HAITI, OH HAITI – Can one small nation bear so much pain? Haiti is bleeding again ... more suffering, more anguish, more poverty. More death. Let's forget guns for drugs for the moment ... Cease the fear of refugees invading our shores ... Reflect on how lucky we are and prepare to give a helping hand ... What if it were us?
ON TUESDAY AFTERNOON, I arrived home, prepared to unwind after the daily stress. I turned on the TV and all dreams of relaxation ended. The Haitian earthquake disaster was unfolding before my eyes. Scientific explanations about 7.0 on the Richter Scale really meant little to many people. What was inescapably real were the images of the broken buildings, the clouds of dust, the frightened faces of people fleeing from the demon that shook the earth.
The first question was why? Why must the people of Haiti endure such pain, over and over again? Of course the "good people" have the answer. It must be God. He is punishing them, that's why. For what? All that voodoo business. If the Haitians will persist on dabbling in paganism, then they shouldn't be surprised that they have been smitten, the righteous proclaimed. So much for a benign and loving God. It would not be a surprise to hear that the death of Haiti's Roman Catholic Archbishop and the destruction of the Anglican/Episcopalian Cathedral, are regarded as not part of the Divine Vengeance. Denominational differences are alive and well.
So much for Christian love and charity. I cannot claim to know the mind of the Almighty but I'm pretty sure He cares what is happening to the thousands of men, women and children who now sleep in the dark, wrecked streets of Port-au-Prince because they're too scared to venture indoors lest the earth start to shake again. Many were depicted by the TV cameras, singing and praying to, guess who?
Another big "why" was about the quake itself. Why did it hit Haiti and not the Dominican Republic which shares the island of Hispaniola? The scientists have explained about epicentre, fault lines and Tectonic plates and all which make up the geological identity. People listen but do not really hear. The religious explanation of hip and thigh being smitten is far more compelling. Chastisement by a Higher Power has a more satisfying ring to it.
Then, there's the question of why the international media, from CNN to BBC prefaced every reference to Haiti with "poorest, impoverished" and then, all together "poorest country in the Western Hemisphere". There was not one redeeming word said, as if there is nothing more to the country than abject poverty. That annoyed a lot of persons, me included.
BY WEDNESDAY, the international media had landed in Port-au-Prince from far and wide and with the cameras rolling, the full extent of the damage came into sharper focus. The sense of horror escalated. The "Why" was joined by "How": How did so many manage to survive? How will the mammoth task of recovery be accomplished? How will Haiti be put on its feet again? How can we help? How?
Some people have been critical of Mr Golding and Mrs Simpson Miller for what they saw as "wasting time" on a visit to Port-au-Prince yesterday. The criticism is that we have our own problems here. Some technocrat could've made the review and advise the leaders, it was said. That would save much-needed money. I happen to disagree. There are times when personal involvement enhances the message of caring. The visit is now over and done with anyway. What we must look to is what the Jamaican government will do to create an effective programme of assistance.
Despite our own hard times, many Jamaicans say they are prepared to make their contributions to the fund-raising efforts already launched. The ever-dependable relief agencies are on the job - the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Food for the Poor, etc, as well as individual religious denominations and statutory agencies. Cash donations are regarded as the most efficient form of assistance as it helps the relief agencies to purchase what is needed most urgently. Tinned food is appreciated. Some say hold the old clothes but people seem to feel better when they clean out their closets.
THE PROBABILITY of a flood of refugees has not been ruled out. We pulled the welcome mat on them in 2008 after it was discovered that our hospitality was being abused. If the tide resumes, how will we deal with it? It may be more difficult to harden our hearts in the face of the enormity of the quake's aftermath and the world watching.
Our relations with Haiti have been affected by "the guns for drugs" trade. It is not something we can shrug off just so. Security concerns are bound to surface. Some people may see this as a reason to keep refugees away from our shores. We can also forecast resentment from some of the public against sharing scarce resources in these hard times. Whatever happens, our neighbourliness will be tested.
We need to be prepared for any eventuality. We shouldn't forget that we have had a long relationship with Haiti, in good times and bad. Deposed dictators have made intransit stops en route to find refuge elsewhere. We have been involved in political controversies, the most recent concerning the fate of President Aristide (remember him?) and René Préval, now the president in the crisis.
There was a time when middle-class Haitians sent their sons and daughters here to high schools and commercial colleges and to improve their English. Haitian footballers provided formidable competition for local teams. Haitian business people have invested in Jamaican enterprise. Some are still with us, fully integrated into our community.
THE INTENSE MEDIA COVERAGE of the Haitian quake continues. It may be a while before the story loses the number one place in the hot-news category. When it does, like Katrina, the story will not be over for those who were forced to live it. Haiti will always bear the marks of January 12, 2010 for generations to come.
It will be hard to replicate, for instance, the uniqueness of the National Cathedral where Haiti's finest artists used their skills to depict God and angels and saints as black, like the Haitian people. True believers say Haiti will build again - hopefully stronger and wiser next time.