Haiti is a country of cash markets run by millions of women known as madam sara and ti machan. These women hold the country‘s informal economy — its only economy — together, with little support from government or NGOs. They are celebrated in Haitian market paintings, but the real women behind the canvases are unknown. In 2013 I traveled with a camera and anthropologist Talitha Stam into the mountains above Kenscoff to observe their work. Our guide was Madame Gerard, a madam sara in her 50s, who had been buying and reselling since she was ten.

“I have eyes, but I can’t read. That’s why I’m sending my children to school,” says Madame Gerard, one of the millions of Haitian women known as madam sara. Their work connects rural farms to urban markets, holding the country together. Yet, like most in her vicarious business, Gerard can’t always afford to keep the children in school or put food on the table. As Hurricane Sandy passed through Haiti, she invited Stam and me to follow her work day, from before dawn into the night. The woman-driven cash market system you see here accounts for 85 percent of Haiti’s total economy.
A woman walks a mountain road above Ka-Blain, Haiti with a bundle of carrots from her farm. Along the route, she will sell them to madam saras: women who transport the produce to Port-au-Prince for resale. In this way, the produce of 700,000 Haitian farms reaches the markets.

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