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6441: Haiti Celebrates Christmas (fwd)

From: nozier <nozier@tradewind.net>

 Haiti Celebrates Christmas  The Associated Press, Sat 23 Dec 2000

 PETIONVILLE, Haiti (AP) ? Overhead, an enormous boom shakes the night
shy and draws Haitians to the doorways of their cinderblock hovels.
Looking up, children shriek with joy at the blossoming colors.Haiti's
myriad problems look increasingly difficult to solve, and the lives of
most residents are plagued by  poverty and crime. But that hasn't
stopped people here from celebrating Christmas with the loud, spangled
exuberance of fireworks.  Haiti is a nation steeped in mysticism, and
even the names of the fireworks seem magical: battle cry  rockets,
dragons, meteorite rain, silver river, fluttering butterflies, flaming
bells, sky snakes.``They are our Stars of Bethlehem, our way of
expressing joy at the birth of Christ,'' said Penel Mixamar, 29, who
hawks fireworks on the street. ``And the noise they make scares the evil
spirits away, to make room for the New Year.''
  Supermarket manager Jamil Chraiki stocked his store with $1,800 worth
of fireworks a month ago, twice as much as last year. He predicted he'd
be sold out by Christmas.
 ``I thought they wouldn't sell. The cost of living has gone up and
fireworks are expensive,'' Chraiki said.``But people are buying them
like hot cakes.'  One wealthy customer bought $680 worth of the
fireworks, he said. Some sell for nearly $15 each ? 10  times the
minimum daily wage in Haiti. Many of the fireworks that burst above
Port-au-Prince at Christmastime are shot into the sky from  hillside
mansions that overlook the city. But poor people buy fireworks, too ?
Mixamar's go for anywhere from 70 cents to $2.30 ? and rockets
occasionally shoot up from the squalor of Petionville, a  suburb where
many live in squatter settlements on the slopes of gullies.
  For Haitians, the splendor of fireworks provides at least a fleeting
escape from the daily grind of a country gripped by poverty, political
rancor and violent crime. Heavily armed gangsters rule the streets in
this, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A series of bomb
blasts killed two children and  injured about 20 people in the approach
to elections last month.    The elections, boycotted by many voters amid
fraud charges, returned former President Jean-Bertrand  Aristide to
office. He will be installed in February, but international condemnation
of the process  threatens to further isolate Haiti.
 ``Perhaps the thirst for saving beauty has grown with the ugliness of
our environment,'' Haitian filmmaker   Arnold Antonin said, venturing an
explanation for the fireworks craze. ``Perhaps, since the evil spirits
of  the Old Year are so numerous, we must redouble the noise.''