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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Paradise and the flood

Haiti Fact #9:
Haitian roads have a lot of speed bumps, which are called dos d’ânes (backs of donkeys) or polis kouche (sleeping policemen).

            This past Saturday, we went to the beach in a place called Paradise Cove.  It deserves that name.  Despite its incredible beauty, we found it almost empty simply due to its remoteness.  After an intense drive up and down a mountain we took a twenty minute boat ride around to the far side of a neighboring cove.  We spent the day sitting in the sand under a tree or swimming in the ocean.  Out in the clear water, I could float around and look back to see the wild mountains surrounding the cove.  The huge jellyfish floating in the shallows completed the rugged and indifferent beauty of the place.  The tranquility was kind of exhausting.  At one point a boat arrived, full of volunteers from the USA with a few Haitians.  We actually spent more time talking with the Haitians – confidence when talking to new people is much more a Haitian thing.  The boat ride and then drive back home went by in a state of reflection as I realized how close we live to that amazing little cove.  We arrived back at the house Saturday night relaxed and exhausted.  After waking up from a deep nap, I noticed it was raining pretty hard.
It rained for four days straight, beginning with ten hours of very heavy rain. For the following days it poured, drizzled, rained, took short breaks and even thundered a little bit.  Much of the city flooded, causing houses to collapse and streets to become impassable.  At least ten people died, but life in the city still managed to go on.  We are blessed to live in a more built up section of the city with better drainage, so we only lost power.  The water flowed past us down to the ocean and the flooded sections of the city.  In that moment I saw so clearly how resilient Haitians are in the face of problems that would devastate people in the USA.  The turbulence of life here encourages one not to get too attached to any routine or plan.  Storms and disruptions are inevitable.  I can’t say for sure whether this unexpected deluge is caused by the same forces that are intensifying extreme weather events around the world.  I can, however, note a few factors that made this unusual weather much more deadly to the people that it hit.

In the USA, things like zoning rules, ordinances and property taxes are not generally viewed with gratitude.  But Haiti could use a lot more of all of them.  The earthquake in 2010, Hurricane Matthew, this flood and countless other natural disasters had their destructive power magnified by the vulnerability of Haiti’s infrastructure to the slightest calamity.  When I, as an outsider from the developed world, see whole neighborhoods lying in flood zones or on steep hillsides, I picture the carnage that a hurricane or earthquake could inflict.  What to do about that is difficult though.  Haiti’s past and present are full of foreigners who know exactly what Haiti needs.  They tried and continue to try to implement their plan, often experiencing difficulty with achieving any results.  All the while, Haitians continue to die from diseases long banished from the developed world and in large numbers as a result of weather events.  The situation here is very complicated, especially between outsiders and Haitians. 

No easy or quick solution exists.  My time here needs to be about listening and absorbing information because despite the fact that Haiti has problems and that the developed world has found ways to overcome those problems, any inquiry into history should make it clear that just copying and pasting the solutions doesn’t work.  Major problems persist and frustrate good intentions.  Meanwhile, the world does not seem to be transitioning toward ideological unity on its own.  Despite all that, I continue to naïvely hope that listening and caring can do something to help with this particular issue that I am confronted with.  And it remains a blessing to do that work among Haiti’s hidden treasures and painful realities.      

A special thank you to these donors:

Ken Ewell
Mr. & Mrs. Jeff Going             

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