PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Herold Jean can neither read nor write. He has never held a salaried job in all his 27 years. He does not know the meaning of the word democracy.
But today, sitting on a plot of mud in front of his home of sticks, tin and cardboard, he will look to the sky, trying to spot an airplane that symbolizes Haiti's future and his own.
Exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is returning home aboard jetliner from Washington, carrying with him the hope of a shattered country.
"I think it is about time for us to be rejoined with our president," Mr. Jean says. "Yes, I voted for him. And yes, I will celebrate when he comes home."
But Mr. Jean expects tangible rewards, and he expects them now. He wants a job. He wants a better home. He wants to be able to feed his girlfriend and their two children.
Multiply Mr. Jean and his family by millions, and you begin to understand the expectations and burdens placed on Father Aristide.
A man who earns pennies a day hauling garbage and sweeping streets yearns to work in a factory.
A small-business man supports the aims of Father Aristide but fears the most passionate and violent of his supporters.
An army captain taught to soldier by an ousted dictator tries to learn the new rules of policing a society and bolstering the political leader he once opposed.
And a wealthy industrialist makes the greatest leap of all, championing the return of an exiled leftist president to revive a comatose economy.
This is Haiti, on the eve of Father Aristide's return.
"This is no way for a human being to live," says Regreta Elyse, 20, as she sits on a rock in front of the home she shares with Herold Jean.
Her 4-month-old baby suckles at her breast. Flies buzz around her hair.
The family lives in Cite Carton, the poorest section of the poorest part of Port-au-Prince. Their house is a 12-by-15 shack, the porous walls sealed haphazardly with yellowed newspapers. A light dangles above the bed they share with their two children. A faucet for running water is three blocks away. A sewer ditch serves as the toilet.
Just down the rocky, muddy lane of 30 identical rusting tin shacks is a football-field sized fetid swamp filled with rats, pigs, discarded tires and rotting banana peels.
For this, they pay $4 a month. And they are four months behind in rent.
Mr. Jean tries to earn money by carrying the goods of strangers, or shoveling garbage. Ms. Elyse cares for their children. It is rare for them to eat every day.
"Sometimes, we get a sweet potato," she says. "Sometimes, we have rice."
They have never met Father Aristide. They have rarely heard him speak. But to this couple, Father Aristide represents change.
"His returning means a lot to me," Mr. Jean says. "As soon as he comes back, I will find a job and change houses. I have never worked. I have not been to school. I cannot read or write. I can count. Whatever job I can have, I will do. I would like to become a businessman."
High hopes for Father Aristide to fulfill in a country where unemployment runs at 75 percent. But Mr. Jean says, "I always have hope."
Most Repugnant Elite
Carl Villard, a dark-haired 37-year-old, lives 20 minutes and light years away from Cite Carton. He has a wife, two children, a European sedan, and a drug store, all safely tucked away in a mountainside town called Petionville.
Here, the people who are derisively called the Most Repugnant Elite dine in fine restaurants while worrying about the clamor of the lower classes below.
Shades of brown color this division, too. Many of the elite are mulattos; the lower class is dark black.
Mr. Villard, who is mulatto, is different in one respect: He supports Father Aristide's policies of economic change. But like many here, he fears the vengeance of Father Aristide's supporters.
After a coup and a foreign invasion, Mr. Villard says it is time for Haitians to solve their problems. He contributes in his way, supporting three foster children with food, clothing, housing and education.
"You have to start somewhere," he says. "The U.S. doesn't have to do anything for us. We have to do this all together. If we agree to lose some, we can win some. Compromise."
He talks passionately about reclaiming Haiti's institutions -- the army, the government, the schools. He is troubled by a long-ago conversation he had with a former government minister who told him to work hard and save money so he could one day send his children overseas.
"If we don't succeed in solving our own problems and we don't participate in the next election, we might end up giving this country away again," he says.
"If he wants, Aristide can be the best president we've ever had," he says. "I will be listening to how he talks. I will be waiting to hear that there is going to be justice for everyone, that people must participate in social life. We can not just hope anymore in this country. We need change for everyone."
A military man
"I have been embarrassed," says Haitian army Capt. Patrick H. Bastien, sitting in his expansive office at the military headquarters in Petionville.
With his starched blue police uniform, spit-polished black shoes, and neatly trimmed moustache, the 36-year-old is the best and the brightest of a discredited institution. His soldiers are disarmed. The streets of his district are patrolled by Americans. His former commander in chief and teacher, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, is in exile.
Some police burned their uniforms and fled. Others are so grossly incompetent all they do is sit around the station houses zTC playing dominoes. They will soon be fired. Paramilitaries have gone underground, fearing the wrath of victims turned vigilantes.
But Captain Bastien remains. He is among those who can still be won over by Father Aristide.
"I have never been afraid," he says. "I have no idea of what will happen next. We are just waiting."
The past few weeks have been difficult. He was prepared to fight the Americans during an invasion, even though he says, "Of course, they would kill all of us."
Now, he is a bystander as his force is dismantled and his troops are jeered on the streets by angered Haitians. Still, he is confident that he can become part of the solution. He agrees that the military should stay out of politics even though he participated in the coup because he "was obliged to follow the army."
"I am not a politician," he says. "I am an army man."
So he is prepared to follow the orders of a new commander in chief, and a new president. Today he is looking to patrol safe and peaceful streets.
"Since Aristide is the leader of all of us, I am pretty sure he will speak to the people and they will listen to us," he says. "As a military man, I have nothing to say to the president.
As a Haitian citizen, I would ask him to give reconciliation for all Haitians."
'We all win'
Gregory Mevs does not shed tears for the poor. He wants to put them to work.
"I can cry with you about how miserable the people are," he says. "But it is more important to do something about it. We have the opportunity to help make the quality of life better here."
He is the present and future of Haitian business, a 34-year-old heir to a dynasty.
Seven families divvy up the major industries on this island, but only one of them is brazen enough to actually place a picture of Father Aristide in the office: the Mevses.
Gregory and his older brother Fritz have built on an empire started by their father and now estimated to be worth between $15 million and $50 million, an extraordinary amount in Haiti. They control 20 businesses, from sugar processing to footwear to cement.
To understand how important they are to Father Aristide's future consider this: Three armed American military men sit outside Gregory Mevs' office.
He declines to be photographed. But unlike virtually all the other dynastic business leaders, Gregory Mevs is willing to openly support and talk about Father Aristide.
"I am excited because our democratic experience is back on track," he says. "We can cast away the tragic history of the autocratic system that has been with us for nearly 200 years. There is now an opportunity for reform and reform can lead to economic change."
Whether Father Aristide succeeds or fails, the Mevses are bound to make millions as they reopen their businesses. Once, they employed 45,000 people. Now, they are down to fewer than 1,000, but they control an enormous industrial park in downtown Port-au-Prince.
The Mevses have had their differences with the charismatic leader. But now they are banking that a leftist politician can make them and their country wealthier.
"The man is different this time," Mr. Mevs says. "This is somebody who has a lot of humility. He is not a megalomaniac. He has seen the Mandelas and Havels of the world. He has seen how a modern, complex democracy works in America.
"The president has to make constructive acts to double up the economy," he says. "Business people have to be very patient. It is a new system and the system has to define itself. In the short term, business may not be happy. In the long term, we all win."