Saturday, September 6, 2008

Raging Planet

Mother Earth is certainly upset. I do think that she is just trying to shake us off her back.

Two days ago, I recieved an email from my nephew who works at FEMA, warning me that IKE was already 50% stronger than Katrina was when it hit New Orleans, 3 times stronger than Hannah. He urged me to ¨scram¨". To where? I asked.

When I came here four years ago, I told my Meeting that I was going close to Haiti in order to be a ¨Lighthouse¨. That I would just be here, to shine a light... So, clearly, there is no where to go.

Like a good Yankee who has been through the eye of hurricane (though only a lowly force one), rocked in a harbor in a Force 9 storm, rescued by high patrol from a blizzard, etc etc.. , I went about with storm preparations, buying batteries and candles, alerting friends.

I was impressed by the Dominicans, who are far more accostomed to these storms, far more prepared, living as they do either in solid concrete houses or perched on the brink of death. Every one else was very calm.

That Mother should attack the oil rigs and Washington, well, no wonder. But Haiti? why Haiti? Friends who are there report that this is the worst storm in a lifetime. Worst. Fields are soaked. People are stranded on roof tops.

Perhaps many people are seeing pictures of Haiti for the first time.

This morning I watched the bilingual (Spanish/Kreyole) program called "Sin Fronteras" with two of the Haitian elite here, talking about relief efforts going in from the DR. (The UN has gotten in the first large ship with supplies of food and water to Gonaives). They spoke of the need for all the Haitian students in medical school here to go with doctors who are being sent from the DR to help to act as translators.

They then started to talk about the failings of the central government of Haiti - about what they have not done. It was as if they did not know that Haiti does not actually have a central government - perhaps they thought that Duvalier was still there? That Haiti still had an army? That 50% of the educated have not left?

Well, they have a form of government and they have some people who are elected -- but most of the international money goes to the Non Governmental Organizations.... government by NGO, imagine it.

USAID dispenses grant money in $20 million chunks. Yet there are complaints that there is garbage piling up around the USAID HQ. Such is our stewardship.

As an American, I wish I had good things to report about our tax dollars at work. Are we pleased that the person who secures luxurious housing for the USAID personnel is paid $75,000 a year, plus housing and utilities,while we pay the Dominicans who stand in the hot sun all day to guard our Embassy less than $300 a month?

We are in the business of keeping the poor poor while making our own people rich.

We are not in the business of development.

It was hard for me to sympathize with one USAID worker here who wondered if she would get the full price she wanted for her SUV when she left the DR. She had tried to sell it when she left Nigeria but did not get her price to the US government shipped it to the DR for her. Now, I know, why should I be shocked? Certainly there was that hammer sold the pentagon.. for how much was it?

How about the regulation that all equipment must be purchased from the US, shipped in rather than putting locals to work building or buying locally? Or that our Embassy in Haiti looks like Versailles-- just in case some lowly Haiti should not feel duly impressed by the granduer of the United States. (Really-- it is disgraceful- I understand it is a copy of the one that we have built in Bogota-)

Our Embassy and USAID personnel in Haiti are confined to a safety zone smaller than the green zone in Iraq, transported by armed guards-- so beloved are we.....

I am not saying that these are not dedicated and well meaning public servants. They are. Really they are. It is no picnic living in a foreign country isolated from family and friends and being yanked around the world every four years. I respect them all. I honor their public service. I don´t blame them for going to the Petionville country club to play golf and tennis although I am a bit shocked that there is a golf course in Haiti.

One of the biggest things that is broken in Washington is not just our warring, imperialistic foreign policy, but the face that we present to the developing world.

We need to completely revise the way we deliver aid.

Is it unreasonable to ask -- if there is so much international aid going into Haiti-- how come it looks like this?

We have been an utter failure -- just a short hop from the Florida Keys.
I would like to disban the lot of them and hire Google.

Alternately, I would like about .001% of the USAID budget and 2000 young Friends.

I have asked the head of the International division of the American Friends Service Committee if they could not apply for some of the vast enormous sums of money floating about under the Faith based initiative so that we might actually do some empowerment work, some development work... They have said no. They do not use government money as a matter of policy.

I ask my Quaker Friends to look again at the utter failure of the current aid projects in Haiti and revisit this policy.

Now, I am only Human, and prone to base instincts. so I confess that I am hoping that hurricane IKE takes out all of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and leaves the entire US without oil for a while.... that they live like Haitians for a that they can develop their capacities for empathy and compassion and learn quickly that we need so very much less than we have. Then, may the storm just magically dissapate - without even a landfall.

So that more American can understand as I am beginning-- just beginning--- to learn-- from my loving neighbors down here in the Dominican Republic-- that if we have the love and care of a few friends and perhaps a roof, perhaps enough water for today and some rice some beans-- and a good heart and useful work... we are blessed..

I thank all of you who are joining me in praying for Haiti.

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