(Photo From Associated Press)
“When the Caribbean catch a cold, Haiti...she catch the bubonic plague.”
—Unidentified West Indian Man on the 4 Train From Brooklyn, Jan. 14th, 2010
I live in one of the western hemisphere's largest West Indian communities outside of the actual Caribbean, in jerk-spiced, heavily patois-ed central Brooklyn—Crown Heights, and the talk for the last week on the streets has been of the highly animated variety as that section's huge Haitian component is in an utter panic over the literal upheaval in their mother country, Haiti. The monster quake that struck the impoverished island nation—a 7.1 temblor (Quick: How many of us out there knew there was an apparently major fault line running under the sea in the west's main vacation region? Not this geology geek, so you'd better believe I'm now checking up on every place remotely close by) laid brutal waste to a country one news industry friend of mine unfortunately dubbed based on its treatment by neighbors, the “taint” of the hemisphere. Already compromised by scores of years of benign neglect and outright plunder by the more monied interests nearby, the quake shook down the flimsy housing used by the country's dirt-poor majority.
Clapboard, chipboard, plywood, drywall—every third-line material you could use for building a home (as opposed to their intended use of merely finishing a solid home's interior) was found more than wanting in the wake of the earth's vigorously shaking its head “No...this will not stand.” A wall one minute, mere powder, or worse yet—layers of painful, trapping debris the next, much of Port-au-Prince lay like this now. Sadder still is the fact that while you wish a disaster like this on no land, you could not pick a worse place for hell to come a' calling and then brusquely re-arrange all the furniture.
The Presidential Palace is only rubble now. The Hotel Montana in Port Au Prince collapsed into a mess of masonry with nary a whisper from the pile. (The fear is that there may be over 150 dead beneath it all). The U.N. headquarters in Port Au Prince? Flattened.
And these...these were among the country's buildings that boasted structural integrity.
I came of age in a section of Queens where many of Haiti's bourgeoise elite skittered to when their patron saint, dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier decided to break out like the chicken pox when it became clear in a post-Marcos, post-Pinochet world that despots were on the way out whether they liked it or not. These people took whatever was left after the U.S. government-enabled Baby Doc kleptocratized Haiti's treasury (fleeing to the country's “parent” colonizer, France...Cést la vie.) , leaving only an angry, impoverished majority and a skeleton crew of untouchable, well-connected and heavily armed elites. The old government's hatchet men (said armed elites), the infamous, machete-wielding Tonton Macoutes were driven underground and many away to my neighborhood where through the thick Creole talk you could hear their laughing tales of brutality at the people's expense as they lived their new, secondary lives in the “do-over” USA.
You could hear their prideful talk of the class schism there and how they looked down on the teeming poor they beat dissent out of.
They chortled about how backward and awful the country was beyond the iron gates and concrete walls of their encampment-like homes down there. These folks got a good, old fashioned re-boot here, parlaying monies and assets grabbed from home into real estate scams here. The unfortunateness back home? There would be a hard suck of the teeth, a mocking laugh, and a dismissive wave of the hand at all that. What did it matter? They were here and not there. Not terribly tired, no need to huddle en masse, but still yearning to continue getting the “free” lunch at the expense of someone else. Liberté, indeed.
Haiti if you didn't know, was the western hemisphere's first “of color” people to aggressively shake off the bridle of colonialism and achieve independence. It did so in the late 1790s and early 1800s under the generalships of the legendary Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jacques Dessalines and it has seemed that ever since that day the country has been made to do a penance for such an insolence—with that independence being twisted into a rough abandonment, save for the plundering by nearby powers, Haiti unfortunately still needed to get by from day to day. The U.S. is one such power of course, having occupied Haiti for the first quarter of the last century) but the closer one—backed and supported by us was always the Dominican Republic, sitting to Haiti's east across a nearly vertical border—as if drawn in a scraggly marker line by an angry sibling down the middle of a room they shared—an island nation divided. After many battles for power between the island's Spanish and French peoples—Haitians claiming leadership by sheer numbers, the Spanish taking power through better connections in terms of trade and commerce, The republic's brutality towards her immediate neighbor was eventually manifested in the usual way, the awful, vivid “color” line of lighter-skinned folk considering themselves more valuable than their darker skinned countrymen. No one wants to be low man on the sociological totem pole, so racism's “shadings” work exceptionally well in warping folk against one another in that mad scuttle to not be the least desirable. The Dominican Republic effectively used Haiti's Black populace as a domestic staff, bottom-barrel agri-workers (notably the de-facto slaves in the prosperous sugar cane fields) and a general menial labor force, all the while denying them basic worker's rights and more importantly, human rights, particularly during the brutal Rafael Trujillo regime where that hard line between light and dark calcified enough to almost actually split the one-island / two nations into two separate countries drifting away from each other amidst a sea of blood. The massacre in 1937 of nearly 30,000 Haitians living along the countries shared border by Trujillo's troops on a racial purification whim helped to roil that sea mightily.
But...how did Haiti end up so easy to exploit?
Pat Robertson is a proudly, piously evil warper of words, a twister of truths, and a leading liar of legend. He also cannot suffer enough for my tastes for his coarsening of discourse in America and his un-Christian tendency to cast vile aspersions on the meek and weak among us. This Anti-Christ (as he constantly espouses things that go four-square against the core tenets of the religion he claims to be a leader and spokesman in) saw fit to make blood-soaked hay of the tragedy in Haiti by going on his sacrilegious little show on his sacrilegious little network and through those grinning, sharkish teeth of his and saying the following...
“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. So the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.”
“Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another,”
Pat's like herpes—a nettlesome virus, always annoying, and he never really goes away. You have to love his barely masked racism—basically saying that Haiti's quest for freedom from French White rule is what damned them and in effect implying that they'd be better off had they just kept quiet and under 'un pouce Gallic' (the French thumb)—a twist on Trent Lott's infamous statement on how America would have been better off had über-segregationist Ol' Strom Thurmond been elected President in 1948. If this blasphemous charlatan knew thing-the-first about Christ, he'd have a deeper understanding of the multiple meanings of one's being made to suffer, and if he had so much as an inkling of knowledge about economics—beyond knowing what trinkets to buy with the money he's snatched from that week's collection plates—he'd know that Haiti's troubles stem from some terrible economic policies that this country helped to enforce.
Here's something few people beyond us so-called Chomsky-ites know about the roots of Haiti's empty pockets, failed infrastructure and long-standing hopelessness—via Maggie at Boing Boing through Crooks and Liars:
Summary: Haiti was forced to pay France for its freedom. When they couldn't afford the ransom, France (and other countries, including the United States) helpfully offered high-interest loans. By 1900, 80% of Haiti's annual budget went to paying off its "reparation" debt. They didn't make the last payment until 1947. Just 10 years later, dictator François Duvalier (ed. note: a.k.a. “Papa Doc, “Baby Doc Jean-Claude Duvalier's father) took over the country and promptly bankrupted it, taking out more high-interest loans to pay for his corrupt lifestyle. The Duvalier family, with the blind-eye financial assistance of Western countries, killed tens of thousands of Haitians, until the Haitian people overthrew them in 1986. Today, Haiti is still paying off the debt of an oppressive dictator no one would help them get rid of for 30 years.
The rest of the world refuses to forgive this debt. So, in a way, maybe Robertson is right. Haiti is caught in a deal with the devil, and the devil is us.
Somewhere beyond us all, Walt Kelly's prescient “Pogo” gives a knowing nod of acknowledgement...and then watches today's news...and cries his eyes out.
Did you know that after François Duvalier's greedy scion (“Baby Doc”) took over the razored crop of dictator, and after some years when he found himself at the mercy of a citizenry bent on deposing him, he looted the country's coffers for what millions he could (Approximately five hundred million) and was flown out of Haiti on a U.S. Air Force aircraft after back channel negotiations with the Reagan administration?
His immediate legitimate successor, the socialist-minded, but wildly popular cleric Jean Bertrand Aristide never stood a chance. A lock-stepped GOP congress would obstruct virtually every attempt to aid Haiti, publicly diminishing him by painting him as insane, choking off funding for infrastructure rehabilitation and educational reform, and even playing politics with the U.S. military when President Bill Clinton wanted to send Marines in to help quell the violence from the near civil war that broke out when what remained of the Tonton Macoutes and their influential backers violently sought to quash the people's quest for independence, “2.0”. (Unlike their bat-blind support of our incursions into the direct threats like Panama and worse, Grenada during the Reagan regime) We found out that folks like hardcore Duvalier-ista Emmanuel “Toto” Constant were hustled here (into my old neighborhood in Queens) on the “hush hush and very Q.T.” because they'd had ties to our intelligence agencies—doing what, we'll never truly know. These thugs ran a violent insurgent operation back home under the the acronym of FRAPH—ostensibly standing for The Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti but ironically translating phonetically into the French word for “hit” or “to whip”.
They did this from our shores. With the aid of people Pat Robertson called friends in our government. They undermined the freedom movement at every turn, helping to spiral Haiti drain-ward ever moreso to where it was pretty much anarchy, with roving bands of partisans on both sides attacking their foes and exacting revenge with extreme prejudice. Bodies of the casualties of this in-civil war would be left in the gutters at twilight. By midnight, feral pigs would emerge from the fields to claim their reward, gnawing greedily at the corpses. Daylight would come and the sundered bodies would remain there, fear gripping anyone who claimed them, thinking a decent burial signaled partisanship one way or another.
So there those bodies lay. Torn open. Violated. A vivid metaphor for Haiti herself.
God lives there. In Haiti. In spite of the lunatic dribblings of Pat Robertson. He would have people believe that at night the country is full of wild, painted-faced witch doctors dancing about, tossing chicken bones here and there and sticking pins in rough-hewn, blue-eyed, blonde-haired dolls for shits, giggles and goofabout evil. It's a fantasy he probably has about folks in Watts and Bed-Stuy too. But God lives there in Haiti and lives there hard—the land is about eighty-five percent Catholic, which could explain about thirty percent of Pat's syrupy venom in recent days. (The other seventy percent is straight-up Mandingo fear n' hate.) 'Horns and hooves on them damned Pope lovers!' is Robertson's people's mantra. I saw a report on CNN where a woman was rescued from being trapped in collapsed roof and wall debris for two days and what struck me was her odd calm as she was carried prone from a certain, crushing death—as well as her matter-of-fact confidence in a God that Robertson says her people forsook...
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Here's something I did not know until this past summer at my family's first family reunion since the early nineties—my family tree, once root-cut at around the time of Lincoln in spite of our best efforts to pull an Alex Haley and get to the beginning of things, now goes back a touch further and links with Haiti. Senegal is where we hail from, the details noting a group of warrior brothers from there ending up in Haiti fighting against Napoleon's troops for Henri Chrsitophe—a L'Ouverture General. Deemed outsider rebels, even after victory they could not remain and were sent to Louisiana and sold into slavery. But, the “laws” of that sin being what they were, they were split up with some sent to Mississippi as no more than two purchased slave brothers could be enslaved in the same state.
My last name is a French one—presumably not from the Haitian adventure that started my family's time here in the Americas, but from the Louisianan who evidently owned us. This is information we're still sussing out.
My odd ties to Haiti. There the hell they are.
If you live in Black Brooklyn, you've seen the barrel trucks and their accompanying barrel services. Many West Indian families after a time here have a ritual they observe—a giving back to home in the method of shipping large, sturdy transport barrels to whence they came. Folks will fill these barrels with all manner of inexpensive, but necessary things that the less fortunate or less able to acquire back home are only too thankful to receive. Walk the streets of Brooklyn and you'll see the trucks bounding down the potholed streets and you'll go by the small international shipping storefronts that handle the big, spool-like parcels stuffed with toiletries, bedding, underwear, children's clothes, and nearly unperishable boxes of Ramen Noodle foodstuffs. In the last few days I've seen at least five times the usual number of these trucks going by, and the stores peppered with people looking at the barrels displayed outside, mentally gauging just how much they can cram into them to get something...anything they can back home to help.
And therein lies the irony. These barrels are shipped inexpensively via container ships landing at Haiti's capital, the natural harbor of Port-au-Prince, meaning quite literally “Port of The Prince” (As in “Le Prince”, the famed ship that docked there in the 18th century to protect it against British attacks.). But the port itself, the docks and unloading cranes—are simply gone—torn asunder or just shaken to the bottom of the Gulf of Gonâve like the downy fluffs at the bottom of a snow globe. The nearest alternate access port is some sixty miles away, forcing transportation of supplies over shattered roads that have been deemed at best, impassible, so the barrels accumulate here while people go hungry and thirsty there. There is no “port” anymore, and certainly nothing prince-like or remotely royal remaining to accept the bottlenecking necessities being packed up here some 1500 miles northwest.
It is but a coastline now. Côte de Pauvre...“a coast...of paupers”.
I saw a skinny man, his clothes hanging off him like a blowsy flag on a pole on a news feed in the midst of a group of frantic Haitians snatch a box of what appeared to be MREs (Meals Ready To Eat) from an aid worker and run away, stopping and wheeling about only to realize there was absolutely nowhere to hide with it—as all about him had been flattened. Another Haitian desperately yelped “That's for all of us!” They mercifully cut away from the madness, but to scenes of people wandering about the devastation in what were obviously either hand-me-down or as noted above, sent-bulk-with-little-thought-to-exact-sizing clothes. Odd, irregular items and things shipped there to be desperately ditched from the wealthy universe beyond Haiti, like printed T-shirts from sports championships that never happened. Would-be winning locker room memorabilia. Dreams that never came true, commemorated in clothing the dreamers wanted no one to see, on people no one really cared about. Oh, the mysterious ways in which things do move.
And then there are the un-mysterious ways. There are some things certain people clearly wanted to see in this...to almost encourage and wish into 1080p / 7.1 Surround-Sound reality, namely televised total anarchy. It is one thing to understand and note the distinct possibility of civil unrest what with the enveloping horror in Haiti. It's something else again to appear to be stoking the fires of said unrest with breathless and incendiary reportage. All three cable networks seemed to be engaging in this, but none so brazenly as the usual suspect / expected worst offender, Fox, who spent the first ten days whipping up the same sort of false frenzy they went so overboard with in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Which is kind of ironic when you consider that their initial coverage of the earthquake covered all of seven minutes on the first big night while MSNBC and CNN devoted the amount of air coverage you'd expect with an international disaster of this magnitude.
Which miraculously turned into nearly seven fucking hours (What a little bit of public shame can do!) of Geraldo Rivera arm-flexing in short sleeves in front of what must be the same shaky-handed cameraman from “24” while madly barking “What's going on, officer? What's going on?!” at peacekeepers patrolling the streets, all the while hoping for the ultimate Fox News-ian “money shot”—a Black guy taking lots of hot lead at the wrong end of a rule-of-law crackdown.
There was no such luck for poor Fox in spite of Geraldo's wheedling and prodding. We instead got more horrible things to look at...like the Associated Press shot that tops this piece. It is one of a type seen in the first few days after, showing the depth and breadth of the death in Port-au-Prince, post-quake. Shots like this were preceded on-air by disclaimers of “graphic content to come” and sadly, they did not exaggerate. The images are “Jonestown” on steroids—veritable roads and even plazas of corpses spread from the camera-person's feet, to the walls of the buildings in the middle ground and worst of all, at times spilling past that center and towards a heat-shimmering horizon. These are the sad victims that can be found and pulled from the rubble. Countless more lay beneath, life ebbing and nature putrefying. Dead-center at the bottom in the AP photo, a man lay with rigor mortis having frozen him in a crucifixion pose.
There is no one under him, but he lies there, back arched, as if he, or something inside of him was being lifted away. Did he die atop something or someone long since pulled from beneath him? Was he contorting to free himself from being pinned when death simply won the battle? We have no clue. All we have is the sad tableau that is the last way anyone will ever see him. The way death leaves you. Fighting. Splayed. Or just appearing as if you'd gone to sleep and could wake at any moment...which of course, you never do. There was another picture of yet another almost acre of bodies with nary an inch of earth to be seen between them—they were packed so close—and strikingly, in the midst of it all was an upthrust, red-sleeved arm and hand. It was a still photo, and I hoped, hoped, hoped that perhaps it was a relief worker's hand in that carpet of death signaling to someone or hailing a co-hort to come over and help with a person found alive amidst all that. But on closer inspection, that hand didn't appear to be waving at all. It was quite literally clawing at...something. Maybe at a beam that had trapped and eventually killed the person attached to it, or more eerily—at a departing soul leaving it for parts unknown, to freeze forever just like that as it vespered away. Grasping.
Grasping. For the meaning of it all...as we all do in our small ways every day, but that hand doing so at the unbelievable moment the very earth we walk on shook and then opened its rocky jaws to gobble up a not small chunk of hope in a place where hope had been in short supply since...well, since damn near forever.
And still the people of Haiti go on. They do not quit. Images came in every day of some ashen soul being carried out of the crush, as if they were just chisel-hewn from the concrete—dusty and a bit broken of course, but still alive with a thumbs up for the camera as they go by. Trapped for days in rubble with only their will, their faith—they almost to a letter claimed prayer to God sustained and saved them—to keep them going, these are the things that have kept me going in spite of witnessing the overwhelming awfulness of the tragedies of those we see stacked in the streets, or pulled from the wreckage only to see life ebb away later or be frantically unearthed without it's flicker at all. The eleven-year old girl trapped because her leg was pinned under a bar for a day as the struggle to extricate her reached almost epic drama proportions and who died frustratingly because simple triage and post-trauma care was impossible to get to due to the capital's shattered infrastructure. Or, the other little girl named Winnie, all of eighteen months old, but miraculously yanked from a small air pocket under the concrete slab that had crushed and killed her parents next to her. Her small hand reaching out to a cajoling rescuer and then, there she was, powder-dusted like a small caramel beignet for a moment, but then bathed in repeated pours of bottled water to cleanse her, big eyes blinking as she looked around at the hub-bub, and the carnage...the barely settling back to earth of everything on its surface after being upset by hell quaking below. A friend I was watching this with said, “Thank God she's so young. Maybe she won't remember this stuff.”
They repeated the clip and I looked at her huge, searching eyes again and wondered how she couldn't help but retain something of this.
I hear of a friend of a co-worker heading there to help out in the relief efforts, a former Peace Corps volunteer with medical training and I am pained. What can I do? I still fuck up getting a Band-Aid on straight. And in typical American fashion, the solution is...to throw money at the problem.
It's what we do best, really.
In the case of this poverty-drenched place, (look at that income table above again and let the numbers sink in deeper) it can actually help more than a little, so I do what I can.
Something to Oxfam, and something to The Red Cross (via Apple's simple donation portal in iTunes—which they get no cut of for hosting—a nice touch). Question: Do I feel better afterward? Answer: Well...not really. But, you do what you can—and that goes not just for me, but for you the readers. Be it money you contribute or time, or as the Port-au-Prince airstrip has re-opened somewhat, items you donate that will be shipped there now, relief drives and benefits abound—small, like the local one my brother went to on Sunday that simply requested people bring items to donate for shipping, and large like the weekend's millions-raising, pan-network (save for Fox News, as if you didn't already know) telethon.
Do what you can.
Numbers: Nearly 150,000 people are estimated as having died in Haiti's quake, with the toll expected to crest above some 200,000 when all is said and done.
Numbers: 400,000 Haitians are being moved out beyond Port-au-Prince's perimeter to ease the health-compromising crowding, and to facilitate the clean-up of post-quake debris—the man-made variety and the organic...of every sad sort. Imagine the population of New York's borough of Staten island being moved miles away from home all at once and you then understand the swollenness of that figure and the wild ambition in making it happen.
Numbers: Ninety percent of the schools in Port-au-Prince have been totally destroyed.
Numbers: Close to five thousand American citizens are listed among the unaccounted for in the quake's wake.
Numbers: Eleven Days from the day of the temblor's initial fury, Wismond Exantus, was pulled from the rubble of the Hotel Napoli through a hole almost no wider than his shoulders. He was in the small wooden grocery shop / stall when it struck and found himself cocooned with a couple of beers and a soda to subsist on for 11 days. He'd heard voices outside for a while, then as they drifted away, sought only to survive on those few non-nutritional foodstuffs about him until someone came near again. Fortunately, someone did.
“I was hungry,”' Exantus told The Associated Press from his hospital bed soon after the rescue. “But every night I thought about the revelation that I would survive.”
From his hospital bed, Exantus turned to his family and said, “When you are in a hole I will try to reach out to you, too.”
“It was God who was tucking me away in his arms. It gave me strength,” he added.
Throughout this disaster's playing out, a quiet, but oft-repeated mantra has been heard. You've probably contributed to the massed murmur yourself, saying “Well, just when you think you have it rough, you see somebody who's got it really rough.”
Just 'cause it's a cliché doesn't make it any less true.
Maybe your cable bill's a bitch this month. The car's passenger side window leaks onto the seat when it rains and it's rained a lot. Your kid's retainer is cracked in two because he won't use it and left it strewn someplace where he stepped on it. That “special” girl you met at the internet café un-friended you and won't respond to your e-mails. A volcano-like zit has manifested itself on the tip of your nose on the morning of your job interview.
Let's step it up: Your unemployment benefits are running out. You can no longer afford the car payments. Your spouse is spending way too much time hanging with their “work wife / husband” outside of the job and doesn't seem to really like you any more. That mystery “lump” near a key part of your body won't go away and feels like it's gotten bigger. Mom had to be prompted more than a little bit to remember who you were when she woke up after bedrest for that bad cold.
Take all those things. Multiply them if you wish. And then...take almost all of your money away, remove whatever creature comforts you have left, abandon all hope of work getting better—if you were lucky enough to have work, and top it off with the most basic of rough family drama. By the way, make sure to live on an island where your immediate geographical neighbor country hates you and your kind.
Now...shake the earth beneath you for a good eight seconds or so (that feels like it lasts eight hundred years) as the clapboard, chipboard, plywood and drywall world around you literally comes crashing down around you, onto you, Goddamn it...into you...with no governmental superpower safety net / infrastructure support in place to help you, much less save you.
That is having it “rough”. And that is life in Haiti now.
You see, it's easy...as easy as hell for those who thanks to the largesse of the deluded to take this tragedy as an opportunity to make said ill-knowledged among us somehow feel superior to people they're just a few missed paychecks and a major stumble away from being not very dissimilar to. The likes of Robertson and the doubly embittered Limbaugh (who I pray the next time he is hospitalized ends up in New York or Florida with an extremely news-savvy West Indian nurse controlling the drip on his painkiller i.v.), and Beck have their scripts and know their parts. They will do what they do because just under the gauzy veil of their fulminations they know that to deal in matters of truth would require effort and worse, an exposure of just how weak and cowardly they actually are. 'Don't help them!' 'It's God's punishment!, they bleat about the unfortunate. Were you to take these...“men”, and put them in the same situation as Mr. Exantus noted above, trapped with virtually nothing to live on, well they would most surely snap and reduce to something lower than the climactic brutality of “Lord Of The Flies”. We would probably unearth the trio, only to find them linked to our eternal horror in a macabre, cannibalistic wheel—Limbaugh greedily gagging on Robertson's legs, Robertson, beatifically goitered on Beck's body up to the hip, and Beck, eyes a' tearing from gorging on ol' Rush past even that fabled pilonidal cyst, their animal hunger winning out over humanity after but a day's worry. Cathode-rayed and transistor-amplified tough guys who would project their fears and anxieties on others. Remember how in the aftermath of the last Presidential election these very folk supported and in many ways fed the fires of violent anarchy in this country with their spiteful words? Encouraging Americans to arm themselves and prepare for what?—We still don't quite know. Very few missed meals among this bunch. More than a little bit comfortable. Health care...excellent health care an absolute given for them. Disaster brings out the oddest things in people. For those directly affected it can spur nearly superhuman levels of heroism or drive people otherwise separated by the gulfs of class and race into a peculiar but necessary and oddly beautiful teamwork. For those on the sidelines it can either move them to a raw empathy, prompt them to bold, altruistic action or for the minority who feed on misfortune because of the relative shallowness of their own lives to project that hate onto the victims.
The victims and their behavior become a justification for every awful thing in the minds of the hateful. Except...for when those for whom hell has opened up and scorched, magnificently fail to live down to the hopes of the truly evil among us.
We entered Haiti like a lot of the folks entering Haiti, down right nervous. Haiti has a history of horrible acts of violence against its own people and visitors. Journalists have died in Haiti. There are many guns and many vendettas. It's not just that there is an earthquake whose aftershocks could rattle away at what remains.
There is an expectation of danger, a question in the air. Will these desperate, disheartened, wounded people rise to violence and theft in the wake of this latest, largest disaster?
We landed without incident in the yard of the Dominican Embassy with precious supplies brought in by relief organizations. A CNN convoy laden with water and money and fuel followed us in by land without a hitch. And in the days that followed, we did not see a population breaking into buildings or fighting over scant resources. The Haiti we saw is not a land of fires and violence and looting.(Emphasis by LM) This is a land where desperation has been supplanted by despair.
Anguished mothers wait patiently with children wounded and wailing. No one complains. No one pushes.
The Canadians posted guards at one gate to keep folks from getting to the piers where they brought in supplies, but no one was trying to get in anywhere around this huge dock. They stood in line at distribution centers, grabbed a broom or shovel to help the soldiers clear streets.
When the French erected a mobile medical unit, the people formed a peaceful line and repeatedly expressed their gratitude. These are people with injuries that make you gasp. Many amputations have been done by amateurs in bad circumstances. It's hot. No one said a word. We followed the directors of an orphanage as they traveled through some of Port-au-Prince's poorest neighborhoods. They didn't have many supplies, but they wanted to share. No one tried to rob us. A woman broke down in tears begging us to help us find her son. She ignored our bottles of water and food. She just wanted her son.
The story of Haiti, at this time, is not one of unending violence, looting and a population angry enough to fight over scant resources.(Again, emphasis by me) But the people we met were wounded and weary and afraid to go back inside. The earth could shake at any moment and death could visit once again.
Very unkind people here in our land of plenty practically prayed for “Dawn Of The Dead”-like madness to ensue, and it didn't even come close to coming close. Why was there hope for such? For the sheer morbid, vicarious entertainment of seeing humanity stripped down to its raw and titillating “Fuck it!¸” core for one thing. To weakly justify their hatred of people browner and poorer than themselves is another reason. And...and...to distract from the sick sort of crazy they not-very-far-beneath-the-surface fantasize about occurring here to hopefully purge the land of those they deem undesirable—namely, anyone not like them.
Good ol' nihilistic projection. More on that in a later post.
Meanwhile...weeks after the quake, a man is found beneath the rubble. Four weeks to be precise. Alive. No one knows how, but there he is...in spite of it all. Simply unexplainable. There is much we'll learn about ourselves after this, and much we've sadly seen confirmed already. The image in this whole situation that will stay with me is an odd one, though. On day three of this crisis I believe, I saw a report on MSNBC about life, or what was passing for life in Port-au-Prince in the quake's immediate aftermath. It was a long shot near the embassy where there were practically ramparts of bodies stacked to and fro, and there just past those hillocks of humanity was a group of Haitian children blithely kicking around a soccer ball as the field reporter—Ann Curry it was—noted the surrealism of the scene. In the face of the utter disruption of everything...EVERYTHING—probably the most affected people there—the children—boldly...maybe even crazily aspired to something beyond normalcy. A hyper-normalcy.
Logan Abassi / AFP/Getty Images via United Nations
I really don't know if there's a lesson in that—them kicking that ball around. But it did make me think about life here in general. What we obsess on...what we take for granted as we rail about our “awful” travails and obstacles. Those kids kicking that ball around.
While we, in every selfish and stupid way possible it seems, just keep kicking the same old cans down the road.