Haiti … unforgettable
That was the last line I wrote in the journal I kept during my ten-day visit to Haiti in the summer of 1991. And it’s true. The land and its people are still very much with me, in my mind and in my heart.
So a reference to Haiti on an internet news server caught my attention … and reading the article (a blog post for the Washington Post, submitted by photojournalist, Ron Haviv) brought back many memories. You may read his commentary here: Glimmers of hope in Cite Soleil. Be sure to check out his photo gallery as well. I bring this to your attention, because we know so little in this country, and, too often, care so little about this near neighbor of ours.
One afternoon in that summer of 1991, I walked the alleys of CitÃ© Soleil in Port-au-Prince. It was a hopeful time. We were there just months before the coup that removed Jean Bertrand Aristide from power, but while we were there, in the midst of the systemic poverty and the pervasive despair, there was a sense of hopefulness, of new possibility. In CitÃ© Soleil, the seaside Port-au-Prince slum, we saw new wooden houses with raised cement floors and many construction projects — trenches and walls. Our guide, a man with numerous previous visits to Port-au-Prince, told us there was more building activity in CitÃ© Soleil than he had ever seen.
We stopped at a one-room shop in a cement block building. Claire’s Boutique, it was called. It sold the artwork and crafts of local artisans, insuring them a fair share of the earnings. I purchased a carved wooden nativity for my wife: Joseph, Mary, the baby in a manger, three strangers bearing gifts, and several barn animals. The faces of the carved people are long and narrow, somber and beautiful. The nativity occupies a special place on our mantle every Advent season.
Maybe things can/will change …, I wrote in my journal that evening.
But all too soon, for the majority of Haitians, hope was turned once more to resignation and despair. Once more and still, violence is rampant and poverty intractable and oppression the “norm” and we American neighbors virtually oblivious.
Next week, the Haitian people go to the polls. RenÃ© PrÃ©val, a former Aristide associate and the favorite of Haiti’s poor, leads the presidential field. Maybe things can/will change …
And maybe we will pay attention. Maybe we will not forget.