Words and photos by Benjamin Gooch
Haiti welcomed us in many ways we didn’t expect.
On our second morning in Port-au-Prince, my brother Woody, friend Quinn and I set out to meet with Evens, a local guy we’d met the previous day who was stoked to show us around. After 45-minutes in the blistering sun and no sign of Evens at the arranged meeting spot, we gave up waiting.
Seconds later, a guy on a dirt bike with his face covered with a bandana flew by. He slammed on his brakes and successfully completed a U-turn, pulling up right next to us. He asked what we were doing in Haiti. Did we listen to rap music, did we like it? ‘Yes’ we replied, and with that, he invited us to come hang with his friends at his studio. We exchanged numbers.
This chance meeting would spark a chain of events that resulted in us exploring some of the most dangerous areas in the city, and then shooting a rap music video in the city’s ghettos…
Living on the Edge
Soon after we touched down in Haiti, our attention was drawn to the renowned gingerbread mansion that sat high on the hillside: Hotel Oloffson. After checking out the hotel—a 19th Century Gothic building festooned with voodoo statues with large chainsaw-like penises—we decided to go check out the hillside above. After ninety minutes of walking uphill, we stumbled upon a group of local men playing dominoes. Before we knew it, we were playing with veterans of the game and losing all our money. Once our wallets were completely emptied, Evens appeared, introduced himself, and took us on a tour of his neighbourhood.
In a Rush
After two days of unanswered phone calls, Quinn’s phone started to buzz. It was Rico, the dirt bike guy, calling to see if we were down to meet some local rappers and check out their studio. Minutes later he was at our hotel. He took us one-by-one on his bike to the studio, where we spent the next hour hanging, listening to their songs and watching them chain smoke more joints than we could count. At some point, it was let slip that Quinn’s brother had helped to produce music videos for some of the more influential rappers in the industry, and, naturally, the guys asked if we could film a music video for them. We agreed, and the next day met up with one of their friends to grab props for the music video from his house (nothing out of the ordinary, just a few handguns).
As we exited the house, a large swarm of anti-government protesters ran past, the Haitian military in hot pursuit, firing teargas in our direction. We jumped on the bikes, covered our faces with our t-shirts, and rode through the teargas. Once we had escaped the commotion, we set out to film the music video.
After the teargas incident, Ricco asked if we wanted to escape the city for the day and visit his mother’s land in the countryside. The journey there was an experience in itself. Within the first few minutes of leaving the hotel to get a tap tap (their form of a taxi: a modified 4×4, covered in bright paint), I made a misstep which resulted in me almost falling down an open man-hole filled with trash, and a local man tore into us for taking shots from the tap tap while stuck in traffic.
It was a shaky morning, so we were happy to finally board the bus that would take us out to the farm. We hopped on, snagged a few of the last seats, and then, to our surprise, another twenty people squeezed on.
The ride offered up scenery like nothing we’d seen before, and two hot and squished hours later, we were welcomed by Ricco’s mum and a large wheelbarrow full of ripe mangoes. Our afternoon passed easily, alternating between mango feasting and dips in the ocean. When night fell, we made the journey back to Port-au-Prince.