Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Day After

I took a walk this morning, and took some photos of this beautiful place where I live.  Not everyone thinks it's beautiful, but I notice that quite a few people who don't think so have never been here.
 Broken bottles on the top of a wall, used for security.

Yesterday at lunch, a colleague who wasn't here in Haiti when the earthquake happened was asking me questions about my memories of that day.  I was surprised how emotional I felt as I answered; I have told these stories so many times by now that I would think the tears would be over, but they aren't, not completely.  She wanted to know whether the anniversary was an especially tough day, and did I think that it would be better if it were a holiday.  The answers to that are yes, and I'm not sure.  The anniversary is difficult.  At first, the twelfth of every month was difficult, but now I don't think about the earthquake all the time any more.  But should January 12th be a holiday every year the way it was for the first few?  It will never been an ordinary day to me, and it is hard to work.  I cried several times during the day.  But even being at work yesterday, I found myself sucked into social media, and getting involved in looking at everyone's photos and reading everyone's reminiscences.  If I'd stayed home all day, that would have been intensified even more.  Maybe the best way to honor those who died is to go on, to live the lives they aren't able to, to have a normal day.
Of course, on social media yesterday there was also a lot of discussion of the words allegedly spoken by the President of the United States about Haiti.  There were responses, videos, comments.  Anderson Cooper teared up as he talked about a small child who had been rescued and praised the dignity of the Haitian people; his video was widely shared by friends who live in Haiti.  Tucker Carlson said that the President was only saying what almost every American believes; nobody shared his video, but I saw a tiny clip of it in a montage I watched. 
Today, on the day after the anniversary, I feel as though 2018 is finally starting for real.  Every year we have to get through that terrible day, January 12th, before there's the clean slate feeling of New Year's Day.  I wish I hadn't let the President's words occupy my thoughts so much yesterday.  The more I think about what he allegedly said, the more I feel sorry for him.  He can't know what he doesn't know; he has not had the opportunities that I have had to know people from the countries he criticizes or to live in them (I've spent a large portion of my life in two such countries).  How much poorer his life is!  However, he is not someone whose views affect no one but himself.  He has the power to change the lives of people he despises and disrespects.  So in addition to pity, I feel deep concern and even fear about where he will lead the world.
Someone's champagne bottle on the road
The banner says, in French, "Haitian Coalition of Volunteers."

But the saddest and most dispiriting experience yesterday was reading comments from people who defended the President's words.  It hurts to find out what people really believe, deep down, and are now moved to say or type.  Whether or not they would use the President's vulgar language, there are many who would like to deny the opportunities of the United States to people who come from countries that they look down on.  They don't want foreigners coming to the US as students - the number of international students is way down this year already - and they definitely don't want them making their lives in the US.  Yesterday there were studies posted showing that immigrants have a positive impact on society rather than a negative one.  People gave their own experiences and wrote about immigrants they know or their own immigrant families.  People posted beautiful photographs of countries to which the President has given an ugly name.  Some reached back into history to point out that the riches of the US are based on the free slave labor that built the society, and to outline the ways that Haiti has interacted with the US - Haitians fought in the War for Independence, for example.  After Haiti became a nation in 1804, the US refused to recognize the new country because of fears that their own slaves would "get ideas" about emancipation.  The US is not guiltless in Haiti's poverty.  But some were able to dismiss all of this.
My word for this year is ENOUGH, and it is not easy to find the moment when I have had ENOUGH input from the news and from social media.  I want to know what is going on in the world; I want to connect with friends and share their joys and sorrows.  But I don't want to allow the President and those who think like him to occupy the limited bandwidth of my attention.  As I walked this morning I composed arguments in my head, but really, the arguments spiral out of control already.  I want to focus on the job I have to do, the kids I have to teach.  I want to show the people I interact with that Haiti is not as the President has described.  But it's not my job to convince everyone in the world that Haiti is wonderful (it is) or that Haitian people are strong, hardworking, an asset to any society (they are).  Many people don't want to be convinced, and honestly, I am sad for them. 
On this, the Day After, the 13th of January, I remember how Haitians were the day after the earthquake.  People were sleeping in the streets because they didn't trust that their houses weren't going to fall down on them.  Some had lost everything.  Many were terribly injured.  But they were helping one another.  They were digging survivors out from under buildings.  They were sharing what they had.  They were singing hymns of praise and thanking God for their survival.  Haitians have suffered much worse than having bad things said about them, and they will move on and do what needs to be done. 


Janet said...

Well said, Ruth. Thank you for this post, and for the glimpses of Haiti's beauty.

Anonymous said...

Ruth, my fellow Haitians once again have humbled and impressed me by their good common sense. Last night, a small group of us discussed what was said, and finished with a prayer for the President of the United States. The consensus was most Haitian: he simply does not have enough education to understand/know better, and who knows but that God is using his words for our good. -Magalie

Robyn Hood Black said...

So thoughtful and eloquently put, Ruth. The awful words and mindset of "keep out" only hurts the US, a nation made up of immigrants. Sigh. Prayers and wishes for blessings for you and your neighbors.