Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dreams of Haiti

I keep dreaming of my time in Haiti. I suppose I'm trying to integrate the whole surreal experience.

When I sit down to write about the experience it seems to slide away from my grasp into the indescribable. I try not to devolve into cliche.

I am trying to keep this post focused, so while there are many stories I could tell, I won't.

I will not tell you about the strength of people who began every meeting with a prayer and ended it with a song.

I will not tell you about the sweet, kind translator who was so protective of the foreign aid workers; I found out later he was wanted in Brooklyn for murder.

I will not tell you about the young man (only one of many) who lived in a tent because he couldn't bear to be in buildings made of concrete.

I learned more about collapse in two weeks there than I learned anytime before. I long to go back because it was a place where great good could be done. I can't read about the cholera epidemic without looking at flight prices to Port Au Prince.

Its a powerful example of how truly fucked up the world's governments are. From my admittedly small spot on the ground, it appeared that the NGO's were where it was at in terms of providing services and relief. The UN was there, providing security, but the NGO I worked with was the only one in the area who had backhoes, rubble removal teams AND had a place to remove the rubble to.

There was some question about whether we should be there providing services to people. I've seen discussion about how to evict the people from the camps, perhaps to the green spaces around Port Au Prince where they could farm or something.

Why is it so many Americans assume that, naturally, these people are all peasant farmers and would be happy to have a chunk of land? The people I met were all pretty much urbanites, with no more knowledge of how to grow a stand of sugar cane or a rice paddy than I would. The people I met were shopkeepers, construction workers, nail technicians, hairstylists, nurses, secretaries and doctors. One of the reasons for the existence of the camps is that Port Au Prince is their home.

In no way did the Haitians I met react any differently than a group of Americans might react, except that perhaps they had a better sense of their own circumstances. When I was there, I saw nothing very different from the way the people of New Orleans reacted or the way New Yorkers reacted to the sudden ending of their worlds. The good, the bad, and the ugly were all present.

While I was there, I saw wonderful examples of the sheer resilience of humanity. I also saw heartbreaking things that will keep me up nights for the rest of my life. I suppose we consider things are cliche precisely because they tend to be experienced by so many in such a similar way.

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