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Backstory: Haiti's version of Wal-Mart

Intense, hot, odorous, and loud, this city's Iron Market area is a third world answer to Wal-Mart - a crush of consumerism and a place to people-watch.

This is the capital of the Western Hemisphere's poorest country - pick-and-hoe subsistence reaches right up to the edge of sprawling slums. Yet, there's no lack in the teeming downtown market: Anything from CDs of rap music to made-in-China gadgets, and canned goods to voudoo flags can be had. Handicrafts once attracted bargaining tourists - but in today's dangerous political climate, only the poor, who must, venture here. Merchants set up their canyons of goods in and around the Iron Market - a 19th-century mall - every day, rain or shine (and rain and shine can be intense in the Caribbean), before the roosters crow (and they do even in this city of 2 million). Only church services - or a day of political violence - thin the crowds as they are in these photos taken on a recent Sunday.

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Every cranny of the marketplace can hold a classic scene: a woman pinching a slice of beef between thumb and forefinger inviting customers to smell and (yes) feel; a barely clothed street urchin whose smile defies pity; a colorful hawker who can scold you into a sale with wacky Creole wit.


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