In Port-au-Prince, the sun rises at about 6:30 a.m. The hills above Petionville begin to lighten at 7. But in the mountains where Talitha introduced me to Madam Gerard, her subject for a Cordaid-funded anthropology report on madam saras, the world doesn’t brighten until around 10 when the sun struggles above the peaks and burns its way through banks of cloud.
We met Madame at a truck stop in Durezin where she brings her produce to pack and load it for the trip to market. The next day, my first shoot, we went about two hours farther into the mountains by motorcycle, to the roadside spot on the Route Seguin where she buys her produce. When the road ran out, which was often, we got out and climbed. Madam Gerard makes the same trip every day to and from her home in Ka-Blain — without the motorcycle. Many more women travel for two or more days to bring produce from across the country to Port-au-Prince.
At Seguin, much further into the mountains, is an actual farmers market where farm women offer produce for sale. But many have taken to meeting madam saras like Gerard on the roadsides where both can avoid taxes.
The beauty and hardship of the mountains is unimaginable from most of the media about Haiti. Families make their homes well below the nominal roads, growing a cornucopia of vegetables — cabbages, beets, carrots, scallions, parsley — on land that they rent or own. The farmers told me they don’t use pesticides because they’re too expensive. The quality of the produce was excellent. While men do most of the growing, women like Gerard collect the harvest, clean and pack it, and transport it to markets in the cities where they sell it to other vendors or at retail.
As Talitha found in her study, and as I was finding now, the world of the “women of the mountains” appears simple, but is infinitely complex. She and Sid Mintz before her have made important insights into their relationships and networks.
Even more interesting to me is their cash market system, in which the microfinance industry has tried, not as successfully as it would like, to find a place. It would be a rewarding subject for further research.