Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ayati, Cherie

Haiti is the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, and the first Black republic in the world. From her shores, Simon Bolivar launched the fight for the liberation of the Latin America. While newspaper editors always cite the grim statistics on poverty, on disease, of deforestation, of children in forced labor, there is another reality there.

For me, Haiti holds the key to what ails the United States, the ‘affluenza’ which is alienating our children, driving us into lives of endebtedness. We work so many hours that most Americans do not even know how to take a vacation, how to rest, how to enjoy themselves. Holidays in the States are always linked to consumption in one form or another.

In Haiti, there is little to consume, little beyond the bare necessities to even buy, so holidays are spent singing and dancing and sharing meals. I remember back thirty years ago, when I first lived there, the differing reactions of the foreign tourists. Even then Haiti had a level of poverty that few Americans ever see.

There were more tourists into Haiti then into the Dominican Republic.

Groups would usually divide into half: those who were so shocked by the poverty that they could see nothing else and those, like myself, who simply lost our hearts to these people, who in the midst of such poverty, created such fantastic art, held their heads high, kept the children clean and well disciplined, sacrificed for their children’s education.

I used to see the discomfort on the faces of the former group and imagine what was in their minds. In the States, we are indeed taught that money can buy happiness. Yet here were these people who clearly had nothing, but had within them some wellspring of joy that had long been extinguished in us. How did they do it?

I used to think that if I stood still long enough in Haiti, someone would come around and paint me in the same primary colors as the buses, perhaps giving me a name, like “God is Justice.” I had an old car with a leak in the radiator which meant that I had to stop every 30 minutes and put in water from the gallon containers that I carried with me in back.

My little cabin on a hill by the beach was an hour and a half away from the main base diving group for whom I worked, Baskin in the Sun, at Ibo Beach. Weekends, I would drive down for visits and parties, and advanced diving courses. The coast road would be deserted, no signs of houses between the towns. Yet within 30 seconds of my stop on the road, the car would be surrounded with a crowd of smiling Haitians, all helping me examine the engine with great empathy

“Missionaire?” They would ask, as I was clearly not a tourist. “Oui”, although my mission was to learn rather than teach.

Haiti is much poorer now that it was back then. It is much more deforested, much more depleted of its most valuable treasure, the educated youth whom families sent abroad for education and work. It is sustained by foreign aid, by missionaries, by remittances, by lots of dirty drug money, and by the sheer will of the dedicated people who have stayed behind.

But it is rising now. Hold you breath a bit and watch carefully.

Haiti came out from under the repressive dictatorship twenty years after her sister republic here in the Dominican Republic. 1986 and 1965 respectively. As in Haiti, a left leaning president took office here in the DR, one Juan Bosch. He was overthrown in a coup and the US invaded and occupied the country. Most Dominicans believe that the US engineered the coup , as the cold war was still in full swing, the Soviets threatening the US with missiles through its client state of Cuba. Twenty years later, the rise of the left in Haiti resulted in years of Jean Bertrand Aristide, who finally left office, after being re-instated by the United States, in 2004.

Haiti is thus a very young democracy, only five years old.

There is a new nation growing from the deep strong roots planted here in 1804.

The tourist industry is starting up again. Wait til you see those beaches!

Wait until you meet these people., full of courage, full of dignity, full of love and art and music.

You will lose your heart, I’ll just bet.

Welcome to the club.

Ayati, Cherie.


Anonymous said...

Your post uplifted my spirit this morning. It is good to know some people still hope for a future "Ayiti Cherie. Thanks for sharing valuable information about Haiti.


Michael Deibert said...

"Affluenza." Never heard that one before, but it is a pity observation, for sure.