Edwidge Danticat’s Haiti: Bloodied, Shaken—and Beloved

Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat has written a piece for the Miami Herald in which she describes her love for her beleaguered country. Here it the text:

Haitians like to say that Haiti is tè glise, slippery ground. Even under the best of circumstances, the country can be stable one moment, then crumbling the next. Haiti has never been more slippery ground than it is right now. Bodies littering the streets. Entire communities buried in rubble. Homes pancaked to dust.

For those of us who know and love Haiti, now our hearts are also slippery ground. We are hopeful one moment then filled with despair the next. Has 200 years of existence finally reached its abyss, we wonder? But now even the ground is no more.

Our love has not changed. In fact it is even deeper. But Haiti, or what is left of it, has changed. It has changed physically, earthquake fault lines catastrophically rearranging its landscape. The mountains that have been stripped of their trees and mined for construction materials then crowded with unsteady homes have crumbled, leaving both the poor and the rich homeless.

This is a natural disaster, but one that has been in the making for a long time. In part due to neglectful and even vicious import-favoring agricultural policies that have driven Haitians off their land into a city built for 200,000 that was forced to house nearly three million. If a tropical storm can bury an entire city under water as tropical storm Jeanne did to Gonaives five years ago, if a mudslide can bring down entire neighborhoods as many have on a regular basis, then what chance did Port-au-Prince have with a 7.0 earthquake? Not to mention the aftershocks that may continue for months. “The ground keeps shaking,” one, thankfully fine, friend told us from Carrefour, the epicenter. “The ground keeps shaking.”

AN UNFAIR SHARE

Haiti has gotten more than its share of attention since the earthquake this past week. We who know and love Haiti have long been pained, and sometimes frustrated, that it’s a place that can only be noticed when it is on its knees. Still no one is more grateful than I for all this attention as I await news from loved ones.

From my cousin Maxo, who had recently returned to Haiti to continue the work of his father, my uncle Joseph, a minister who had died here in Miami in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security five years ago.

From my aunt Rezia, who when I was diagnosed with tuberculosis as a young girl, was the only person who kissed me on my face anyway.

From my cousin Fritzner, who ran for mayor in Delmas.

From my artist friend Jhon Charles, whom my husband and I hosted in our home during Art Basel and who at the time told the Miami Herald’s Lydia Martin, “In Haitian art, we use whatever materials we can find. But walking around the fairs, I was amazed at how many materials artists from other parts of the world have. I see all endless possibilities now.”

I live and breathe every moment hoping to hear from them and literally hundreds of other people whom I cannot imagine my life without.

LOOKING, LISTENING

Watching the news and seeing the desperate, hungry crowds, I look for their faces. In those assembled outside to sleep, I look for their shapes. Over the sound bites on Haitian radio stations, I listen for their voices. Seeing wounded children wandering the streets alone, I see my daughters. I see myself.

Still I am grateful. I am grateful, even if prematurely and perhaps wrongly, at the possibility of their survival. I am grateful for every country in the world that has offered the help that might make it possible. I am grateful for every dollar that’s been donated. But even as I am grateful I am also fearful. With so many people sleeping outside, I am fearful of the first rain. I am fearful for the looming specter of food shortages and contaminated soil and airborne diseases from disintegrating bodies. I am fearful that this won’t make for dramatic television anymore and all the care and attention that is being given to Haiti now will go away.

Haiti needs, and will continue to need, the kind of love and commitment that is not slippery. It needs our attention and care now, but it will also need it months, years, and perhaps decades from now. Haitians are resilient.

We will do our part. However Haiti’s friends and neighbors must remain as attentive and committed to it in the long run as they are now. Only then can Haiti not only rise, but remain out of the abyss. And above what is now, with corpses in every corner of every street, not just slippery ground, but sacred ground.

The article (and a video of an interview with Danticat) can be found at http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/haiti/story/1428511.html

Edwidge helps her daughter Mira Boyer, 2, sign a banner in Miami, Tuesday, April 17, 2007 as Henry Petithomme, left background, continues his hunger strike on the lap of his sister Neslie Petithomme LaGuerre. Henry Petithomme is protesting the detention and possible deportation of more than 100 Haitian migrants that arrived at Hallandale Beach, Fla. , on March 28. AP photo from Daylife at http://www.daylife.com/photo/08OcdBg1x2d3T.

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