December 31, 2010
by Joegodson and Paul
We find ourselves confronting death this holiday season. Paul’s father died on Christmas morning; Joegodson’s died last night. He was forty-eight years old. Today, we think it right to pay a small tribute to Deland, Joegodson’s dad, in the context of the situation that his country faces … now, without him. We wrote about his growing despair several months ago and about his illness from time to time to time more recently.
Deland was a peasant who migrated to Port-au-Prince as Haitians were rising up to take their country from the clutches of Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s. That son of a tyrant had capitulated to American pressure, offering the new impoverished urban class to multinational corporations looking for captive workers. They were the right colour and the right distance from the land of the free. The contemporary documentary Bitter Cane offers a painfully lucid analysis, in their own words, of the new American managers and the angry Haitian workers. Global neoliberalism has deepened that process. Now, Canadian and American politicians promise jobs at home while they facilitate, in the interests of multinational businesses, the exportation of everything that can be done by the world’s new working classes. Technology, that some think will save mankind from disaster, is continuing along a long-established path of deskilling and displacing workers. Technology is in the service of the powerful who work to consolidate their gains and protect against losses. The cards were stacked against Deland from the moment he arrived in Port-au-Prince from Saut d’Eau, but he never capitulated. We both loved and respected him, as a friend and as a son.
Deland was a tailor. Twenty years ago, he entered the factories at the SONAPI Industrial Park where a number of his neighbours worked. Abused as a worker, he was soon disabused of the notion that the foreign assembly plants might offer a future for his children. They were then, and they remain today, foreign to Haiti. Their presence represents the subjugation of Haitians to other interests, other economies. They are a constant humiliation. Deland saw that his children could not develop Haiti – and grow as Haitians – while submitting as the underpaid, overworked, and entirely-abused working class in the global economy.
Here we take a moment to communicate what we see as our raison d’etre. Who speaks for Haiti? How does the voice of Paul Farmer, (let alone Bill and Hillary Clinton!) who has inexplicably and irrationally surrendered to the ‘need’ to enslave Haitians in perpetuity to the global economy, drown out that of Deland, whose children, and whose children’s children, will be living with the consequences of that capitulation? Deland never gave in. But he suffered through insufferable despair since the earthquake.
Deland was synonymous with dignity in his neighbourhood of Simon in Cite Soleil. He was quiet, humble, and a peacemaker. He refused the indignities that those who claimed power attempted to impose upon him, his neighbours, and his family. His mind worked incessantly, looking for the paths that might lead his children to a decent life, a stronger community, and a better Haiti. We both sat with him in the past as he explored different possibilities for the future. Last year, before the earthquake, Deland used some money he had saved from his tailoring business to buy a refrigerator. He bought sachets of water that he froze and that his youngest son resold at a small profit. However, the flow of electricity was erratic and insufficient to freeze, and keep frozen, small sachets of water. As always, Deland simply accepted the defeat and started over. It was only one of many efforts. He never stopped searching for the paths that might lead to a liveable future for his children.The earthquake did not initially change Deland’s optimism. He convinced us to tell the donors outside of Haiti that his neighbourhood was on the edge of disaster. Surely, he thought, people just didn’t know. We tried but failed to affect any change. Meanwhile, his tiny house was overwhelmed by people who came to live with him, relying on his kindness and ability to cope with everything that life demanded of him. When his daughters and niece became pregnant, he understood that the demands were multiplying. We describedhow Deland was increasingly discouraged to find that all the paths to the future were blocked. He could see no way forward for his children.
Then, thieves entered what was left of his house and stole all of his tailoring equipment. They stole his past and his future. It was incomprehensible to him. We felt the pain – and saw no way to relieve it. Soon after, his vulnerable body came down with malaria and typhoid. He had no more resources to fight. But it took much more than an earthquake to do that. Deland was left with all roads blocked – from the past and to the future. The present was unliveable. It was beyond painful to see this happen.
Joegodson took Deland to Bon Repos to recover. He stayed there with his niece, who took care of him as well as she could. Over the last couple of months, whenever Joegodson could earn a few dollars, he would jump on a taptap and visit Deland in Bon Repos, handing his cousin enough to buy some food. Deland was consuming only broth by this time.
During those last visits, Joegodson recognized that his father had lost hope. Moreover, he was imprisoned in a twice-diseased body that had always sought a decent world for his children. When he no longer believed that such a future existed, he lost his reason to live. During their last times together, Joegodson sat with Deland and, together, they prayed to God. It was the only thing that softened their pain. Deland believed that the world was corrupt beyond his ability to challenge it in peace. And that was the only way that he was willing to act. They prayed together that God might help them see how to act in the face of the evil that controls the world.
Deland died loving his children and God and hating the world.
Although Deland could not muster the strength to continue, he was still proud that his son was trying to find paths to a decent future. Several weeks ago, Joegodson received a gift from a sympathetic Canadian (Roger Annis of CHAN). He decided to invest it in a printer, although it could easily have disappeared just in addressing the survival needs of his siblings, pregnant wife Antonia, friends (for instance) and dying father. Joegodson told Deland that he would use his new printer to make copies for some local teachers, his friends: exams, assignments, etc. Perhaps he would be able to realize a small revenue that might be added to other sources of income to build some kind of future. Deland was very happy. He told Joegodson that it sounded like a great idea. Joegodson told him of our work together and of our goal to communicate an intimate and detailed account of life in the poor communities of Haiti. We see this goal as uncovering the truth: asking every question we can about the situation that we all face. Deland gave us his blessing.
We think that Deland’s voice always should have been heeded first in relation to the past, present, and future of his community. The Delands of Haiti are consistently overlooked as though they have not the authority to speak for themselves. That is an indignity endemic in the world that comments on the Haitian situation. We think that it is a perversion beyond description that those people who have blocked every path that might have led Deland to a decent future are granted a platform and the power to impose their will. And so we won’t let Deland die in silence.
This morning, Deland’s children pooled their resources and had, altogether, a handful of change. The girls, with their new babies, are stunned that their father is gone. They need to think and to think fast. They now have to find the paths to their futures without Deland’s advice and encouragement.
If anyone has a few dollars to spare for them, the Western Union offices would be only too happy to take a cut and send the rest to Port-au-Prince. The children want to bury their father.
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