It is now day 10 since the Enriquillo Fault line twitched, sending buildings crashing on top of nearly 3 million people, chasing those not caught in the debris into the streets. Despite all the odds, people keep emerging from the rubble that was downtown Port-au-Prince, hungry, dehydrated, but alive.
In the past week alone, I have heard of at least 15 people being pulled out of the rubble. Most surprising of all, about half of them are 20 or older. The latest is an elderly woman of 84 whose chances, truth be told, are not very good.
But there is no doubt that Haiti’s tragedy is also a beautiful and terrible demonstration of the dichotomy of the country and it’s people. Amidst terrible tragedy, the Haitian people are resilient, clever, undeniably patient (where Katrina survivors started looting barely 2 days ((See Wikipedia’sEffects of Hurricane Katrina article)) after the storm’s passage, demonstrable reports of the same took nearly 6 in Haiti after the quake), as quick to lend a hand as to ask for one. They are resourceful in spite of their ignorance (Haiti’s literacy rate is barely above 50%, according to the CIA Factbook).
Conditions are difficult in Haiti, a country where difficult conditions are hardly unknown. After centuries of internal strife and one form of civil combat or another, Haiti is third-world Africa in our backyards. Instability keeps me from calling the country a “Developing nation”, a euphemism designed simultaneously to give those living in such countries some sense of hope, while making the rest of us feel good: in the back of our minds, we can think “Oh, they are developing, they’ll get there eventually”.
That isn’t true in Haiti. Since the departure of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier ((By the way, you really should read this brief history of his career, especially last few paragraphs about his exile.)), the Haitian people have lived under a strange system of oppression. Although we no longer hear about people “being disappeared”, make no mistake about it, these practices continued until the coup that removed Jean Bertrand Arisitide in 2004.
Given what happened to my cousin in 2006, I’ll tell you this: it still happens, just in a different way. Kidnappings are common. The victims are usually tortured and/or raped, sometimes mutilated, most often killed, even if the ransom is paid ((Read an excerpt of A Kidnapping in Haiti for a story with a better ending… so far..)). It isn’t the government doing this; it’s a group of people who suffer from the terrible affliction of envy, a special breed of poor and disenfranchised who believe theft is the only way to get justice. Theft of life, theft of money, theft of other people’s hope.
And yet, the people of Haiti are unique in the western world in this way: their hope never dies. They never give up, they never surrender. Despite generations of poverty and despair, despotism and governmental corruption, they expect things will be better, eventually. Meantime, they forge their own way, experimenting with everything from new governments to new hairstyles and new music. Most of all, they are not afraid to stand up for what they believe is truly right. Since the revolution of 1791, Haitians have largely been unafraid to voice opposition to a government they themselves judge as corrupt and/or oppressive ((See the Corruption Index reports for various countries around the world.)). Simultaneously, they will put up with difficult conditions against all odds. As the first and only nation created through a revolution of slaves, they are aware that they could and should have been farther along. Perhaps that is why they struggle so diligently, seeking—through revolution, coup d’etats, and attempts at actual democratic elections—the path they need to truly grow and prosper. Perhaps it is in their blood to survive, if not to thrive, against all normally established and recognized odds. Their battles are a constant, every day thing, embedded in their blood, in their bones, in their souls.
And so, amidst what should have been terror and utmost despair, what we find are people of all ages surviving live burial long after anyone else expected them to live. The displaced diaspora hopes ((If you’re on Facebook, consider joining the cause.)) right along with them, and the rest of the world would do well to do the same.