ONE YEAR AGO — January 12, 2010 — the earth heaved and shook beneath the land called Haiti. When it stopped rumbling, a nation which has suffered more in its time than many others, looked out at the world from a mountain of rubble. Destruction was on all sides. Over 220,000 men, women and children lay dead, many buried beneath the remains of imposing structures as well as simple houses. Since that day, the story of Haiti has been one of endless suffering, misery day and night, unanswered questions and growing despair.
On the day of the first anniversary, the world remembered and took an audit of what has happened since. The awful truth is... not very much. There has been no end of talk, a myriad promises, confusion and obfuscation, but Haiti's healing is still a long way off. If we're not careful, after a while few will remember... or care.
Already the story has dropped lower and lower in media priorities The parade of celebrities who took the spotlight after the quake, jetting into Port-au-Prince to make their pledges before the cameras, has trickled to a halt. Even in our Caribbean we've spent the past year in a kind of dazed muddle, trying to decide what we can do in the absence of funding. We in Jamaica got off to a good start in our relief efforts at government and private sector levels, but inevitably, the momentum slowed.
I was surprised that we had no public event here on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy. There's no lack of people who have publicly expressed their solidarity with the Haitians in their time of need, but strangely there was no candlelight vigil, no commemorative service. Perhaps it is not so much indifference but the fact that the enormity of the tragedy is so overwhelming.
The online news is depressing. Reports are that less than five per cent of the debris which clogs roadways and other public spaces, especially in Port-au-Prince, has been cleared. People still live and do business in rubble. The cholera epidemic, one of the three plagues which have afflicted the country (first the quake, then the flood), has left a death toll of over 3,000 men, women and children and it is not over. As if that were not enough, the presidential election was held amid all that mess, resulting in disputed results, yet to be settled. Was there ever a country - in our region at least - so burdened?
Reports in the international media are filled with the moanings and complaints of international relief agencies which seem unable to comprehend why things are stalemated, for example, OXFAM whines about the challenges of sorting out Haiti's "broken system of land ownership" in which several people can hold claim to the same plot of land. A US-based organisation, RAND, blames mismanagement in the distribution of tools for workers to clear the rubble, making way for new housing. The biggest mystery of all is why the promised cash donations from donor countries are yet to be received, in whole or in part.
How does the average Haitian manage? What does it do to the human spirit to have to live in such depressing circumstances? Most of the media reports speak of the horrendous conditions in the "tent cities", where amenities for survival are short and lack of privacy among other things make it difficult to sustain even the most basic quality of life.
Dr Matthew Smith of the Department of Archaeology and History at the UWI Mona, is author of the much-acclaimed book Red and Black in Haiti which examines the amazing history of the country which has suffered at the hands of a range of exploiters over time.
I asked Dr Smith how he sees the Haitians coping. Where is the hope? He understands the frustration and anger and the fact that it will be hard to convince people that recovery takes time. He made reference to Jamaica after the 1907 earthquake. Some of our people gave up on waiting for things to happen and went elsewhere to find a life, spreading into Central America.
Haitians have not been so lucky to find refuge outside their homeland. This is a bad time for refugees everywhere. Jamaica took the decision (regretfully) that it was not in a position to accommodate any at this time. We contribute what we can, but we can't accommodate any more people. Stuck at home, living in canvas tents, trying to make a normal life in abnormal circumstances, Haitians slog on.
What next? Dr Smith responds that the Haitian people are taking their future into their own hands, little by little. The people are turning the "tent cities" into communities. There's a Tent City Mayor, a symbol of leadership. A social infrastructure is being developed. You can find hairdressing salons, stores, churches and schools, created by the people, for the people in the tent cities. The environment might not be 100-per cent according to other people's standards, but it has some shape.
New songs are being written in Creole, hailing the spirit of a people who will not give up. The remarkable intuitive artists of Haiti's famed cultural community, whose works once adorned walls from places of worship to places of amusement, are once again creating their art. Dr Smith tells of one particular artist who collects chunks of broken concrete from destroyed buildings and paints on them scenes of what former streets used to look like before the destruction, thus creating historical records and a means of employment... hope in the midst of despair.
It is said that President Clinton, in his role as a super ambassador-donor, went home from a recent visit discouraged and disturbed at the slow pace of the rehabilitation and rebuilding. Meanwhile, somewhere near a Tent City, a football match was in progress. Haitians have always loved the game. Who remembers when Haiti had one of the strongest teams in the Caribbean? Courage and tenacity was their hallmark... like the Tent City team, now becoming part of the legend. It is said that each player has only one leg, but that doesn't stop them from scoring for Haiti cheri... Haiti the beloved.
A YOUNG MAN with political ambitions was quite surprised to hear political opponents of the late Donald Buchanan, aka "Danny Buck" eulogising him with such generosity. Accustomed to ferocious cross-talk and desk-thumping in Gordon House, the young would-be parliamentarian seemed to think that the "great divide" would continue even in death.
It is a pity that the rough-neck side of parliamentarians is all that we've come to know them by. Nobody believes in their humanity. They have no one but themselves to blame. Danny Buck earned his share of criticism for his moments of over-exuberance, but his colleagues knew there was more to him than that... so now they salute him... That's life.
SAY WHA? A man in the Corporate Area RM Court accused of stealing 13 dozen ackees, told the magistrate, "I did not go there with the intention of stealing, but I was passing and I went to pick them." Come on, man, do better dan dat. How about, "I was passing when the ackees invited me to breakfast."