November 22, 2010

Joegodson and Paul

There are two distinct realities in relation to the current crises in Haiti. On the one hand, there is the representation of those disasters and, on the other, the actual lived experience of the Haitians.

Those with access to the media (Internet, newspapers, television) see images of Haitians in unspeakable squalor, surrounded by multiple dangers. Curious viewers will find nothing to help them connect with those Haitians. At most, journalists include in their reportage a perfunctory sketch of the conditions of one or two Haitians. According to the accepted media practices, the reality of Haitian lives is mediated through voices sanctioned by non-Haitian media. The by-line is assuredly non-Haitian.

In a different world exists the reality of the Haitians caught in the trap of those multiple crises. They do not have access to any of the media through which their lives are represented. So, they don’t know how they appear in foreign media. They also have limited access to how non-Haitian populations understand them in general.

This is only one aspect of the communication gap that we want to underline. More important still are cultural differences, including spiritual beliefs, national myths, and the range of hopes and expectations that alternatively motivate people or lead them to despair. For help in understanding these differences, curious people turn to literature, anthropology, theatre, films, and so on.

The two authors are thankful for their friendship. Curiously, the cultural and geographic separation has tended to intensify our connection over the years and the role we play in each other’s lives. Both are able to discuss issues that are not on the table in our own cultures. Perhaps this dynamic could be understood best in recalling the predicament of Doctor Stockmann in Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People.” Only someone from outside of his ‘community’ would have been able to relieve his terrible isolation.

We have decided to present, in part, one such current conversation. Our intention is to reveal, for the few people who pass through these pages, the recognizable human dynamics that structure Haitian responses to the crises. We suggest that, behind every image of a desperate Haitian that appears in the media, there exists a history.

Joegodson could be one of those searching the streets of Port-au-Prince for the necessities of life for those depending upon him. Over the last few days, the weight has become almost unbearable. (This morning, as we will see, the same burdens felt lighter.) His two sisters and cousin have recently given birth. One of the babies is in mortal danger and needs medical care. None of the mothers are able to lactate since they are malnourished. They are depending on him to provide for them and their new babies. His own wife will soon give birth.

Rodrig and Reynald, whose predicament we have recently introduced here, are also depending on their friend Joegodson to help relieve their situation.

These do not exhaust the responsibilities that Joegodson is carrying at the moment.

Normally, Joegodson’s father would have cared for his daughters and niece (Joegodson’s sisters and cousin), but he is desperately ill and has instead become another dependent.

All of these challenges stir up a memory in Joegodson that he has had to settle in order to keep going. Years ago, in considering his seemingly hopeless predicament, Joegodson concluded that his father should not have brought children into the world if he was not able to care for them. It was a harsh judgment that came from a twenty year old who had not been able to finish school where he excelled and instead had been forced to live on the street with no money, no prospects, and no contacts.

It is doubtful that there exist many human beings who have not at some time blamed their parents when confronted with irresolvable problems. Desperate for the future and without any apparent remedial action, the temptation to blame the ultimate source of your problems is probably close to universal. If you’d never been born, you wouldn’t have any problems. So, while Joegodson’s specific predicament was common in his social circle in Haiti, the dynamic is probably recognizable to most people.

Of course, while Joegodson has been scrounging to try to protect the people who rely upon him, he has also been going through a passage in his life. He is now bringing a child into a world far more dangerous than the one his father confronted twenty-eight years ago. And so now, he is faced with a choice: he can either condemn himself or forgive his father. In forgiving his father, he has also been able to forgive himself. And now he is free to act in the best interests of everyone. It’s not easy to confront your past in such a desperate present.

When people watch images of nameless, desperate Haitians, they should remember that there are many, mostly unknowable stories behind each one. And fundamental issues to which all honest people can relate are behind the daily struggles for survival that flash across the screen or are captured in a photograph.


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