It’s now a week into the World Cup, and Haiti’s got a fever. A fever for more World Cup! Soccer is life for Haitians, and in a country where there is very little to celebrate, the World Cup is like four weeks of Christmas!
Everyone is decked out in their jerseys, and if they can’t afford to represent their favorite player, they’re flashing the teams colors instead. And while shirts and hats are big business here, the real moneymaker is flags. Everywhere you go there are people on the side of the road selling them in different sizes. Attach them to your car, tie them to your motorcycle, or just wear them as a cape. Come on, everyone’s doing it!
But in Haiti, there are really only two clear choices: Brazil and Argentina. You can ask any Haitian you pass on the street, “who’s your team?” 99.9% of the time it will be one of those two, with a slight majority leaning towards Brazil. And when either of those two teams play, the city stops. Workers no longer work, cars no longer drive, babies no longer cry, it’s incredible.
This morning I was driving Jillian to work on our trusty chariot, Pinotage, and since we had left a little late we were expecting to hit massive amounts of traffic. Well, it just happened that Argentina was playing this morning, and as a result the roads were eerily empty. The city was almost silent except for the sounds of radios and TVs blaring the action in Kreyol, and the occasional explosion of cheers when Argentina scored.
But for many who have lost their homes here, watching the game is not as easy as it once was. Because of the insatiable need to watch these games, city power has been on practically all day, every day, since the tournament began. This NEVER happens, as we usually have power maybe 4 hours a day, and at what seems like completely random times.
But now, the power goes on around 6am (right before the first game starts), and then stops around 3:35pm (the minute the last game ends). It’s a huge testament to how important soccer is to the people here, as I can assure you that if they didn’t have the electricity to power their TVs there would surely be riots everywhere.
So for those without televisions, the government has teamed up with a handful of NGOs, and the UN, to play the games publicly in the camps. The people above are anxiously watching Argentina play Nigeria in their first game last Saturday. The 30 foot tall screen positioned in the middle of the soccer field at the National Stadium in PAP provided the games for more than 10,000 Haitians who decided to stop by. And at the hefty fee of 0 Goudes for admission, the price was just right.
But in a country that’s hyper-religious, it appears that there are three major groups: Christians, Voodoos, and Brazil fans. While the country is split between Argentina and Brazil, the fans for Brazil take this to a whole different level. In the streets there are banners and flags hanging everywhere, and above Delmas, which is one of the main arteries of the city, hundreds of soda bottles painted yellow and green hang over the traffic and rubble below.
On Tuesday Brazil played their first match, and the city was ablaze with excitement. The streets were filled with people, and everywhere there was a TV there was a crowd gathered around it. I drove down to a local bar to catch the game with a friend, and on my way I was stopped by an enormous caravan of police cars and heavily tinted SUVs. I jumped off Pinotage and curiously looked on, expecting to see President Preval exit one of the cars donning his favorite Brazil jersey. Turns out, it was someone that most Haitians would prefer to see instead of Preval any day: Haiti’s own international superstar, Wycelf Jean!
He watched the game at the pizza joint we go to regularly, and after Brazil put the beat down on the communist North Koreans, the streets filled with unruly fans celebrating their teams win.
Brazil is a favorite to win the World Cup, so it makes sense that Haiti has taken them as their own. Haiti’s soccer team is terrible, I think the last time they played Brazil the score was something like 6-0, and they aren’t even in the World Cup this year. But for people who are constantly living in conditions that rank among the worst, it’s nice for them to be able to support a team that is among the best. I can’t help but do it myself, it’s contagious. While I’ll root for the US ever time they play, I would love to see Brazil pull out the win just so that the joy here can continue, even for this short amount of time.