January 14, 2010

In the Ruins of Yesterday


"You know what blood looks like in a black and white video?
Shadows, Shadows..."

-- John Prine

The pictures stream as always. The suffering they display, like meat in a butcher's window, is as it always is. A people with measly mean nothing at the beginning of their day greet the night with less than nothing.

The disaster is so perverse that the shabbier your dwelling was the safer you were. Those that lived in walls of sticks driven into mud and roofed with leaves had a better chance at life than those who dwelt in concrete and brick or wattle and daub. When the tremors stopped the hut dwellers dug out those who were at least one rung up on the ladder of what passed, until just the other day in Haiti, for "the good life."

Within the electronic stream of reports, the reporters report as they always do. The albino wraith of Anderson Cooper gestures in the dust, shining white and well-coifed against a sea of black survivors. Cooper and his colleagues lack the soul necessary to narrate what is unfolding before their eyes. Instead they stumble towards a hyperbole commensurate with what they see and smell as they glide through the rubble in their bubble of privilege.

Blessed by the news stars' presence "the Get" in Haiti streams up to the satellites and out over the roof of the world. Especially gripping footage taken from above or from a passing jeep is looped over and over to add images to the reporters' reports of the unimaginable. The frantic digging in the rubble with hands and sticks. The dead limbs and faces mottled with blood and dust. The child with the makeshift bandage wrapped around her jaw. The father carrying the limp young boy in his arms along the shattered street. The grainy 30 seconds of surveillance footage in which the earth begins to bob and leap and jump about as small human figures scuttle towards any place other than where they are; towards someplace safe when nowhere is safe.

The prayers and pleas are prayed and pled as they always are. "Give till it hurts." "Give until you drop." "The need is without bottom." "These are the charities with 'good track records' at getting the most of your dollar to those in the most need." These are the voices that remind Americans about "how generous Americans are; how generous Americans always are."

The president, grateful that the story of the day is not about him, stands with his strange and useless vice-president and his stranger still secretary of state, and promises that America will assist, as America always assists, and that Americans will give as Americans always have given. His factotums on either side bob their heads up and down in assent like two drinking birds over the glass.

We know the drill by now and we know what we shall see. Large airplanes landing and taking off. Perhaps a carrier task force and a landing that doesn't look too much like an amphibious invasion by the Marines. All these will bring in aid and help and comfort and, after a time, all these will leave. And after some time later, America will be back to being hated by all those in Haiti and elsewhere who have always hated it and who have no ability to alleviate suffering themselves, only extend it.

That's how it will be and how it always is. Still, a certain tomorrow is not reason not to act today to stop the suffering in the ruins of yesterday. And so we shall go on until this particular task is done. We're Americans. It is what we do in these times of crisis. It is what we do while working hard to reduce ourselves to the status of the third world where, no nation being exceptional, all nations shall be equal in squalor and suffering.

Before then, there will be a point when -- if the numbers killed are as we have been told -- the dead will be stacked like cord word somewhere in the deforested fields of Haiti. Then they'll be soaked with diesel fuel and burned like so much trash. You'll smell the smoke for miles. Footage of these "funerals" will most likely not be streamed but clips will find their way to LiveLeak or other sites of dubious distinction. At some point fairly soon, cholera will appear and there will be more fuel for the pyres. This will go on until the dead are burned out.

And then, in a few months, the world will again forget about Haiti. It's a place long beyond recall and it takes a disaster this size to make the world remember. The impulse then is to "fix" Haiti as soon as possible and then return to the forgetting.

This morning I saw, as did you, the whole cascade of horror streaming from the television. I stepped outside into a crisp and clear winter's morning and saw in the high blue above a jet climbing towards mid-heaven with a long white contrail slashing behind. Somewhere, I thought a surviving Haitian may have looked up and seen, high overhead, a jet trailing contrails across the blue heading out from somewhere near to somewhere very, very far away. How much would he pay to be on that jet on this morning? Everything he had and more. And when this is all over you can sense that the soul of such a man caught in his deathtrap nation would fill with either despair or a terrible resolve.

Posted by Vanderleun at January 14, 2010 3:21 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Might be as you say. But dude, I already forgot about Haiti, other than hating the Haitians in Dade County.

Posted by: at January 14, 2010 4:01 PM

Voltaire also waxed fluent on the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Gerard.


Posted by: Frank P at January 14, 2010 6:31 PM

One of my hobbies is translating documents. Most of them are birth certificates and marriage licenses and school transcripts and the like. I noticed that most of the Haitian docs came from Gonaives, Port-au-Prince. I decided to look online for images of that particular community....Here it is after Hurricane Hanna: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3162/2827870676_db0db04fd8.jpg
Most of the pictures I saw of Gonaives were before the hurricane, but the town itself resembled a garbage dump. All the money and help we give them won't change anything. It never has and it never will. So very very sad. I predict the filthy lucre raised will be expropriated by the Chimières Lavalas and their henchmen.

Posted by: Jewel at January 14, 2010 6:46 PM

Well Frank.. you have succeeded in coming across as a self centered jerk. Well done.

Haiti is a disaster, it was a disaster prior to this and it will still a disaster after this. Unless they turn to the Lord I don't see things changing.

Still as Christians it is our responsibility to do what we can. For most of us, the most effective thing will be prayer. Giving money to most 'aid agencies' is just paying payroll. Shameful.

The world will forget, tomorrows 'scandal' will drive this off the screen. Life will go on (until after our Lord returns).

Thanks for the article. js

Posted by: Jesse at January 14, 2010 6:52 PM

"Giving money to most 'aid agencies' is just paying payroll."

That is a load of absolute crap, and a total cop-out. But it sure makes a nice excuse to justify being a tightwad Scrooge, doesn't it.

So you're just going to pray instead......

You're the one who is shameful. Sure hope you're not a member of my parish church.

Posted by: southernjames at January 15, 2010 8:22 AM

Que? Are you talking about Francois Marie Arouet, or me? Or did you attribute jewel's comment to me? On the other hand, wtf? You obviously missed your medication. Ring the bell ... or is the nurse pissed off with you?

Posted by: Frank P at January 15, 2010 5:39 PM