I’ve had this post in draft mode for so long, hesitating to write it because I did not want to simply blog a lament about Haiti. The post was to be about the cholera outbreak and my absolute disbelief that yet another disaster could and was striking that country. I wanted to scream why why WHY?! But that would help nothing and no one. My heart breaks for Haiti but all my tears weren’t going to help the millions of people trying to get back on track after the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010. Soon after the EQ I blogged about Haiti – what I thought the Caribbean response should be (or should have been) and on what I thought the large presidential palace meant to and for Haiti. I thought that the EQ was really the worst that could happen.
Then there was the outbreak.
I recall drifting off to sleep at that time that straddles two days…it was October 18/19 and I heard on NPR in my woozy state that there had been 15 deaths of an unknown stomach ailment. At the time I said “Please God, not cholera.” That prayer was in vain because by the end of day on October 19 there were 150 deaths. As it turned out there was a cholera outbreak in rural Haiti, the region outside of the damaged earthquake zone. The last article I saw reported almost 3,000 deaths; I suspect that by now that 3,000 barrier has been eclipsed. The cause of the outbreak is unknown but it has been suggested that the disease was brought to the country by a contingent of Nepalese peace keepers, assigned to Haiti after January 12, 2010. A few cases of cholera have been reported in neighbouring Dominican Republic.
Then there was Hurricane Tomas that deluged a deforested and psychologically battered Haiti in November. Elections were held in December but they were condemned for being so fraudulent and official results haven’t yet been released. I mean, seriously, what the hell was happening?
But I promised that I would not lament.
During my usual blog reading I came across a post from @petchary that pulled me out of the funk. In her post about Haiti she wrote about Jamaica’s relationship with its neighbour. But the blog post did more than that: it also talked about the many good things about Haiti like its art and music. Her post yanked me. I am glad for it. There is much more to Haiti. Much more.
Powerful writers like Edwidge Danticat who wrote so eloquently about the EQ days after it happened. So too did anthropologist Gina Ulysse, a professor at my alma mater (and she warned about Haitians being engaged in the aftermath and during the rebuilding process). Ms. Danticat has written much and writes again in Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work to dispel the notion that Haiti is just about poverty and hopelessness. Professor Ulysse performs to accomplish much of the same but also to highlight what Haiti symbolizes. Both speak very honestly and powerfully about their homeland; both use creative means to educate and provoke us about Haiti. Both teach. These women are constant reminders that there is more to Haiti than suffering and that Haiti deserves more than out pity.
Already the reports are being submitted and articles written about the ineptitude and perhaps unwillingness of the international community to make good on its promises to Haiti, as well as the lack of strong & good leadership from Haiti’s leaders. Why is that? Why after all the public statements and aid pledges has so little been done? Is it as Professor Dupuy writes in “One year after the earthquake, foreign help is actually hurting Haiti” that it’s just more of the same for Haiti? I do not know, but I say don’t get bogged down in all the one year reviews that don’t seem to offer much positivity or hope. It’s easy to lament and sigh in frustration but that doesn’t do much.
Instead I suggest learning from the women I’ve named above. And if not them, then there other men and women who show that Haiti and Haitians have more to offer than what we too often see or readily think about. The person could even be your neighbour or a classmate. Someone who will provoke your brain from its complacency. January 1, 2011 was Haiti’s 207th Independence Celebration so maybe now’s a good time to access and absorb information about Haiti’s history – it’s undeniable place in world history as the first independent black nation, a status (still?) so feared by France. And of course if you can, then find a way to actually work with Haitians to move forward. Whatever it is, though, just get it done. Don’t be content to just offer pity, shake your head, and lament for a few minutes. Both you and Haiti deserve better.