‘Haiti on Ice’ set to go ahead

Haitians practice their ice skating skills ahead of the 'Haiti On Ice' event. Picture: AP
Haitians practice their ice skating skills ahead of the 'Haiti On Ice' event. Picture: AP
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MOST people dismissed as crazy a plan to put on an ice show in the blazing heat of the Caribbean island of Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries.

But now, despite a year of delays, the islanders are preparing for Haiti on Ice, which is scheduled to take place this weekend, if the ice doesn’t melt.

On Tuesday night, some young Haitians got a chance to play on the rink, created by flooding and freezing water poured into a basketball gym in the sweltering capital of Port-au-Prince (average temperature 32c). For many, it was their first encounter with the pleasures, and pitfalls, of ice-skating.

“In other cities, it’s cold,” said Laila Bien-Aime, a 21-year-old student. “In Haiti, it’s very, very hot. These are two different worlds coming together.”

Ms Bien-Aime was joined by a band of rollerskaters who normally are seen weaving through the capital’s traffic and whizzing down its hilly streets. They got their first brief go at the ice on Sunday, and two days later they looked at home while gliding about on the rink.

“It’s a glory for me to see myself skating,” said Reginald Jean, 27, leader of the inline skate group that calls itself the No Limit Roller Club. “We would like this activity to be long term, to stay here.”

The unlikely idea to put on an ice show in Haiti arose last year after François Yrius of Super Canal Prod, the Guadeloupe-based exhibition company organising the show, met Haiti’s tourism minister, Stephanie Villedrouin, at a music festival.

She urged Mr Yrius to hold an ice show in Haiti and convinced him to set aside his concerns, such as how much it would cost and the other complications of putting on such a spectacle in a country where much of the already thin infrastructure has been battered by the 2010 earthquake, other disasters and neglect.

Since then, the show has been cancelled more than a dozen times for various reasons, the main one being an inability to keep the ice frozen.

At first, Mr Yrius tried to hold it outdoors, but organisers finally surrendered to the heat and moved into the gym. Still, it’s August and it costs £1,000 an hour to run the generator that keeps the ice solid.

Hurricane Sandy, which caused floods in November, and a subsequent state of emergency also caused delays, Mr Yrius said. So did the April visit of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who needed to use the Silvio Cator stadium where the ice show originally was going to be held.

“Many problems happened,” Mr Yrius said. The heat was the chief one, getting the better of his ice-making machine. “It’s not strong enough to keep the ice.”

The delays have become something of a running joke for the Haitian media. After yet another cancellation, journalist Claude Bernard Serant quipped about Haiti being a country “where the possible is impossible”.

But Mr Yrius says this time the show will really go on. He hopes.

This weekend’s performers include Russian figure skater Elena Glebova, the French pair-skater Yannick Bonheur, German figure skater Annette Dytrt and British Olympian Penny Coomes.

Tickets run from $4.50 (£2.85) for children to $50 for the best seats, a high price for people in Haiti, where the average annual income is about $400.

Mr Yrius expects a good crowd for the weekend’s three shows, and feels all the problems and delays have been worth the effort.

“People get to see something,” he said. “They want to see something new.”