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New York Post Sandy

New York Post Sandy

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

a land of contrasts...

Since the earthquake, the once-burgeoning tourism industry north of Cabaret is now almost non-existent.  Although hotels and restaurants remain empty, local fishermen still pop up to offer sightseeing tours to the sporadic diplomat, aid official, or volunteer group that manages to visit the breathtaking beaches.

The main hall in the the Cabaret orphanage was severely damaged by the earthquake.

At the end of the week, the group took a few hours to enjoy the serenity of the nearby seaside and reflect on our trip.  Although only an hour and a half from capital, it seemed like we were worlds away from the crowded streets and stark poverty so often used as the sole depiction of the country.

Haiti is not only the poorest country in the western hemisphere, it is also the most unequal.  Alongside these descriptions, I would argue that it is also among the friendliest, proudest, and most breathtaking places on the globe.

Making our way through Port-au-Prince, we saw many concrete skeletons of former homes crushed on January 12th and the tent cities that now replace them.  These images, however, were seen against a backdrop of swaths of slums, open sewers, crowded markets, and children hawking and begging in the streets.  Pockets of opulence- luxurious hotels, boutiques, and guarded supermarkets- stood out intermittently among this poverty.  In the countryside, donkeys and ancient pick-up trucks lined the mostly unpaved roads while families worked the mango and banana fields.  Not far off, we saw spectacular beaches enclosed by walled-off resorts and occasional vacation homes.
In Cabaret, most of the children we spent time with did not own shoes.  Many were not accustomed to eating more than once a day.  Some had never held a pencil or pen before.  

These conditions are not caused by the January 12th  earthquake, but are products of a long history of colonization, slavery, foreign interventions, dictatorships, corruption, greed, racism, and unfair trade practices.  

The history also includes remarkable stories of resistance and resilience- most notably the 1804 revolution, the only successful slave-led revolution in the world.  This resilience was apparent during our stay in Cabaret.  The children eagerly welcomed us into their community, taught us Kreyol songs and jokes, learned English, showed us local farming practices, and engaged us many cultural exchanges.  Although the needs in Cabaret are dire- schools are closed, the clinic has only one doctor, the orphanage has been badly damaged- the community has not given up.  I hope that we don't either.

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