Red Cross worker holding baby in Haiti
I’ve been out of town, but that’s no excuse. Haiti was devastated by an earthquake (see map). Unlike the tsunami, which spared Colombo, the Haitian capital was hardest hit and people are now fleeing it in droves. In a desperately poor country where the life expectancy is already 44, this is cataclysmic. Up to 200,000 people may have died, being buried in mass graves. Worst of all, the Haitian government was not in much of a position to respond before, and now it is effectively incapacitated.
To quote from Slate
So weak were Haiti’s public institutions, literally and figuratively, that nothing is left of them, either. Parliament, churches, hospitals, and government offices no longer exist. The archbishop is dead. The head of the U.N. mission is dead. There is a real possibility that violent gangs will emerge to take their place, to control food supplies, to loot what remains to be looted. There is a real possibility, within the coming days, of epidemics, mass starvation, and civil war.
So far that hasn’t been happening, but it remains to see what relief international support can bring when even the status quo was unbearable. Rich and poor were affected, but Port-Au-Prince’s shanties seem to have crumbled like dominoes. It’s not like Haitian institutions served them before, but who serves them now?
There’s nothing much I can add here besides a summary, days late. I donated to Red Cross, but I was looking through their photostream and I don’t know where one even starts. I read a Foreign Policy article on historical impressions of Port-Au-Prince, and this bit from former President Jean Bertrand Aristide may give a clue.
The other day in the midst of Port-au-Prince, the great degraded capital city that is my home, I saw a car, an old battered car, a jalopy, falter and sputter and come to a slow halt. It was out of gas; this happens often in my destitute country, where everyone and everything is so poor that the donkeys and horses are starving and even the cars must try to get by on nothing. The man who was driving the car got out and looked at it, stuck there in the middle of traffic, helpless. Then I saw another face, the passenger. A woman. She looked out of the back window with tears in her eyes, and the driver looked around the street at the unemployed loungers who are always there, and said to them, “She is going to have a baby right here.” He told them that he had taken the woman from her home because the midwife was unable to help her. The pregnancy was difficult, and the woman needed to go to the hospital to have her baby. Now the tears were coming down the woman’s cheeks. “If we do not get to the hospital, she will die,” the man told the loungers. “Her baby will die, too.”
The loungers — hungry young men who had never had a job and who will never have a job if my country goes on as it has done for the last half century — looked at the car and heard the man’s voice and saw the woman’s tears. Their backs straightened, their cigarettes fell to the ground, their eyes cleared. They approached the car, eight of them, leaned over, and put their shoulders to the chore. The driver steered. The woman lay back. Down one long dusty road, a left turn, and down another, through the green and white gates of the State Hospital, and she had arrived.
That was the force of solidarity at work, a recognition that we are all striving toward the same goal, and that goal is to go forward, to advance, to bring into this world another way of being. Even if the motor has died, even if the engine is out of gas, that new way of being can be brought into this world through solidarity.