When I asked her to tell me about what was really going on in Haiti (as opposed to what the governments and the media wanted us to "know"), she was reticent to engage in a conversation.
"Are you sure you really want to know?" she asked in warning. "Most people here in the U.S. say they want to know, but when I start telling them, they argue with me about it."
I assured her that I wanted to hear whatever it was she had to say. And she had plenty to say, believe me. Soon, I was reading about Haiti and writing about Haiti and planning an Amnesty International banquet about Haiti (with her father as the speaker) and, generally speaking, crafting a relationship with the culture, apparently for life.
Then, three years ago, I came across a website of photos of Haiti and its people and it was really on. Slowly, but surely, I tried with limited, but on-going, success to raise interest, consciousness, and funds for various causes related to Haitian children.
In July, right after I downloaded Skype, an on-line phone service that's free to use, even internationally, I discovered that I could talk with some of the kids I had been helping and, up until the last couple of weeks, we were talking as regularly as Haitian electricity availability and my difficult schedule allow. In fact, they have begun teaching me Creole against the day I come to visit them, which will be, it's beginning to appear, MUCH sooner than later. In fact, I'm nosing around for possible research funds so I can spend a month or two next summer in Port-au-Prince, looking at the effects of globalization on this tiny, poverty-stricken nation.
Haiti and Globalization, Part 1
Haiti and Globalization, Part 2
It's difficult to be in such close contact, distant as it is. The voices make the names and photos real to me, so that when Peter (who has had the most schooling and dreams of college) tells me that school for this fall is currently on hold because his sponsor has not sent the expected assistance as yet, I hear -- and feel the pain of -- his disappointment.
Still, he reminds me that "Depi nou gen la vi gen lespwa" ("When there is life, there is hope"), even though "lavi-a di depi le-m" ("life has been hard"). And I try to just keep forging ahead, living and hoping with him. A movie entitled "Strange Things" is currently under production. Maybe that will help. But when will the help arrive?
An unexpected pleasure in this process was reconnecting with my former student and friend who originally taught me about Haiti in the first place years ago. She's living in Port-au-Prince (of course) and sent me a truly beautiful photo book one of her companies published on the people, culture, and nation she loves so much. Needless to say, I'm trying to connect her to some of the kids I've been helping. And I feel the tendrils of this island country further planting themselves in my heart.
When I watched the YouTube videos above, I was reminded of a poem I wrote twenty years ago, a poem that could have been written yesterday and is still true. Between the economic devastation, the political corruption (still driven by U.S. interests), and the current horrified weather conditions, one wonders how Haiti and her people can survive. Yet, Peter tells me, when there is life, there is hope. And I cling, with him, to that thought.
Fire comes and fire goes
and we don't ever really know
what comes to take us by the hand
to lead us to the promise land.
We reach for stars and grasp the air.
We search for answers everywhere.
The echoes of our voices cry
through mountain passes to the sky.
We take our stand against the flood,
collect our tears and bathe in blood;
we will not stop till daylight comes
and we return to peaceful homes.
Time goes on while time stands still.
The scribes record a people's will.
We hold our ballots, hold our breath;
we stand in lines to meet our deaths.
With guns behind us, guns before,
we stand, steel-eyed, upon a shore.
We taste the salt, the coming tide,
and cling to hope that stirs inside --
believing that our cause is just,
agreed to suffer if we must,
committed now to fight as one
till flowers dance beneath the sun.