Fear and Trembling

January 25, 2011

Joegodson and Paul

Last week, Antonia passed her ninth month. This is her first pregnancy. The baby is very much alive and is constantly knocking at the door. Antonia waits. But she is increasingly anxious. Perhaps all expectant mothers pass through this moment. Here’s what it is like for Antonia.

She and Joegodson moved into a tiny room – two and a half metres squared – in Delmas 33 a couple of months ago. There was room for the two of them and only two of the three pieces of furniture that Joegodson crafted. The third piece – the vanity – he had to leave behind in Delmas 19 where he was living under a tent. His old neighbours dismantled it to use as firewood for cooking. “Oh well,” he says.

Joegodson in the process of crafting the vanity in September. (He is embarrassed to show the piece 'under construction.' He was proud of the finished product. The camera was stolen after this photo was taken, and so we never took photos of the finished products.) In any case, he had to leave this item behind in Delmas 19, where it is serving as firewood.

Antonia listens to the radio. People keep warning her that tremors are coming. She never feels them. However, the warnings are enough to make her tremble and keep her off balance. There is a floor above them and she is constantly worried about how quickly she could get to the door to escape when the earthquake comes. What will happen when the baby is born? Would it be better to be under a tent than in a room where the furniture blocks access to the door?

Worse, she can’t escape the constant political tension. She knows that she will give birth any day and she is convinced that, no matter what happens, there will be violence. She is living with constant anxiety and so, therefore, is the baby. She can’t stop it. She heard this week that the United Nations have given Haitians until January 31 to settle the political crisis or the ‘international community’ will impose a government. If that ultimatum is true, what could it mean? She takes stock of the situation. Lavalas, the most popular party and the one that she and Joegodson support, is excluded from the electoral process without explanation. Therefore, the majority will automatically be excluded from any settlement. Those political actors in the running (those not excluded by the CEP representing undisclosed interests) lead groups who are clearly dedicated to violence to take control of the government. Then Duvalier showed up and a number of people, for whatever reasons, demonstrated their willingness to support him. That people support Duvalier, regardless of his intentions in Haiti, has served to further unsettle Antonia. Politically, there will be violence … and soon. There is no way to avoid it given the mix of factors. It seems quite possible that the chaos was deliberately fomented in order to arrive at the imposition of a president chosen by the United Nations; more specifically, whatever interests control that body. They will probably choose someone who can put a humanitarian face on deepening the imperialist project. Antonia will give birth at any moment. She is anxious not only for the future the child will face, but the actual moment of birth for her and the baby. Will she be forced to run for safety as a pregnant woman or with a baby in her arms? Neither image is calming her down.

On top of those concerns, she and Joegodson face the same uncertain futures as every poor Haitian. Will Joegodson be able to realize our fair trade enterprise, which is very much alive but dependent on a number of factors both in and out of Haiti? Otherwise, will his small entrepreneurial activities be even modestly successful? Since these questions can only be answered in the future, Antonia succumbs to more stress.

Don’t forget that they are eating very little and they are surrounded by communicable diseases. Joegodson’s dad died of typhus, at forty-eight years of age, only a couple of weeks ago. That has been a difficult loss to accept and a depressing reminder of their vulnerability. Antonia did not attend the funeral according to a Haitian custom whereby it is thought to be dangerous for an unborn child should its mother look upon a deceased body.

On top of all that, the rumours multiply. The latest rumours concern the catastrophes that people claim await the entire planet in 2012. (In fact, catastrophes await the poor each year for the foreseeable future: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 … it’s a great time for soothsayers!) What could be worse than 2010? For some time, people have been claiming that the reason that Americans are buying Haitian property is that they fear that their own country is going to be destroyed next year. At the extreme, people say that Americans are building an underwater tunnel from Florida to Cap Haitien. When Florida begins to collapse into the sea, (or, according to climatologists, when the sea rises to swallow Florida), they will escape to Haiti where they will displace Haitians. Neither Joegodson nor Antonia believe that people are actually tunneling under the Florida Straits en route for Haiti, but Antonia says that the rumours add to her level of stress.

To understand the evolution of this rumour, it is helpful to consider the presence in Haiti of fundamentalist, evangelical American missionaries who read Revelations literally. Many Haitians and Americans share a similar perspective. For Joegodson, the message of Jesus is love, not conquest. In their political, economic, and military implications, the two “Christianities” move in opposite directions. Joegodson is offended by those who appropriate the message of Jesus in the interests of conquest. They are everywhere and they are arrogant and dangerous. Humility and determination mark someone who acts in the spirit of Jesus. He gives Gandhi as an example. In any case, the doomsday prophets add to Antonia’s anxiety.

Antonia faces childbirth surrounded by a general state of dread that touches the web of political, geological, and economic factors. She has no doctor and is not sure what will be the circumstances of the birth. Add the prophetic talk of doom. She’s finding it hard to be joyful in what she thought would be a joyous occasion.

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