Haiti’s Greatest Gift: notes on the nature of giving


It amazes me how often Haiti is a study in extremes, not only between the most obvious of oppositions: rich/poor, white/black, have’s/have-not’s—but also between the more subtle and insidious of extremes—the ones I notice once I’ve returned to the US and realized all over again just how much we as Americans have and just how much the people of Haiti don’t.

I understood this even more clearly yesterday when I thought about how well “we-with-the-leisure-to-read-blogs” have it, that one of our biggest anxieties during the Holiday Season is the worry over whether we’ve gotten Uncle Joe or Cousin Rita just the right gift—from perfect stocking stuffer to the most ideal of electronics—iPhone, iPad, iPod.  It’s i-ronic just how much “I” is in our gift-giving, how many “me’s.”

I realized that the leisure and disposable income gift-giving presumes suggest profound things about these two countries I now call home.  Namely, if we have the time and energy, not to mention the funds, to spend on gifts, then we obviously aren’t worrying about keeping our children safe from cholera, aren’t worrying where our next meal might come from, aren’t worrying how we’ll keep our babies dry during the rain at night, the torrential downpours that turn the floors of our tents into pools of liquid, dripping mud.

However, sometimes I think that my graphic, black and white drawings, even my poems, express something about the extremes of Haiti that these well-chosen words of explanation fail to communicate.  So in closing, I offer some recent, some not-so-recent drawings that try to articulate in ways these words do not—the kinds of graphic contrasts that keep me awake at night—not only in Haiti—but in other places, as well.  Below the images are used to punctuate a poem I wrote some years ago, one written in the voice of someone displaced, alienated, alone—someone struggling to climb up out of endlessly hopeless circumstances, someone not unlike the poorest of the poor in Haiti.

On Rattlesnake Mountain

At dusk we lock

                the iron gate 

                                                collecting bones

                bleached in tufts of matted grass

                scaffolding the bluff

I insist on picking them

                a carcassed bouquet

                                                of cow bone

                picketting our path

                back up the crooked slope

Eye sockets shape

                a separate ascent

                                                dead leaves

                thicken the air

                like smoke

The moths are tongueless

                it’s simple to blame

                                                the mothers

                their beaks vacant as stairs

                I climb a thicket ofdry sticks

(For a more light-hearted and truly hysterical look at the holiday, I suggest you read today’s post on “The Ramblings.”  Tori’s comment  helped me gain some of the insights I share here.)

12 thoughts on “Haiti’s Greatest Gift: notes on the nature of giving

  1. Kathy–
    just beautiful…
    and the call to mindfulness, to be aware of the many ways in which we are blessed…and to then be able to reach out to others…
    blessings
    many, many blessings
    jane

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  2. Powerful poem and art work…I think we have many in this country who are struggling to feed their children, to keep them healthy, etc…but many see only the front of the Hollywood set…and assume that it’s real…have a great holiday!

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    • Glad you appreciate it. Please know though, that I don’t mean to imply there isn’t poverty here in the US or that parents don’t struggle to feed children, I only mean to suggest something about the degree of poverty. I have never had children approach me on the street in this country begging for food, for example, something that I encounter EVERY day in Haiti–at least once a day–if not multiple times a day in the course of walking no further than 100 feet. And I swear I am not exaggerating. In Haiti there is a degree of poverty I think very few Americans could ever begin to imagine. The only place I’ve expereinced poverty as bad was in India.

      Sorry to get on my soap box. I just want my readers to understand the degree of poverty I’m alluding to and the fact that people are dropping dead in the street from cholera. At least the water in the US won’t kill you–literally kill you in a matter of hours. We can’t even imagine in this country what it means to not have safe water.

      Again, sorry–

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  3. Thank you for sharing your artwork and poem. Your drawings are very interesting – have always liked graphic art – but obviously I don’t understand the symbolic significance of the different elements. You said in previous post that you often use the checker-board element. Why is that?

    I fully understand your distress at the poverty in Haiti. I have the same feelings about the many poor people in South Africa. Although in most First World countries, there is also an element of poverty, it’s never as widespread and devastating as in places like Haiti where people are struggling just to get through each day.

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    • Thanks for this comment, Lisa. Your feedback is enormously helpful. I would imagine the issues are extreme in South Africa, as well. Strangely, it helps to know that I’m not the only one disturbed by the devastating poverty in developing countries. I think it makes a difference when you see it up close and in person. In Haiti I feel like it’s so much in my face, screaming,”Look at me! Look at me!”

      About the art–I don’t really know for sure why the checker-board repeats itself in my work. My use of such elements feels more like a subconscious urge–almost a compulsion. It often feels like art accesses some deep place inside of me–whose urges I don’t fully understand. I just listen to that place inside and draw, or paint, or collage, or whatever. Sometimes I try to speculate about why I use it–but the fact of the matter is–it’s speculation.

      I like to think in Jungian terms–especially about Jung’s idea of the collective subconscious–and human urge to repeat certain images–especially in art, which Jung would have argued taps into that place.

      Good questions. I need to think more about this and see what kinds of explanations I can come up with.

      Merry Christmas to you and Willie!

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  4. I made the “mistake” of watching the local news on Christmas Eve. They had a number of stories of people who were poor, or just lost their homes for one reason or another, and who didn’t have the funds to celebrate Christmas. I know that the news broadcaster just wanted to make people aware of others less fortunate, and for people to be thankful for what they have, and to be more generous to others. After seeing that though, it was difficult to celebrate Christmas without feeling guilty.

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    • Bless your heart! I know how you feel. I try to tell myself that others having a less than pleasant Christmas does not preclude me from having a good one. It accomplishes nothing for you too to have a horrible holiday. In fact, your having a lovely Christmas ultimately better equips you to do something positive in the world. Hope you’re enjoying your spider books with no guilt!
      Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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