Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thinking of Haiti by Chris Edwards

I don’t know what to do as we sit numbly in front of MSNBC, watching bloodied people. Fields of corpses.

I’ve only seen Haiti once, last winter from a cruise ship near sunset, when the island appeared on the horizon like a big, misty, odd-shaped blue and white cloud mass.

Field-hospital doctors ask a mother’s permission to save her young daughter’s life by amputating her gangrenous leg. The woman wails. She does not think her child, as an amputee in poverty, could have much of a life.

It’s never clear why, once the planes land, it takes so long for the food, water and supplies to reach people.
Aid workers say they are used to the so-called “hurry up and wait mechanism,” but a woman posts on Facebook that she doesn’t trust any organization enough to donate.

I feel bad whenever we waste water.

Of course there’s looting, and controversy about coverage of looting. If homeowners in the nicest, gated community one day found themselves without access to food or water, do we think they’d be too civilized to break into a store?

Would they share? I hear on NPR about a ragged quake survivor who had just lost everything; getting on a rickety bus; how other passengers, who didn’t have much more, quickly gave him a fresh shirt, a little money, and food.

Communication system failures don’t prevent Haitians hearing a certain preacher in Virginia say they made a pact with the Devil. A priest reassures newly homeless people, “God didn’t cause this.”

None of the mainstream media says much about Haiti’s history except when Keith Olbermann, reacting to the devil-channeling preacher, tells how the Haitians, after freeing themselves from slavery, had to spend nearly 150 years compensating the French for that so-called “lost property”—themselves. On Wikipedia, I skim through the stories of the gruesome tortures and massacres of slaves; long successions of dictators, coups and schemes; and controversial roles of American government and business in Haiti’s history.

In Newsweek, former commerce undersecretary David Rothkopf lists disasters that have hit poor people in coastal areas hardest. He says they could be forecast and alleviated by seawalls, building codes, response plans, etc. – at less cost than our wars or bank bailouts.

This could happen.

The real question is, do we have the will for it?

We have one friend who’s Haitian. In Vermont, she and her husband learned after days on the phone that her relatives are ok but some friends are lost.

He emails us a photo of her cousin’s demolished store.

“Be glad you are alive. . .” he writes.

                                                                   -- Chris Edwards is a writer living in Harrisonburg

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