, no street vendors, and scant traffic. The massive open-air market is deserted . UN tanks manned by Brazilian soldiers barrel down the thoroughfares , more menacing peacekeepers than police in sedans. After the tanks pass, the city is silent. The quiet feels explosive. The US State Department issues warnings advising Americans against traveling in Port-au-Prince, though American Airlines fails to announce this to the hundreds of people they deposit into the melee. As we drive, Lex maintains regular cell phone contact with a striking police officer who updates trouble spots. We navigate by our personalized, riot-centric traffic report. Evidence of agitation abounds—intersections are crowded with boulders from barricades , and rings of black soot mark extinguished fires. We weasel through the gaps in Port-au-Prince’s terror. With so little traffic, we reach Grand Goave in less than two hours—a personal best. Lex explains that he tried to contact me to remain in Miami, but I was already in flight. Since my regular trips began, we’ve had a contingency plan in case no one meets me at the airport; I am to seek out the head of airport security, Mr. Big, and put my fate in his hands. But Lex’s commitment to his volunteers is supreme. He monitored the situation, decided better to pick me up before things got worse, and took meticulous care to ferry me safely. It is hard to imagine how my love and respect for this man could grow, but now I can add personal protector to his list of strengths. Grand Goave has none of Port-au-Prince’s chaos, and my two projects are each proceeding according to their own particular style. On the surface, MoHI School and BLB are similar; they share a design team, construction crews, tools, and materials. One might assume daily life on the sites would be similar. Yet the culture of each endeavor is as different as their respective owners. Be Like Brit would be considered an efficient job site by American standards; in Haiti it is unparalleled. The construction shanty is headquarters for Len, Gama, and me, as well as Toto the accountant and Francky the gofer. It has an air conditioner, though when Len is gone I prefer the breeze through open windows, which is pleasant all day long. Fanes, the job superintendent, is the only person who enters the shanty without knocking, yet even he never uses it as a place of work. He enters only for morning greetings 104 Architecture by Moonlight and scheduled meetings. When crewmembers have questions, they knock and wait for us to come outside. Laborers cross the threshold only on payday. The trades at BLB are well organized. Every crew has a boss, and...


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MARC Record
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