North American Items Get Second Life in Haiti Ever wonder where your old tennis shoes end up? Everything in Haiti seems to have come from somewhere else. Haitians sport clothes with American logos. The buses are old clunkers from Canada — and even used toilets from North America end up here.
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North American Items Get Second Life in Haiti

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North American Items Get Second Life in Haiti

North American Items Get Second Life in Haiti

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


You probably know Americans are the world's biggest consumers, so of course we also make more trash than anyone else. And then we actually ship a lot of it to poor countries, like Haiti.

From the northern port city of Cap Haïtien, here's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro on the second life of American junk.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm at one of the junk markets in Cap Haïtien just outside of the port, and splayed out in front of me, is the detritus of a thousand American families, their old cabinets, old fans, a lounger, rope, disused garden hose, coolers, baby chairs, anything and everything that you can possible imagine that perhaps an American family wouldn't want has ended up here on the docks of Cap Haïtien.

Mr. JIMZEN SANTILOS (Resident, Cap Haïtien, Haiti): (Through translator) The junk never stops coming. Every eight days, there's always more junk. All those containers over there, they're full of junk.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Germogem Santilles(ph) points to shipping containers nearby that have come on junk ships from the United States. He and some of the other junk sellers here make fairly brisk trade. Haiti has practically no industry, so says Joselyn Francois(ph), who's been in the junk trade for 20 years.

Mr. JOSELYN FRANCOIS (Junk Seller): (Through translator) This stuff is like cash for us. Most of the things that end up here people threw away. And when the Haitian gets it, he fixes it and uses it. We don't make things. Haiti doesn't produce anything really.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The ships that come in carry everything from cars to used toilet bowls. In Haiti these goods are called pepe.

So let me ask you, I mean some of the stuff that I've seen, like the toilets, for example, I mean used toilets, tell me, is there a market for used toilets?

Mr. FRANCOIS: Oui. Oui.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Men at the docks tell me that people in Haiti are too poor to quibble about whether or not something was used. They are not, they say, squeamish. Germogem Santilles says there is a strange connection between Americans and Haitians.

Mr. SANTILLES: (Through translator) When I think about the U.S., me who never went, I think it must be a paradise. At the same time it's a mystery because what they don't need they throw away. We are the ones who reuse it without even considering who were the people using these things before.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sometimes though it's clear where certain things come from.

(Soundbite of crowd)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like clothes. In Haiti most of the clothes are secondhand and large markets like this one in Cap-Haitien sell everything from belts to, yes, used underwear. It's a cacophony of sound and color. Women here mostly control the trade and they sit underneath racks of used clothes to escape the heat.

Carmel Paul(ph) has been selling used clothes that come mostly from Miami for about 10 years.

So she's holding up a shirt right now that's Alphia(ph) Challenge 2006 Canoe and Kayak Race, and it's clearly something that came from Hillsborough County, a T-shirt that's come a very long way to this market in Haiti.

And if you walk around town, you'll see quite a few people wearing T-shirts that have American logos emblazoned on them. But Carmel Paul says that they're not that popular.

Ms. CARMEL PAUL (Junk Seller): (Through translator) These T-shirts are harder to sell. If the person knows how to read and understands what the shirt says, he might buy it. If he can't read, he won't buy it because he'll say its advertisement, and they don't want to advertise for the company.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's not only clothing that shows its provenance.

(Soundbite of siren)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the local fire station, three out of the four trucks here come from the United States, from places like Holbrook, Massachusetts, and Melbourne Beach, Florida. No one has bothered to paint over the original IDs.

Gabriel Hughes(ph), who works at the station, says he thinks used works better in Haiti.

Mr. GABRIEL HUGHES: (Through translator) Sometimes they give you the old stuff and it actually lasts you longer. If they give you a new car and you need to service it, there're a bunch of things our local mechanics won't be able to do because they haven't been trained for it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Haitians have become experts in living a recyclable life, he says. Hardly anything ever gets thrown away, which may be fine on the ground but possibly not in the air.

Unidentified Man: Thank you for flying Chautauqua Airlines...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we fly out of Cap-Haitien, our plane's recorded announcement tells us that we are flying Chautauqua Airlines. We shoot off into the sky as Haiti shimmers below.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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