PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s National Palace lies in ruins, so the boys of Delmas 40 refugee camp built a cardboard substitute.
The roughly 12-foot-wide (3.7-meter-wide) house of military ration boxes tops a ridge above a sprawling tent city near a base for the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division. The boxes are unfolded and held up by wooden poles and coat hangers. A mini Haitian flag flies in front and a painted sign proclaims it the “palais national.”
When the white-sheet roof billows, you can almost see one of the tapered domes of the real palace that for eight decades crowned downtown Port-au-Prince.
“I’d never been in a national palace before, so we built one,” said Jhonny Narcisse, 32. He, like the others, form the rap group “D-Clan.”
Narcisse calls himself “B-Deep.” Louissant Bennigchton, 25, is the front man, aka “J.B. Madjigriddi.” His dreadlocks are partially covered by a burnt-orange knit cap. He has a black beard and horn-rim glasses. At night, 19 guys sleep on the dirt floor of the “palace” that looks down on a makeshift camp that has formed on a golf course.
The musicians are working on a song about the quake that destroyed all their homes called “Bible Story,” but that isn’t finished. For now they freestyle a verse in English and Creole: “We need the food. We need to eat. We are heroes. We are heroes.” They laugh and sway, beatboxing.
There are other signs around the palace. One declares the southwest side as Port-au-Prince’s new cathedral. And one facing the sunglass-wearing U.S. soldiers who direct food distributions to the 50,000 people sleeping in the valley below reads: “God Bless America 4 American Food.”
A food line snakes up the steep hill to the soldiers’ position, housed behind the cracked clubhouse of the swank Petionville country club, which shares its grounds with the U.S. ambassador’s home. Behind the ocean of tarps on the golf course are the cracked concrete houses the people here left behind.
The D-Clan boys say the soldiers keep turning them away in line, so they pool their money to go out, buy rice, and cook it in a corner of their pseudo-palace. Where they buy it exactly, they don’t say.
The camouflaged soldiers behind the ropes say they don’t turn anyone anyway; in fact, they usually let people take rations twice, as long as there’s no shoving. One starts to comment on the new “government” building behind their post, but an officer calls him away.
They’ll probably have a lot of time to consider it, though.
“This palace is here forever,” Bennigchton said, his friends clapping in approval. “Until the owner wants the land back.”