PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Before Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake, dozens of independent hair stylists braided and colored hair in the capital’s Iron Market, a soaring steel-framed structure that was the commercial hub of downtown Port-au-Prince.
But the earthquake damaged the landmark Iron Market and the hairstylists moved their activities to the streets, where they resumed their businesses not long after the disaster struck. The Iron Market has now reopened, but apparently there’s no room for the stylists, who remain on the capital’s dusty streets.
One woman cuts hair in a salon constructed of cardboard and discarded wood, her customer’s arm resting inches from a wooden pallet. Nearby, another woman gets hair extensions while sitting on a stool on a debris-strewn lot, alongside houses and shops still in ruins 2½ years after the quake. Creaky wooden stalls offer a selection of wigs that can cost up to $75, a huge amount in an impoverished country where most people survive on $2 a day.
The stylists are far from the only ones who have been driven into the streets of Port-au-Prince. The disaster destroyed thousands of buildings and for a time, more than 1.5 million people were living in rough camps scattered throughout the capital. That number has since dropped to around 390,000 as the country slowly rebuilds.
Hairdressers such as 28-year-old Cigarre Wanuese typically start work at 6 a.m., braiding hair until dusk at the street’s edge, a river of cars and brightly painted minibuses known as tap-taps rattling by as they work. Their presence downtown spares customers from having to make the long, and relatively expensive, trek up the hill to the wealthier areas where it’s easier to find an indoor salon.