For whatever reason the sunsets of 24 years in Canada have left far less an impact than those of 10 weeks in Haiti. Every evening at 5:30 I drift out to one of my property’s many terraces to watch the daily celestial show. The hillside’s palm trees and jungle vines sit in the foreground in such a way as to provide a frame to a dynamic tableau of vibrant pastel colours that is reminiscent of Monet.
The picturesque moments begin when the sun is still high in the sky as the light begins to hit the southern mountain range at different angles to reveal the different textures present in the hills and valleys. Sunlight reflects from the Gonave Gulf, basking Port-au-Prince in surreal luminescence. The clouds begin to show effects first in the eastern sky, turning orange, pink and finally red. The changing colours steadily drift overhead, touching each cloud along the way. The grand finale occurs when the sun dips below the edge of the Earth leaving a band of fire in the western horizon, among the silhouette of the southwestern mountains. As darkness begins to take over the twilight is slowly pushed into the sea, revealing a panorama of bright stars. For a city of 2 million, Port-au-Prince has a fantastic blanket of stars.
Sunrise is an equally sensual event, but for altogether different reasons. Where sunset is a spectacle of nature, sunrise has a more human face. The compound in which I live is in a valley. On my side of the valley there are low-rise apartments, parking lots, a swimming pool and terraces covered in palm and mango trees. On the opposite side, separated from me by a creek bed and a wall, there is what Haitians call a “cite,” a shantytown of cinderblock houses clinging to the hillside and juxtaposed onto one another.
Our shared valley creates an ideal situation to see and hear “Cite la Vallee” come alive with the dawn of the day. As twilight begins to break, the first signs of life begin to stir. It begins with the animals, first the roosters, but soon after the hens emerge to scavenge loose seeds, with their flocks of chicks trailing behind. Next are the pigs and goats. As the sky brightens human activity becomes more prominent. Women and girls carry buckets of water back and forth from the communal tap. The sounds of people making and eating breakfast can be heard. A steady trickle of well-dressed commuters, the ones fortunate enough to be employed, follow the steep footpath from the cite onto the street. Young children begin playing. Older children congregate and loiter before heading off to school.
Slowly, as the sun rises up from the eastern hills, the sights and sounds of morning fade into those of the day. Women begin their families’ washing, squatting next to buckets of soapy water and clothing. The men begin construction and metalwork as the small shops selling foodstuffs and lottery tickets begin to welcome their daily stream of clients.
The most outstanding memories I have of Canadian sunsets involve me cursing the blinding afternoon light while driving on the Hamilton-bound QEW. My recollection of sunrises is little better. This contrast brings me to a final question; does my appreciation of Haitian sunsets stem from an actual visible difference or rather from a difference in lifestyle between Canada and Haiti that allows me to enjoy this magical time more while I’m here than I do while at home? Should the answer in fact be the latter, I’m not sure which place it is that I should be calling home…
by Shaun Cleaver. First published in The Niagara Falls Review 2004