By Jean H Charles
I came back to New York after a long stay abroad. I was struck and in awe by the immense greenery of New York even when hurricane Sandy has devastated most of the trees a year ago. I was struck by the silence and the cleanliness of the city and I was also in awe by the abundance of produce and products in the shelves of the supermarkets and in the department stores.
Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former Vice-Dean of Students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
Starting with the abundance, I resumed my practice of an early rise for my morning walk, stopping in the stores to check on the price and the quality of the produce, I was amazed at the quantity and the high quality of the different produce from all parts of the world, seedless grapes from Chile at two pounds for one dollar, Ecuadorian plantain at eight for one dollar, coconut water from Thailand, labeled Caribbean, at one big can for one dollar, large pomegranate from Chili at three dollars for one, guava from Mexico at three dollars for one pound and mangoes from Haiti at three dollars for two... Neatly arranged and available for all, even for those without money (I have observed quite a few people exchanging goods for food stamps), I said to myself God bless America!
The cleanliness of the city was for me an object of admiration, indeed curiosity. It seems the mayor has instructed the cleaning crew as well as each citizen to keep their neighbourhoods clean and neat. Not a piece of paper or garbage on the side of the street. On further inquiry, I found out that one or two neighbourhoods have been coming together to form a PPP (public-private partnership); the Corona-Jackson Heights partnership has raised the money and hired cleaners that continuously broom and sweep the corners.
I stopped to chat with the man from environmental protection who used a truck to extract the surplus of wastewater in the gutters. As he was checking on his notepad each and every one of the gutters where extraction has taken place to be put into his truck, I was like a child in awe of this toy that could do so much with such ease.
As for the silence of the city, I live in the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst area, one of the most multinational towns of New York. I slept in complete silence as if I was in the middle of the jungle; with the advantage there were no mosquitoes and no rooster to upset my peaceful rest.
I came back from Haiti, where everything is in short supply, disorganized and dirty. Because of poverty and lack of jobs, hundreds if not hundreds of thousands of women have transformed themselves into walking merchants of produce and products, selling everything and everywhere in makeshift markets, on the side of the roads and the streets, producing a cacophony that is amusing yet disturbing.
The mayor of Petionville and of Port au Prince are causing raids on them that are labeled rain by the merchants, when the agents are on the way for those down the street, they run for their lives and their produce. They still come back as soon as the raiding truck leaves to reappear into another area.
Lately, garbage in the industrialized countries has been such a commodity that Norway is buying a supply from as far away as Italy. It is used in the production of renewable energy. Norway could use Haiti to get its garbage, in spite of the distance, it would have plenty of it, and it would still save money. Since the era of democracy in the country in early 1986, the lack of good governance has been exhibited in the most essential part of life of the ordinary citizen. The centralized garbage removal unit does not keep up with the rhythm of garbage accumulation in or around the bins, causing the view and the aspect of uncleanliness all around the capital city...
As far as noise, early in the day, the big trucks that profit in the night to be in line at the pit where sand is being extracted for construction or road building, disturb not only your good night’s sleep but the extraction is also disturbing the structural underpinning of the mountains. With rain, earthquake, or hurricane, nature will take its turn with a vengeance, as so much of its essence has been taken away without caring to replace the amount of material removed from its womb.
I will not mention the mosquitoes and the roosters, the latter insisting on giving you the time of the night on each and every hour, even when time does not matter, while in the arms of Morpheus, the god of sleeping, time remains still.
Deep in the spring, the weather was not jolly in New York City this year. I had to go back home to revisit and acclimatize to a proper way of protecting my body against the frigid temperature.
Cold or not, the festival must go on and, as such, each weekend, the street fairs of the different avenues offer the usual as well as the unusual products that you can take home for the pleasure of friends and parents. I have observed this year a new product created by some enterprising young Chinese merchants: fried ice cream with different flavours. The ice cream is coated with grainy flour and then deep fried; you will then enjoy the hot and cold sensations at the same time.
Fifth Avenue and Times Square, the heart of Manhattan, are still filled with tourists from all over the world but also from all the States of the Union. St Patrick, the majestic cathedral, is under wraps, undergoing a renovation after 150 years, preparing itself for the next century of faithful and visitors.
The good Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the mogul who gave all himself to the City for the modest price of one dollar a year is on his way out. In spite of his wish that he could stay longer, by constitutional mandate, he must yield his office to a new mayor. There is a slate of nine candidates vying to become the first citizen of this premier world class city. It will be a difficult task to fill the shoes of the departing mayor.
He has left the city much better than he has found it. I just hope before he left and after his last foray with city-bikes, he will hire a regiment of physical assistant monitors to offer free to the citizens in the morning and in the afternoon, aerobic exercises in the parks and in the playgrounds, saving the city millions in health costs and hospital admissions. This program will at the same time create a bonding amongst the citizenry that will make the city stronger and healthier. I am offering the drum beat and the drummers from tropical Haiti for an exotic touch to the body movements.
Exploring the outer boroughs such as Queens and Brooklyn, á la Euripides, I have observed quite a few pregnant women ready to deliver their babies. Further inquiry leads me to believe that nine months ago it was September 1, on or around Labor Day. I then conclude, rightly or wrongly, that these are the babies of the debaucheries of West Indian Carnival on Eastern Parkway!
Continuing my Euripides walk and observation, I have found in all the boroughs that most of the black women have long and nice hair; I was told going natural was á la mode, leaving behind those ugly dreadlocks that most men hate anyway. As for the white men, an epidemic of giant tattoos on the forearm and the neck is spreading like a tentacle, leaving a whole generation that will suffer from related disease connected to such practice.
It seems the Range Rover SUV is in, in New York, brand new ones driven by young men all over the city. The advertisement of Range Rover for all seasons and all terrains works! The true test will be for Range Rover to organize its annual Rally in Haiti, where behind mountains there are more mountains.
The Barclay Center, home of the Nets at the entrance of Brooklyn, an imposing mushroom made of steel and glass, conveys the impression of faith in the future and sheer determination of one man to beat the odds to win the game.
New York City is a city that works! In the summer, with the birds coming in flocks because of the greenery and all the trees, it has nothing to envy from the Caribbean. Each one of the islands of the tropics must clean up its act, otherwise pretty soon they might lose to advantage New York, their edge in people, tourists and birds, at least during spring, summer and autumn!
Note: related story -- Who needs the Caribbean when you have midsummer night in New York City