January 13, 2011
Joegodson and Paul
On Sunday, at Joegodson’s church, several members related their experiences of the earthquake and its aftermath. This was in preparation for yesterday’s memorial. It was part of a general reflection of the situation.
One woman discussed the predicament of the peasants in her native Gran Bwa, a remote community in the south. She said that the nearest source of water was four hours away. Cholera had arrived and was taking its toll among the peasants. The members of Joegodson’s church, whose families have migrated from the countryside, understood that the situation of the peasants in Gran Bwa was even worse than their own in Port-au-Prince. So they took up a collection. Joegodson says that the congregation is dirt poor with many still living under tents, but yet people gave to relieve the distress of the peasants. The process allowed them to turn their attention away from their considerable needs and experience compassion for the suffering of others.
Then, yesterday, the memorial celebration focused on the lives that were saved as much as those that had been lost. In that regard, the challenge was to imagine the moral actions for the future.
There was a general stock-taking. The pastor had chosen a Song of Hope (discussed below) that the people sang several times. It was a renunciation of worldly riches and honours in favour of refocusing on the spiritual needs of the individual, the community, and the nation. After the pastor spoke, he gave the floor over for people to recount anything they wanted in relation to the earthquake and its aftermath. Every single person wanted to speak. At one point, a chicken jumped up on an empty chair as though she too wanted a turn. Everyone laughed. Soon, someone chased it away. Joegodson thought that maybe it might be lucky and find the fowls’ commemoration service for January 12: “It probably told the other hens how egocentric those humans are, never sensitive to the suffering of other species.”
After a number of people had carried on discussing their own ordeals of surviving under the rubble, rescuing others, and so on, people made an assessment of the general situation. What had they learned over the last year? People described their immense frustration. They felt deceived. When the foreigners came, claiming that they would help the victims, people were relieved. Now they are disappointed and jaded. There may be money coming to Haiti, but the poor Haitians see how the money made the foreigners feel more important. Donations that the Haitians thought might help them in their suffering somehow was used to humiliate them instead. There were only more foreigners who all wanted to manage Haiti and Haitians. The only thing that was transparent was that they were spending whatever money had been collected. They don’t live like the poor. Money may come into Haiti, but more leaves. They have given up any idea that foreigners will help Haiti. They might speak of help, but that was only cover for increasing their own status and power in their own world.
Afterwards, everyone turned to speak individually and privately with God. People cried tears a lot during that period of prayer. Joegodson prayed. He asked God to encourage the foreigners to remove their dark glasses that filtered out the truth. And then he had to ask that Haitians also see more clearly. There is so much ignorance on all sides. He imagined, in his prayer to God, the possibility of a world where all communities appreciate the dignity of others. Instead, it was clear that the powerful, whether Haitian or foreign, wanted Haitians to fight among themselves. Through the distribution of aid, the ’reconstruction,’ and the elections, it was clear that the powerful wanted to create divisions among poor Haitians. Sadly, it was working. You needed to struggle to keep from losing ground that continued to slide out from under you. That was called reconstruction.
The painful truth is that many ignorant poor Haitians were, and remain, so resentful of their government that they were happy to see foreigners arrive. They wanted nothing to do with their state. Meanwhile, outside of Haiti, many liberal voices argue for the necessity to respect the Haitian state in the reconstruction. But both groups ignore the fact that the Haitian state does not represent Haitians. Since 2004, it has been a direct foreign imposition on the country. The same foreign interests that first constrained and then expelled the elected Lavalas government now profit from the fact that many Haitians reject the puppet government as a sign of Haitian incompetence. But many also see the truth.
The congregation again sang the Chant d’Espérance. It goes like this:
Mwen pito gen Jezu pase gwo lajan
Mwen pito pa Li pasi m ta rich tou tan
Mwen pito gen Jezu pase pi bèl kay
Pito li gide mwen nan tout bagay.
Pase pou m ta roua nan gnou gran peyi
Lè peche m ta fè m soufri
Pito m gen Jezu pase tout bagay
Ke le monn ta kapab bay.
Mwen pito gen Jezu pase vanite
Mwen pito fidel pou li mape lute
Mwen pito Jezu pase renonme
Mwen pito kenbe l, e viv nan lapè.
Jistis Jezu Kri se gnou gran mèvèy
Pawol li pi dous pase gnou gato myèl
Mwen pito gen Jezu, Li konn satisfè m
Mwen pito swivi l, Li konn dirije m.
In the song, Jesus represents a pure heart, the truth. To ‘have’ Jesus means that you place your spiritual life, which Joegodson defines as the truth, ahead of material possessions and reputation. The first line says that I would rather have Jesus than a lot of money. Joegodson remembered on the night of the earthquake a wealthy man on rue Mackandal who was caught under the rubble begging for help. He offered people money – finally promising all of his money – if they would come to free him. However, he was in a very precarious position and it was clear that there was little chance of a rescuer freeing him from the concrete blocks that pinned him in the rubble without falling victim to the building’s imminent collapse. In fact, no one did take the chance and he was soon lost when the building fell upon him. Joegodson took this experience to show that the wealthy man valued life more than money when confronted directly with a choice. And yet so much money is made in the exploitation of others. The current stage of capitalism is killing everyone sooner or later. When the choice is more immediate, the response is clear.
But many parishioners, Joegodson knows, come to church to pray for a house, a car, or fame. In Haiti as it is presently constructed, the only way to realize those ‘prayers’ is to exploit others, to set yourself apart. While everyone speaks of the physical reconstruction of Haiti, it is the spiritual and intellectual renaissance that is needed.
This reconstruction needs to be global. The foreign presence makes clear that the world is built upon divisions. Like individuals succumb to the egotistical allures of wealth and power over others, so do nations. And that pride of controlling others through your supposed superiority negates any change worth working toward.
As the song continues, the pre-eminence of the soul over the material is constantly reinforced. Truth is always a threat to power. Merely pointing out the truth about the world makes one dangerous. Especially today, when there is so much to hide; think of Bradley Manning. Real democracy, Joegodson concluded from the song, is love.