Haiti: The Art of Recovery


I’m a wanna-be artist, a sort-of, almost artist—certainly not by training and clearly not because of craft. 

I’m also an artist who has struggled with bipolar disorder, someone who appreciates the creativity that is often an unexpected gift accompanying the illness.  I’m someone who has not only made art when I was sick, but continues to create even when I am well, as an outgrowth of recovery.  In the art world I’m what would be called an “outsider” artist.  I don’t always know what I’m doing.  I just do.  Art. 

I’m also a writer and artist who has lived in Haiti for the last year with my partner.  Sara has directed an international NGO’s response to the earthquake.  But we are preparing to go home next week, and I’m thinking not only about what Haiti has given me, the gifts I will take home, but also what I’ll leave behind.

Indeed, one of the gifts I’ve given is a large piece of art, one I created for Sara’s NGO from a throw-away piece of furniture—a huge serving bar I painted last summer.

 

The bar is nearly 9 and a half feet long and lives on an upstairs patio at Sara’s office in Port-au-Prince.

It was white, ugly, an eye-sore, really.  But Sara wanted to save it.  She thought it, like Haiti itself, should be given a second chance at life, that the bar could be used for receptions, to serve meals on special occasions.  She thought I was the one to midwife this rebirth, that I was the one to take on the task, that as someone who has repurposed art as part of my own recovery, I could gift a born-again bar to the wonderful people who work here.

I loved the idea and took on the project enthusiastically, in the end creating a mixed-media piece—one that incorporates the organization’s logo in strategic places, as well as decoupaged-maps of Port-au-Prince and each location in Haiti the organization works.

I also included stories from the local newspaper, highlighting big events in the news during the months after the earthquake.

I included text from the organization’s 6-month, post-earthquake report, as well as the names of almost all the people who had worked on the NGO’s reconstruction effort—folks from more than a dozen countries around the world.

The front of the bar repeats the organization’s logo above each flower petal:

As well as the names of staff in black and white circles:

The top of the bar includes the maps and newspaper text:

However, soon Sara and I will leave Haiti; soon we’ll leave the places mapped on the bar-top at a bit of a distance, at least geographically.

And though we’ll leave when the organization’s work here is still incomplete, though in many ways it seems too soon, I’ll leave a piece of myself behind, one that I hope will serve the NGO’s mission here well into the future.  I’ll leave not only a piece of my art, but also a piece of my heart, knowing this is not really an end.  We leave but others will come.

Haiti has taught me this lesson: that indeed good things can come from our departure.   It has taught me not only how to birth a new bar, but also  how to hope, how to see potential in seeming destruction,  how to dream a new dream, how to hope a new hope.  It’s reminded me that, if art can come out of sickness, then indeed beauty can come out of the earthquake’s ruin. 

I believe that in every beginning an end is waiting to happen and from every illness or devastation a new beginning will grow.

Peace to people of Haiti—

And thank you!

News from the Asylum


 I don’t know how to tell you this, but I have some crazy news . . .

Sara and I are leaving Haiti— as in “permanently,” as in “forever.”

I’m just as stunned by this as you are, and frankly it seems hard to believe.   But Sara’s NGO is doing what a number of organizations are doing in Haiti—

They’re scaling back—

Why

Because of funding shortfalls—

The fact of the matter is, merely a fraction of the dollars pledged toward the Haitian relief effort just after the earthquake have been delivered to NGOs, because, in reality, donors are reluctant to hand over funds to a country whose political future is uncertain, a country that has a history of corrupt leadership, presidents who funnel dollars into their own deep pockets rather than passing them along to citizens in need. 

What?

You might wonder what this has to do with Sara and me—————

Quite frankly, Sara is a key disaster response resource for her NGO, especially in terms of her ability to drop into the aftermath of a disaster and get projects moving.  She launched the organization’s effort in Afghanistan after the Taliban fell in 2002 and directed its response to the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. 

More recently, she’s worked a year in Vietnam and another in Haiti, without more than 5 consecutive days at home—an effort that has drained and exhausted her.  She needs a break.  She needs to rest.  

And the organization is smart to recognize this.

When?

Sara will have a three-month sabbatical before being reassigned.  This means Spring at home in Lexington—a lovely time of year to be in Kentucky.  And though I’m terribly sad to leave Haiti when there’s so much more of the country to explore and write about, I believe this change will ultimately benefit Sara and her ability to serve more successfully in the future.

Where?

 

We truly don’t know where we will be headed in another 3 months.  Before the earthquake in Haiti, her NGO had planned to send Sara to South Africa.  I suspect that could actually happen this summer, unless in the next several months there’s a massive disaster in another part of the world.

How?

So, how will this affect the blog—a blog that has largely been about Haiti?

Well, it’s ironic that I began shifting the blog’s focus slightly  even before knowing this larger change was coming—addressing the “event horizon” that is my past, while promising to not ignore the “event horizon” that is Haiti.

It could be that I shouldn’t have made that promise.  Certainly, I don’t plan to ignore Haiti even now, but it inevitably won’t be a part of my day-to-day experience.  Inevitably the focus will shift toward which ever country we live in next.

In the meantime, I intend to address the “event horizon” that was “then”—my personal past, whose story, I think, needs to be told.

Actually, going home to Kentucky will better equip me to research my mental health history—to do it in a way I couldn’t if I were in Haiti.  It will give me actual access to boxes and boxes of journals, video-taped therapy sessions, and medical records I already have on hand.

In practical, blogging terms, I suspect this may mean fewer posts and/or briefer posts over the next several weeks, as we pack up our lives here in Haiti and get resettled in Kentucky.  After that, I intend to spend the Spring exploring my past and sharing it here on the blog.

So pad your walls.

Things could get crazy around here.

This insane story’s just beggin’ to be told.

Verizon Wireless is the Devil


(And I’m not even exaggerating.) 

This story is about the heartless and dishonest action taken by a company that claims to not only be “America’s largest and most reliable wireless network,” but also the one “more people trust.”

Clearly, America’s trust is ill-founded.  And I am about to show you why.

My partner Sara and I live in Haiti, where Sara directs the recovery operation for one of the world’s largest and most well-known international aid organizations.  I live in Port-au-Prince with her and blog about Haiti’s need for more relief, more aid, more care, more prayer.  Sara does the work.  I spread the word.

On the weekend of February 4th, Sara and I were in Miami for a long weekend away from the stress and strife, the grit and grime that is Port-au-Prince.  But before hitting the beach and soaking up the sun, we wanted to upgrade our phones and renew our Verizon Wireless contract.

Up until that Friday I had an unlimited international data plan for my mobile phone—something that was essential to my functioning in Haiti, where access to both electricity and wireless is limited.  I needed to upgrade my phone because I blog and the WordPress software I need was not available on the model of Blackberry I owned.  Sara also needed an equipment upgrade, since her BlackBerry had stopped working several months before.

Frustrated that our access to electricity in Haiti had not improved even a year after the earthquake, we stopped at a North Miami Verizon Wireless store on our way in from the airport.  We were eager; we were enthusiastic as we burst through the door and were greeted by a Verizon employee with, “Would you like to buy a Droid today?”

“No,” I sighed.  “Really, I’d prefer another Blackberry, perhaps the Storm.”

The Verizon representative was willing to show me the Blackberry but eager to point out how difficult it was to type from the touch screen.  He suggested I try. I did.  Indeed, it was difficult.

“Really,” he offered.  “The Droid 2 keyboard is more user-friendly and easier to operate.”

To make a long story short—

I tried the Droid.   I love the Droid.  Sara tried it.  She loved it.  We were sold.

We were in the store for close to two hours.  We explained our circumstances to our now friend from Jamaica, who understood our frustration, as he too had grown up on a Caribbean island.  We discussed my need to blog from my phone.  He even loaded the WordPress software for me and moved the icon to my home page for easy access.

He empathized.  He insisted the Droid was truly the answer to our data needs in Haiti.  He referred to the unlimited access to email and internet we would enjoy.  Things would be better.

Two hours later we left the North Miami Verizon Wireless store 2 Droids richer and $600 poorer—

Since, when we got back to Haiti the following Monday evening, we discovered we had no unlimited international data package. The phones were useless to us.  We spent $600 and, in doing so, lost the very feature that made the phones useful to us, in fact, essential to us.

We had been duped.

So the first thing Tuesday morning, I called Verizon to have the problem resolved.  I spoke with a “customer service” representative.  I spoke with 2 managers.

Finally, manager Lenora empathized with our situation and agreed to submit a claim to the “Inactive Pricing Committee. “

Now, 7 expensive phone calls to US “Customer Service” later (Verizon refuses to remove the roaming charges associated with those calls), I learned this morning that Verizon has denied our claim, because we bought Droids and the unlimited data package had only been available on Blackberries.

If only we would return our phones to the nearest Verizon store and trade them for Blackberries then the committee MIGHT be able to reconsider our claim.

Maybe the “customer service” representative offered we could mail our phones back to the US.

Yeah, right—mail 2 VERY expensive phones from a country that doesn’t have a national mail service.

Yeah, right—mail them safely from a country where we can’t even trust our own gardener not to steal our tools—not because he’s a dishonest thief, but because he is that desperate to feed his family and might be able to trade the hammer on the street for a handful of rice, a cup of beans.

We won’t be using these phones for economic gain.  Really, I‘d be a lot more comfortable blogging from the US, and Sara would be more relaxed if she weren’t trying to house the 1.3 million homeless Haitians living in Port-au-Prince.

We don’t make nearly enough money to pay the $70 per month for the 7 GB of data per phone that won’t come close to meeting our needs.

International aid work doesn’t pay well.  Blogging about Haiti pays nothing.

Bottom line—

Verizon refuses to restore the unlimited international data plan we had until February 4th, when a Verizon representative dishonestly persuaded us to buy Droids rather than the Blackberries our unlimited access to data depended on.

Verizon has essentially crippled us in our ability to function in Haiti.

Verizon may be the wireless company most Americans trust, but God forbid, the Haitian people place a similar trust in corporate America’s willingness to meet their needs.

Verizon insists there’s really nothing more they can do.

Verizon Wireless is the devil! 

(If you are willing, please pass along this story of corporate greed at the expense of the planet’s poor.  Please help me hold Verizon accountable.)

Aristide is coming home—


—or so I’m told—

 And Sara and I are glad to be back on Planet Port-au-Prince, where a routine of strange and absurd leaves predictability-addicted ex-pats like us whip-lashed and dizzied.

Remember the epigraph that inspired “reinventing the event horizon”——

Haiti is not simply one more of those tropical dictatorships where to rule is to steal, and headless bodies are found by the road.  Haiti contorts time:  It convolutes reason if you are lucky–and obliterates it if you are not.  Haiti is to this hemisphere what black holes are to outer space.  Venture there and you cross an event horizon. (T. D. Allman, After Baby Doc, 1989)

From a much-too-short weekend in Miami, Sara and I have crossed that event horizon, come home to Haiti, where the streets are rocking with protesters— 

Literally—

Stone-throwing, tire-burning Haitians took to the streets on Monday, calling for the removal of unpopular President Preval, whose term ended yesterday, or should have, had he not decided to extend it by three months.

So it seems—————Preval is staying, Baby-Doc has settled in, and Aristide is on his way.

As journalist Emily Troutman tweeted yesterday, the only thing that would be weirder is if  “Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines came back too.”  (Both were Haitian revolutionary heroes who fought for freedom against the French more than 200 years ago.)

In the unfortunate (but sanity-maintaining) event that you are new to Planet Port-au-Prince here’s a recap of recent events:

–On January 12, 2011 an earthquake leveled Haiti’s capital, killing nearly a quarter of million, and leaving one and a half million homeless and still living in tents a year later.

–In October Hurricane Tomas hit Haiti, further complicating relief efforts.

–Also in October, a cholera epidemic took hold, and by now, 3 months later, has needlessly killed more than 4 thousand.

–On November 28, 2011 Haiti held a fraudulent presidential election, during which ballot boxes arrived at poling places stuffed with votes for the ruling political party’s candidate, Jude Celestine.

–After election results were announced on December 8, 2010 (identifying Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestine as the top two vote-getters who would run-off in a final round on January 16, 2011  and excluding popular, musician candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly from the second round), protesters took to the streets, rioting for an annulment of the election and leaving Port-au-Prince in a virtual lock-down that even closed the international airport for four days.

–In January 2011 the OAS (Organization of American States) reviewed election results and determined that they were indeed fraudulent and that Jude Celestine should be eliminated from a second round run-off.

–On January 16, 2011, the scheduled day of the original run-off, the delayed event was nearly forgotten when the former Haitian dictator (exiled in France since 1986) Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier arrived unexpectedly in Port-au-Prince.

–Two days later Baby Doc was arrested and released on charges of corruption.

–Also in January, when members of President Preval’s Unity Party refused to follow the recommendation of the OAS that their candidate Jude Celestine be disqualified, the US State Department revoked the visas of 12 top officials in an effort to force the issue.

–On February 3, 2011 the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council, following the recommendation of the OAS, announced the revised results of November’s election, determining by a vote  of 5 to 3, that the two candidates to run-off in a March 20th final round would be Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly.

–Though this announcement too was expected to result in rioting, the exclusion of unpopular Celestine left Port-au-Prince relatively quiet and calm.

–(In the midst of this, Sara and I left Port-au-Prince on Friday, February 4th for a long weekend on the beach in South Florida.) 

hundreds of jelly fish on South Beach

 –Monday, February 7th, the Haitian government issued a sting of its own to Duvalier supports, when  it announced it had printed a diplomatic passport for the still-wildly-popular and first-democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has lived in exile in South Africa since 2004.  (So he can return home, Aristide has been requesting a passport for more than a month.)

–(As Haitians await the imminent return of Aristide, Sara and I snuck back into Haiti on a nearly empty American Airlines flight (because few folks are stupid enough to return to Port-au-Prince during this time of political unrest with arch rivals Duvalier and Aristide waiting in the wings.)

So readers of my blog should be assured—I’m back on the job.

This week I’ll be formally accepting “awards” I’ve received during my holiday—the “Memetastic Award” (from Clouded Marbles) and “The Stylish Blogger Award” (from Wendy over at Herding Cats in Hammond River).  And I’ll pass along the “prizes” to other deserving bloggers in the next couple of days.

So I’m back at my desk—

Blogging from my home-sweet Haitian home on Planet Port-au-Prince.

Come play with me.  You too can have time-contorted and reason-obliterated!

Come wait for Aristide with me———————-

(I look forward to catching up with all of your blogs, as well.)

Graffiti: Inscribing Haiti’s Future on the Rubble that is Now


There’s a long-standing tradition of political graffiti in Haiti—one that began soon after the Duvalier dictatorship ended its 29 year reign of terror with the ouster in 1986 of now newly-returned Baby Doc.

 We’ve come full circle. 

Duvalier is back.  Aristide is on his way.

However, political graffiti isn’t gone.  In fact, it’s virtually everywhere in Haiti’s capital—buildings and walls defaced by political thugs given $35 (US) and some spray paint to propagandize Port-au-Prince—scrawlings in red, black, and blue—the names of presidential candidates literally littering the city in ink.

What’s different, however, is this: there’s a new kid on the block, a graffiti artist named Jerry Rosembert Moise, who began his brilliant work just hours after an earthquake devastated his city.

What’s also different is that Jerry’s graffiti is decidedly non-political.  It articulates the suffering of an otherwise silent city, whose pain is tented and tarped along rubble-strewn streets, where cholera rages and rioters react in a language of flaming tires—a solidarity of burning rubber.

Jerry, a twenty-five-year-old graphic artist by training, paints simultaneously with both hands.   By now he’s completed more than 50 pieces, beginning in Port-au-Prince proper, before moving uptown to Petion-ville where we live. 

Directly across the street from my partner Sara’s office, is a painting that looks like this:

Though getting good photos of this piece is now complicated by a billboad’s intrusion, you can still see the ball-holding boy, watching the world cup.  There’s a lot of watching going on here, the person on the street seeing the painting, the young man staring at the set.  Passively the world watches and plays games, while Haitians wait, forced to make furniture from rubble?  Who holds the ball here?  Are these the questions Jerry asks?

Just half way up the block, however, on the same side of the street is a piece that looks like this:

What’s Jerry’s message here?  The hand-holding couple walk in solidarity.  What makes them so sad, so tired?  Why do they look down instead of up or at one another?

Still further up the block and across the street from Sara’s second office is a woman leaning against the very wall she’s painted on:

Her gaze is directed over her shoulder and into the street, perhaps even across the road at the NGO where Sara works.  She wears glasses, smokes a cigarette in high heels that force her to stand on tip-toe, legs crossed—tentatively.  She’s suggestively watching what?  What does she need assistance seeing or saying?  When does “suggestively” become “suggest?” 

Not far from the block where these three pieces peer at televisions and NGOs, is an even sadder commentary of post-earthquake Haiti:

Here the boy in a wheel chair is watched by Santa Clause.  Santa, suited up in high holiday-fashion, is the passive on-looker.  The boy participates, waving a bleeding Haitian flag, popping a wheely—stunting for Santa. 

“I may be hurt,” he says. 

“I may be bleeding.  But watch me wave patriotically, while you stand idly by, hot under the collar in that stupid European suit!” 

“Why are all the ex-pats pissed?” he wants to know.

Santa may not know the answer.  We may not either.  But Jerry himself has this to say:

So Jerry’s message is one of hope, a belief that the youth of Haiti can and will make a difference, build a stronger future on the rubble that is now.

Tomorrow, an update on Jerry’s latest project! 

Stay tuned.

Haiti needs to be HGTV’d!


Like many Americans, I love HGTV (Home and Garden Television).  When I go home to the US, I can’t wait to watch kitchens upgraded, bathrooms remodeled, landscapes transformed.

Whether I’m cooking with the ease of Lean Cuisine, laundering with the convenience of Kenmore, or cleaning with the miracle of Mop & Glo, I appreciate the perky background chatter of “Divine Design” (to learn more about the show click here) and “Design on a Dime” (to learn more about the show click here).

I enjoy segments on how to install bamboo flooring at a diagonal as much the next surface-obsessed, granite-loving, domestic goddess in North America.  Even when I’m at our house in Haiti, I complain about our stove, our oven, our cook-top.

It’s so small:

So tall:

—so not the stainless steel I have at home in the States.

But—(and this is a big BUT)

This past week I went with Sara to Leogane, a coastal town about 30 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince, close to the epicenter of the January 12th earthquake.  A United Nations assessment team deemed Leogane “the worst-affected area” in Haiti, with 80 – 90% of buildings damaged and nearly all concrete structures destroyed.

Just outside of Leogane I visited a community called Nolivos—

Where the houses look like this:

a "Desperate Space?"

(To learn more about the show, “Desperate Spaces,” click here.) 

The washing machines look like this:

doing laundry for a family of 7 children

The kitchens look like this:

a "Sizzling Outdoor Kitchen?"

(To learn more about the show, “Sizzling Outdoor Kitchens,” click here.)

The sinks look like this:

the community well

And the stoves look like this:

a "Kitchen Impossible?"

(To learn more about the show, “Kitchen Impossible,” click here.)

Watching a woman cook dinner for seven on  a stove of sticks and stones, I wondered whether Vern Yip would be willing to bring a “Deserving Design” to this mother or another mother in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil.  (To watch an episode of “Deserving Design” click here.)

I wondered whether David Bromstad would splash some color a little south of Miami.  (To watch an episode of “Color Splash: Miami” click here.)

I thought:

Haiti needs to be HGTV’d!  (To learn more about the show, “HGTV’d,” click here.)

(and I thought I needed a kitchen remodel.)

Carpe Diem


Much to my good fortune and hopefully the readers of my blog next week, I have the unexpected opportunity to visit Leogane, one of the towns west of Port-au-Prince, closest to the epicenter of the earthquake.  Because of this, I’m having to interrupt my series on Haitian art for a day or two.  Sorry about this, but please understand I almost never have the opportunity to visit the field and expect this travel with positively impact posts next week.

Thanks you for your patience also, if I do not read your blogs for the next couple days, as I try to maximize this opportunity.   See you soon—-

Make Green, Not Greed: Sustainability in Haitian Art


When you think “island music,” you most likely think “steel drums” and the almost bubbly music they produce—happy notes.

But here in Haiti, the 55 gallon oil drums recycled for music-making have yet another artistic application—one I learned about last spring on my first trip to Haiti.

In March of 2010, I traveled to Port-au-Prince to celebrate a birthday with my partner Sara, who had already been in Haiti for nearly two months.  Nine weeks after the earthquake, the place was not exactly a “vacation destination”—the city was largely a landscape of rubble and debris—remnants of a city that used to be.

But Sara had recently moved into a house expected to be home for the next several years.  So in an effort to make it feel more like “home” and less like a house of a hill seeking its soul, Sara and I decided we wanted our home to mirror the cultural landscape of the city, to fit with the creative lay of the land, so to speak.  And it seemed easiest to accomplish that with art, or whatever remained of it here after the earthquake.

In fact, last January’s earthquake dealt Haitian art a devastating blow, severely damaging the Centre d’Art, which launched Haiti’s art movement in the 1940s, and collapsing the Musee d’Art Nader, which had housed the country’s largest private collection of more than 12,000 pieces.

But even so shortly after the earthquake that nearly leveled the city, in March artists were back at work, perhaps, partly because Haitian art is largely a study in sustainability, and artists use whatever materials they have on hand to make creative statements, sometimes even hammering them from the steel remains of oil drums, the same material on which musicians mallet out their melodies.

Ever since the 1950s Haitian artists have been pounding cultural messages into steel—a tradition of metal art that owes it origins to a blacksmith from Croix-des-Bouquets named Georges Liautaud, who began fashioning simple metal crosses to mark graves in his village, since so few Haitians could afford tombstones.  

In fact, the first piece of metal art Sara purchased and had hanging in our home when I arrived last March was such a cross.  Yes, they’re still being made some 60 years after Liautaud began the tradition.  The cross Sara had hanging on our bedroom wall looks like this:

However, the piece of metal art we purchased that Saturday in March was done in the African mask style, a stunningly beautiful Haitian woman with bold spiraling hair and DNA-ed dangles hanging from either ear:

When I returned more permanently to Haiti in June, we purchased our lovely lady a mate—a warrior, whose long, stern face guards our entrance way with steely spikes of hair and sadly serious eyes:

Since then, Sara selected and purchased a spritely angel who hovers in our bedroom—a circling girlish figure, a feminine compliment to the more masculine cross that still hangs on an adjoining wall:

So what’s one to make of this art being pounded out in Port-au-Prince?

In the US some still accuse the Bush administration of entering Iraq for oil, but it’s unlikely Obama will make war in Haiti for empty barrels of the same black gold, so Haitian artists will use the rubbish from the rest of the world’s over consumption, its gas-guzzling greed and extravagant excess, to hammer home a message other countries had better learn, learn before it’s too late.

Haiti reminds us that maybe we should sing a different tune, beat our drums not for more oil, but make do with what remains.

The pied piper of Haiti may make his music on metal drums, but will the world follow a Haitian example of green consumption over greed?

Bargaining for the Good Life: Duvalier and the Haitian Elite


As I’ve struggled over the past several days, trying to make even minimal sense of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s return to Haiti Sunday evening, and worked even harder attempting to understand the Duvalierists I’ve discovered in my life since then, I’ve remembered why art is such a good way for me to grapple with complex issues, ones for which there are no easy answer.  When slugging through the muck and mire of not knowing remains the only way through a particular darkness, I, like both Aristotle and Shakespeare, find comfort in art and literature’s ability to “imitate nature,” be like the thing that’s bothersome, while, at the same time, not being the thing itself.

 So, in the midst of my Duvalier-induced dementia, I remembered a short story by Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”  I’ve often taught this piece to composition students when wanting to demonstrate how “showing,” rather than merely “telling,” makes for stronger writing.  But yesterday Le Guin’s story reminded me why and how literature can become a way through confusion, especially in a place where more than a million remain homeless, cholera continues to kill, and ex-dictators come home to roost. 

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” describes a seemingly ideal city that hides a dark and disturbing secret (a dystopia, in literary terms).  Happiness and peace in Omelas depend on the suffering and misery of one small child, dungeoned in filth and despair.  According to Le Guin’s narrator, coming of age in this seemingly perfect place involves visiting this child and realizing, for the first time, the price Omelas pays for peace.

Clearly Omelas is not a perfect parallel to Port-au-Prince, since here the wealth and luxury enjoyed by an elite minority depend on the suffering of millions.  My Duvalierist friends may long for the good-old-days of Papa Doc and Baby Doc, an era when the lights stayed on and the streets were clean, but even now in Haiti the balance is shifted in favor of the privileged few.

 In the story’s final paragraph (click here to read the story in its entirety), Le Guin tell us about a few citizens of Omelas, but only a few, unwilling to accept this “bargain,” unwilling to exchange the suffering of an innocent child for their own well-being, to trade conscience for comfort.  These are, indeed, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” 

Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow- lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

 For the same reason these few in Omelas walk away, here in Haiti some have come and  decided to stay, refusing, in their own way, to accept the bargained-comfort that is life back home.  But this situation is extreme. 

I wonder how this same unwillingness to compromise conscience plays itself out in your life.  What do you sacrifice, what do you say “no” to, because doing so is good and fair and just? 

 How is conscience alive and well in your life?

An Event Horizon for Haiti? Baby Doc’s Mind-Bending Return from Exile


As events unfold here in Port-au-Prince around Jean-Claude Duvalier’s return from exile on Sunday, his being detained and charged with corruption by Haitian prosecutors yesterday, only to be released last night and returned to the Karibe Hotel having had his passport confiscated, I can’t help but repeat how surreal it feels—like living on the edge of a bizarre Caribbean twilight zone where reality contorts itself into a banana republic parody of all things right and just and  good.

In the midst of this twisting of right and wrong, caring and corruption, goodness and greed, I’m reminded of why I began this blog in the first place and why I called it “reinventing the event horizon.” I’m reminded of the quote from T. D. Allman’s After Baby Doc I cited in my first post back in November.  It bears repeating, as Allman associates Haiti with the same “convoluting” of reason we see happening here this week:

Haiti is not simply one more of those tropical dictatorships where to rule is to steal, and headless bodies are found by the road.  Haiti contorts time:  It convolutes reason if you are lucky–and obliterates it if you are not.  Haiti is to this hemisphere what black holes are to outer space.  Venture there and you cross an event horizon. (After Baby Doc, 1989)

Wrap your brain around that statement and you may begin to understand how Haiti feels this week—how this warping of the already absurd, not only wearies me, but worries folks the world over.

Remember, an event horizon is the edge of a black hole, a bending in the space/time continuum beyond which no light can escape—in many ways, a point of no return.

Was the earthquake an event horizon for Port-au-Prince?  Will cholera bend time and space so there’s no escaping the dis-ease that’s plagued this place for centuries?  Will fraudulent presidential elections and now Baby Doc’s return from exile push the Haitian people into further darkness?

Is there light for Haiti?