- Published on Wednesday, 06 February 2013 06:04
- Written by by Dr Glenville Ashby
Time hurries by, leaving behind trauma and pain that are sometimes pushed to the back burner, a distant memory. It has been three years since Haiti was shattered by an earthquake that claimed close to a quarter million people in a mere thirty five seconds.
Written in English and Creole, “From Despair to Hope” challenges time and our memory, reliving the devastation and its shocking aftermath - physical and psychological - through the recollection of eye witnesses.
Haitian author and screenwriter, Nicole Titus, through a series of interviews with survivors and others impacted in by the human catastrophe, chronicles the experience in raw terms - uncompromising, unedited and unsanitized. At 4.40 on January 2010, many who were in Haiti to help nationals develop much needed skills or rebuild a decaying infrastructure, saw their hard work, their dreams eviscerated in a blink of an eye.
There are the expected horrors - severed limbs, bodies strewn in streets and open fields. And the mass graves, the wailing, the screams, the wrenching silence. The following eyewitness account encapsulates the magnitude of the event: "What you see depicted in the news is not really what happened. There is more damage than your mind can actually process." This timely book offers glimpses into the human psyche and our existential will.
The picture is a painful one, but one framed in resilience. “From Despair to Hope” reeks of anguish and human suffering. It begs the question: Why? A punishment from God because of the prevalence of Vodu is rejected by survivors. Haiti's religious practices are as eclectic as that of other nations, we are told. Perhaps it’s just plain old racism, some suggest.
Titus's work is tinged with sociological enquiry, mindful of a nagging prejudice rooted in Africa's painful past. For the most part, interviewees remain unimpressed with the world's response. They have been down this road before. Years later, Haiti remains a skeletal of its storied past. As one interviewee, Bertin Edmund, observed, "....as far as a race descending from Africa, we will always be inferior in front of other races because Haiti symbolises the African race in the New World." David Wilson, another interviewee balks at patronising, condescending gestures.
He recoils at placidly handing over Haiti's future to foreigners. Haiti, he argues, must chart its own course. "Certainly, here in the Diaspora, there are many, many well educated engineers, economists, people who could do a great deal, and there are lots of people like that in Haiti. There is a lot of talent and resources, and I don't see any reasons why Haitians have to be told what to do." Local politicians, too, have come under scrutiny, scathingly criticised. "When the resources come into the country, they don't always use them the way they are supposed to...its every man for himself," one eyewitness said regrettably.
"They have made elections and elected senators," she continued, but, "they never come around." Readers will be aghast at some eye opening revelations, lost in the mainstream media. For Haitian Americans, their US citizenship seemed inconsequential. Edmund explained: "Something I found bizarre is that they made you sign a paper....that you incur the cost of the (US) government for having to transfer you from Port-au-Prince..." He also recalled the intimidation of having an armed guard "who stood in front of everybody during their time on board the aircraft.
But with all the skepticism, the interview with the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Biran, proves most optimistic and spirited. He details his nation's rapid response and arrival amid sparse information on the ground. Tons of medical equipment was ably transported. Animated, his genuine concern for the Haitian people is unquestionable. Of the Trauma Centre the Israelis have constructed, he states, “We can treat there - I think - I hope I make no mistake here about the number - but nearly 10,000 people a year. But I am telling you, state of the art! If you are going to a hospital here in New York...you will find the same equipment."
Remarkably, Titus dodges the pitfall of like endeavours, i.e., the recycling of the same experiences (by interviewees). With each individual recalling different scenarios and feelings, "Despair and Hope" remains fresh, vibrant. Throughout, Haiti is revered by every interviewee. Their expressions are nostalgic and hopeful. The Haitian people, they say, are characterized by an uncanny resilience and camaraderie, an unmatched spirit of survival amid the most egregious hardships. "The people in Haiti believe in their fellowmen," noted a woman grieving for her deceased brother.
Such are words that reverberate with audacious hope. Unfortunately, three years later, the nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, continues to reel under the weight of diseases, natural disasters, and mismanagement. The article, Haiti: Still Waiting for Recovery, published in the Economist (Jan. 5th, 2013), noted that billions of pledged aid went unfulfilled, citing a report from the Centre for Global Development.
From Despair to Hope by Nicole Titus
Rating: Highly Recommended