Twice a week, traders from Jacmel come by boat to Ansapit to buy and sell pepe and other Dominican products. On Thursday morning, truckloads of pepe begin arriving at the Ansapit pepe center called Larat, and the women began sorting their purchases into sacks labeled “pantalons,” “chemises,” and “za za” (rejects).
By Friday, while the border market is in full swing, each woman has folded and stuffed pepe into 40 to 60 sacks for delivery to the waterfront. As their trucks arrive and drop the load, stevedores swing the sacks over their heads, wade into the crashing surf and out to the waiting boats. Throughout the afternoon they continue, the pile of coconuts, garlic and pepe growing ever higher, mixed with the occasional bleating goat and caged chicks. Meanwhile the women, their families and friends gather in knots, talking, cooking and eating, or tucking into a friend’s house or waterfront storeroom for a bath and a little rest. At dusk they reappear, sweet smelling and refreshed for the journey.
Finally, at around 8pm, the first boats for Marigot take on passengers, who remove their shoes and wade in the shallows either to pile into a small tender, or to be lifted like a bale of pepe by one of the stevedores, to be carried to the mother ship — an open, motor-powered boat so heavily laden that its gunwales are almost submerged. The Ansapit police are on hand for these occasions, often stopping excess passengers from boarding when the boat is too full, as happened to me when I attempted the journey with some of the women from Larat. By then it was past 10 p.m., the border had long closed, and an obliging officer let me sleep on a cot in the police station until morning when it reopened.
Meanwhile, Marilin, Natasha and the other women I met at Larat reached Marigot at 4 a.m. and prepared to sell their wares at the market on the beach. From there, they would continue selling from Jacmel to Port au Prince.