Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sun Drenched Island of Horrors

It's a tropical paradise on the edges, with a poverty-stricken core.  Sadly, this arrangement seems to typify so many of the islands in the Caribbean. With Haiti, though, those glorious edges are especially razor thin and the broken down core practically swallows the nation whole. Corruption and abuse of power runs rampant as is often the case when wealth and educational opportunities for the people are scarce, and that makes the chaos arising in the aftermath of a crisis such as the one they're in now especially dangerous.  Finally, the island's infrastructure - especially in the most financially bereft neighborhoods - is simply not built to withstand a major earthquake and certainly not to enable any subsequent relief efforts, even if most of it hadn't been reduced to rubble.

The Haitian people have in the past held fast to their proud heritage through times of pain, as though they understood that this too shall pass.  After all, they've fought through a long history of tragedy and oppression.  In many ways this history is intertwined with the rich tapestry of the vibrant culture that often serves to document their perseverance.  But this time the hammer might have come down too suddenly and the damage inflicted could be too great. And that in the end is what makes it so heart wrenching.

I've spent the last half hour watching news footage of the dead and dying in Haiti, and in particular of an 11 year old girl who had been half trapped under rubble for two days with her friends and relatives powerless to free her (they contemplated sawing off her one crushed leg, but they had no blood supply to stem the hemmorging sure to follow so that option was abandoned).  They did finally break her free, partly by removing the dead bodies of other family members caught in the same concrete trap.  She died, though, during the subsequent four hour drive to the nearest hospital (likely she would have waited hours or days more in line to retrieve medical attention, so the odds were always long against her survival).  What really slammed me was the close-up of her face, trapped and crying, little black rimmed glasses on and looking like nothing so much as the scared, hurt kid she was; a once happy-go-lucky child caught in a horrifying situation.

When I hear and see these stories, my snotty whining over trivial matters seems so conceited.  Which it is in any case, but it's magnified now in the wake of these horrors.  Of course, nightmares like these unfortunately go on the world over every day. Scenes like this take place in our inner cities regularly. But it's the sheer concentrated scale of the Haiti situation that is overwhelming to me, even far removed physically and emotionally from the carnage, safe and warm on my living room couch. I don't know anyone in Haiti nor am I close with anyone of Haitian ancestry.  And still it's just overwhelming to me.  You'd have to be dead inside or Rush Limbaugh for it not to get to you at least a little.  I can't imagine the intensity of the emotions on the ground there.  Television images don't nearly do it justice, I imagine.  Thank God for that.

I've donated several times to the Red Cross and other like agencies this week, but I don't think this is something that money (or anything) can solve in the right now.  The infrastructure just isn't there and by the time the foundation is properly laid to help the many, a great percentage will be long dead.  It's hard to say, but I just hope the relief workers can get it into place in time to recover the bodies before decease rising from the deceased gives rise to a secondary catastrophe and an unthinkable chain reaction.  Until then, let's be grateful for the many little miracles they perform along the way.


  1. Your commentary brought a fresh perspective to this and similar tragedies. I have all too often viewed the images from Katrina, the tsunami, and other disasters from the sanctuary of my couch as a disinterested observer.

    Thinking about what you've written, has made the comments uttered by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and that idiot Pat Robertson that much more vile and dispicable.

  2. Thanks, Claire. I spent some time on a number of the islands in the Caribbean in the 80's and saw the disparity between the resorts on the shore line and the abject poverty in the cities. The hard part with Haiti comes in the weeks, months and years ahead when the immediate drama cools and the media moves on to something else. BTW, love your iconic 21st Century America presidential sex/drugs/rock-n-roll items on cafepress - will have to pick up a couple. I love cafepress and see that they have a shop with Haiti-related merchandise whose proceeds are going to the relief effort at