159: I LOVE HAITI: 3 years after the earthquake

I went to Haiti on my own many years ago to ‘study voodoo’. At least that was my intention. I’ll write a Post on those hilarious experiences another time. The reason for today’s essay is an article jogged my memory of how dreadful conditions are on that forgotten Caribbean island. It was already a basket case like Bangla Desh at the bottom of all the UN league tables.

One of the reasons for the intense poverty is that they are still paying reparations to France because
they freed themselves from her colonial domination in the 18th century. Another reason is that to get fire wood for cooking (cough, cough!) entire mountain ranges have been deforested, leaving a barren wasteland on which no crops can be cultivated.

From my visit I remember the anti-aircraft gun in front of Papa Doc’s Presidential Palace, in case the airforce mutinied and attacked him from the skies.

I remember the ton ton macoute, the secret police who went around in suits and dark glasses.

I remember the clever machine that peeled oranges in the market place.

I remember the man with a card table on the pavement playing the ‘three card trick’ and getting suckers to part with their Gourds (local currency).

I remember the neatness and politeness of people in the streets.

I remember the old Iron Market where I bought a carved wooden plaque with banana pickers and donkeys on it which hangs on my wall to this day.

I remember the woman who offered me the sexual services of an 11 year old girl when I went into her café for a 7Up.

In 2010 Haiti had a devastating earthquake. In 39 seconds nearly a quarter of a  million people were killed and another quarter of a million injured. 1.5 million lost their homes. Of all the countries in the world to get hit, Haiti was probably least able to cope with the aftermath. She needed urgent foreign help. A lot was promised, little came. The West talked the talk but did not walk the walk. This did not surprise me as I had seen what happened after the tsunami that struck S. E. Asia when I tried to donate to Sri Lanka as I knew the devastated coastline well and had met people living there. Material for another Post. I wanted to fly to Port au Prince with a bag full of dosh and hand it out in the streets with no middle man or NGO fat cats living it up in posh hotels / restaurants / casinos paid for by the public donations. However I got the impression that if I did that people were so desperate that I might get mugged in the street or kidnapped. I definitely didn’t want my bag of gourds/dollars to go to some criminal. Nor did I want to catch the cholera bug which had just broken out. A colleague of mine was hospitalised for months after catching it in Turkey. I could end up being a liability. I didn’t know what to do so I did nothing.

“Overall it’s another disaster that has now mostly faded into memory.” (i)

As if an earthquake and a devastating cholera outbreak weren’t enough, Haiti was hit by tropical storm Isaac and hurricane Sandy in 2012. Malnutrition is widespread. Famine threatens.
Christian Aid has helped families move into earthquake and hurricane resistant homes, they have planted thousands of trees and started a goat breeding programme.

It’s pathetically little, but it’s better than nothing. If you and I gave some cash they would be able to do even more.


(i) “Christian Aid News” Summer 2013, Issue 60 p.9


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