A couple more Haiti thoughts…

I’m not exactly sure when my fascination with Haiti started. It was back in grade school, and likely before 6th grade. I had to do a report on it and I remember reading that, back in the 1960s, the per capita income was $12 a year. Back then, I think my allowance was $3 a month, and I could make a whole $2 caddying for my father for 18 holes of golf. Granted my wealth of experience with money was limited to buying comics and saving up for a bicycle, but that bike, back then, would have cost 7 Haitians their entire yearly income.

I think I also liked the fact that the Haitians had managed to do what Americans had done—throw off the bonds of a European Colonial power. I never read anything about a pact with the devil, but one couldn’t miss the fact that Haiti was the home of voodoo, and voodoo dolls and zombies. That was all pretty potent stuff, too.

And now to look at the pictures, the level of destruction is simply stunning. A nation that had nothing—thanks to decades of corruption in which leaders grew rich as multinationals and other nations raped the people—now has even less. A deal which lifted price controls on rice production back in the 1990s destroyed the rice economy, so farmers moved from the countryside to Port-au-Prince in search of jobs.

This placed them in vast slums 5 kilometers from the earthquake’s epicenter. So, with the population concentrated, and food stocks coming in from outside…oh, wait, the only ports were destroyed in the earthquake… and central authority, of which there was little to begin with, can’t control armed gangs…with 50,000 people unburied (except in rubble)…

The mind rebels at the attempt to understand it. Pictures are horrible, but they can’t convey the scent of decay, the buzzing of flies, the snarling of animals fighting for food, the weeping of the injured and the weary shuffle of exhausted rescue workers finally acknowledging that time has run out. I’ve listened to reporters ask witnesses if they’ve heard of any miraculous stories of survival, seeking that one tiny spark of hope in a story that is beyond hope.

What brings it even close to home for me is this: I make my living with my imagination, and I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like there now. I look at pictures and listen to reports and, as with almost anything, I ask myself if I could set a story there. This time out, I can’t. I can’t imagine setting a story there and get it right. The death, the destruction, the hunger and disease, the social chaos, the rank fear of another aftershock tearing down what little remains, people who have not only lost everything but the clothes on their backs, but everyone they know and love in the world, the descent into a hell where the only way to clothe yourself is to steal rags off corpses, the stunned silence of children who have no more tears to cry, and of adults who have had a life of grinding poverty made worse.

If I were to write such a book, I’d be spending two or four months in that world of my imagination—and I’d want to slit my wrists every single day.

These people are actually there. They can’t walk away. They’re trapped. They have no way out.

Unless we write them a happy ending.

I’ve already given money to Doctors Without Borders. I’ll give more today. Charity Watch has a list of charities that make sure that over 75% of donations reach the relief effort. I know these are tough times for all of us, but USAID’s 2004 report indicated that the life expectancy for a Haitian is 53 years, and the per capita income is only $400 per year. Most of us spend more than that pet food and lattes in a year.

There are those who dismiss what I do as “escapist trash.” Could be, but at least what I do can enable me to help those who can’t escape. I’d be very pleased if you could find a way to help, too.

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One Response to “A couple more Haiti thoughts…”

  1. Well written, Mike, not that Heather and I needed any more cause to donate.

    Donations are needed now, but we all need to commit to donating 6 months, and a year, and two years from now. Long after CNN has moved on, Haiti will still need us.