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In Haiti: the catastrophe before the catastrophe

Posted February 20th, 2010 by

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Carla Bluntschli, who lives in Haiti. Carla is one of the co-founders of the N a Sonje Foundation; 25 years in the making, focused on transforming experiences in this sacred country. From the website:

“N a Sonje” is a simple phrase in Haitian Creole that translated into English means “we will remember”. They are words that bring to mind memories of what was worthy of community value from the past through alluding to lost, forgotten or simply untold histories of the present.

It has been more than a month since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12. There has been lots of news coverage, an outpouring of generosity, love, prayers, and support for the people of Haiti, and for most folks, I believe, an accompanying sense of frustration. Many of us don’t know a lot about Haiti or its people. We only know that there has been tremendous loss of life and many people continue to suffer from illness, lack of basic needs like shelter, food, water, and medical support.

I was deeply touched by Carla’s powerful and clear picture of the human—physical and spiritual—tragedy the people of Haiti are experiencing. I’ve not seen any news reports that capture what she describes here. With Carla’s permission, I share her words in the hope that more people feel the shared humanity from which we are so often disconnected.

Loved ones of ours,

Today Feb 11, the day before the month marker of this “event” (as it is commonly referred to now) which will begin a 3 day national time of prayer and fasting, normally the pre-carnival time 12th-14th, was one of the lowest days so far for me.

I am deeply grateful as an undeserving human who was not buried in the rubble of a planetary shakedown. We were somehow spared even as the church just a few yards above our house crashed, pancaking on itself during those fatal seconds. Fortunately, no one was within its unsuspecting death-chamber-like walls, but I am still reeling from the truth of the real disaster as it reveals itself out of the dust.

The ensuing chaos continues to be upon us. It almost feels immoral or unjust to me (is this survivor’s guilt?), having been spared death, physical suffering or any loss of property through the quake but now even more so as the threatening clouds of the rainy season promise more disaster for the thousands cast out unceremoniously into the streets by this catastrophic itch in the underskin of mother earth. This year those long awaited rains for the expectant farmers to plant and the welcome relief to the months of tongue coating dust film, (now mixed with cement and human remains), seems more like a death certificate awaiting those who have not been fortunate enough yet to get a tent or just a tarp. Many families are sleeping with only a cotton sheet and scraps of plastic between themselves, their children and the cold evening downpours that will surely provoke sickness and more suffering will inevitably follow.

These crushed concrete schools, churches, businesses, homes have turned into spontaneous tombs for the unretrievable bodies of loved ones decaying in undignified circumstances. But, for me, the spiritual weight of all these instantaneously snuffed out lives is much heavier than the concrete and steel that smothers them.

This photo is of one of my best friend’s front “yard”, a place I’ve known for years, having visited a jillion times though always focusing on the beauty of laughter and the energy of life to blot out the sewage smell and uncleanable environment, the material deprivation in this ghost town ghetto was stark. This forced exodus from these once hot crowded spoonfuls of earth lay naked the truth of unbridled greed that crushed people into these conditions by an economic catastrophe that has been going on for generations. This photo is simple, but perhaps it can help tell the story of the lives and dreams of thousands of lives of loved ones crammed into the virtual fissures of bare cinderblock destined to having their bones and breath suffocated out of existence in a mere few seconds.

The uncomfortable question as to why an earthquake could kill the horrific numbers of people compared to earthquakes of equal seismic shock was asked during the Discovery program shown the other night. As the documentary camera zoomed into the rubble of Port-au-Prince, the condemning evidence of snapped off corner posts of schools and houses where too few bars of metal and sacks of cement were used in their construction gave some hints that should make us squirm. The economic choices that parents in these types of neighborhoods are constantly pressured into making is that they literally sacrifice themselves to pay for their children’s education at the expense of their own housing. This cosmic shudder exposed the worst of our human spiritual condition, stuffing a major part of humanity (most major cities have similar situations, but to a lesser degree) into indecent cracks and edges of life with no real choices. It has exposed an ancient catastrophe of racism, prejudice, exploitation and greed that exploded into this cataclysmic catastrophe of unjust proportions. There’s no more hiding behind the thin curtains of laughter any more, the wails of grief have torn it away.

As I drove by a temporary shelter camp made up in a park in one of the richer neighborhoods of Petionville the other day, I saw an older man stooping by the curb having found an unusually clean bit of water running in the gutter to scrub out his small washcloth. I thought about not looking at him, allowing him my respect for his privacy in a somewhat humiliating circumstance, but I was impelled to see him and to have him see me understanding our mutual humanity in the seconds of our passing glances. He smiled with eyes glistening into my own and cast out his hands in simple resignation.

N a Sonje

“We Will Remember”

Carla

One response to “In Haiti: the catastrophe before the catastrophe”

  1. […] Foundation—who lives there. If you missed that one, please pause and read her powerful words here before […]

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