Women come from all over the country with wares to vend. Some have market stalls and storage, but most arrive at night after long journeys by truck, on foot and burro, sleeping on the bundles in the outdoors.
Talitha and I rode the truck with the women of Durezin, arriving at about 10 pm. My flashlight, and a few burning fires, were the only lights. At moments when they’re separated from their goods, the tension among the women is high. The risk of robbery is constant. At one point our as the transport crew tossed the bundles from the truck to the ground, Madame Gerard’s daughter, Madame Davide, was frantic because she couldn’t find hers. Although in her early 30s, Davide’s face is stressed and hard because of the dangers she’s continually exposed to.
The women rise at dawn, shower, eat breakfast and lay out there wares. We followed Madame Davide to the spot in the dirt where she sells six days a week.
From the number of marchandes (market women) pressed tightly together, selling their wares on the ground, it’s easy to extrapolate to their counterparts in Haitian paintings — and vice versa. What the paintings don’t show is the danger that some women reported to Talitha Stam in her Cordaid study, of being robbed when they are flush with cash. According to them, the most dangerous moment of their work comes when they’ve finished selling and board the bus or tap-tap for home, followed by men who’ve been watching them at the market. Once on the bus, they are sometimes threatened at knife- or gun-point and give up their earnings.
Marie Yanick Mezile, Haiti’s minister of women’s affairs, shared this and other occupational hazards of madam saras in our interview.