Monday, January 18, 2010

Now we finally see Haiti

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by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Observer column | Monday, January 18, 2010

It was a painful way to get a perspective. Suddenly Jamaicans - possibly the biggest complainers on Planet Earth - were giving thanks that we were spared the 7.0 quake that shook Haiti. By the time Prime Minister Golding faced the microphone on Wednesday evening, his announcement of his Debt Exchange Programme, the imminent downsizing of the public sector and increase in property taxes created barely a ripple.

... Jamaica continues to be its brother's keeper. It was Jamaica who had given temporary asylum to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 after his hurried departure from Haiti, and it was our then Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who, on behalf of Caricom, spoke up for fellow member Haiti.

This week's media coverage showed us the bravery and nobility of the Haitian people. CNN's Anderson Cooper took us through the rescue of a 15-year-old girl who was able to speak strongly after her ordeal, declaring, "I was never afraid." She is of course the descendant of Haiti's great soldiers, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture who defeated Napoleon in 1804, creating the world's first black republic.

On a visit to Haiti in 2006, I described "the touching gentility among even the poorest that I met lining up, waiting without a murmur for up to five hours to finally own a cellphone. And there was the art - fine carving, enchanting pottery, vivid paintings...Their craftsmen could teach ours a thing or two - not one vulgar carving did we see on the sidewalks".

I also described the fashionable side of Haiti, a hillside location where tables were covered with crisp white linen and adorned with deep red roses in crystal. The service there and in other restaurants was impeccable and the ladies were chic and svelte.

The Haitians show incredible forbearance and resourcefulness. I met a well-educated young businessman, the third generation of his family-owned concern, who continued to soldier on. Yes, there is a side of Haiti that never gets press coverage and so we only view the country as one of misery, although it offers so many opportunities.

We hear that an intellectually limited evangelist has been shooting off his mouth about Haiti's earthquake being a punishment for voodoo worship. We in Jamaica had better be careful how we judge others. At least Haiti lost their people to a natural disaster. We have lost 1680 precious souls to violence, so we should be the last ones to talk about retribution.

...Angel Aloma, Food for the Poor executive director wrote from Haiti last week, "The devastation in Haiti challenges the senses... We have a tough road ahead and I am exhausted, but I take comfort in a passage from 2 Corinthians 4:8, "We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don't give up and quit." Although we are accepting only three items of canned food (canned meat and fish, canned milk), cash is our greatest necessity. We are planning an initial response to this horror of 400 40ft containers of food, water and emergency supplies, followed by lumber and zinc for construction and repair. We have a tough road ahead of us, thank you for travelling it with me."

After three days of being glued to the television and going to work in a twilight zone of grief, I think I am approaching some level of discernment. Perhaps it took this terrible quake to focus the world on a country that has been bleeding unnoticed for too long. Perhaps now the international community will finally carve out a plan to help the beautiful people of Haiti build a strong democracy, finally realising the dream of its legendary liberator.

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