Wednesday, January 13, 2010

oh, haiti, we weep with you again

As images of Haiti's newest devastation trickle in, the photograph that has thus far resonated most for me in terms of representing this newest chapter in Haiti's hard story is this picture of the collapsed top levels of Haiti's National Palace. (Photo also available here.)

One day at the end of the month I spent in Haiti in July 2008, my Haitian-American friend Jack took me on a field trip to downtown Port-au-Prince, an area that had been the site of riots over food shortages a few months earlier. Even among some of the missionaries this was an area that didn't have the best of reputations. Jack knew the lay of this part of the city's land, though, so we hopped aboard a tap-tap that would take us from Petionville to next-door Port-au-Prince.

And when we arrived in downtown Port-au-Prince what did my wondering eyes behold? Nothing that was remotely scary. Sure, the riots had really happened: there were lingering broken windows as evidence. But there are not riots every day here. The day I was taking in the sights people lounged in the park like they do on nice days in parks down the block from the office I used to work at in Washington, DC; people went about their business; people sold souvenirs; people went to and fro; people were not menacing.

After nearly four weeks in Haiti, I had been impressed by all the things that don't make it into the bits of news we usually get from the country. I had met Haitians who were working hard for their communities and families. On two occasions new Haitian acquaintances who learned that I was in Haiti as a journalist asked me to tell stories of the good things in Haiti, too, rather than only telling the same stereotypical stories that are always told.

By the time I sat on the tap-tap, frustration was formulating over the reality that the only thing most of America and probably most of the so-called developed world routinely hears about Haiti is that it's the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. This is how the country is identified in nearly every news article that covers anything that happens in the country, which usually means some sort of natural disaster or an account of more political instability. These things are true, but Haiti is much more than these things alone.

And so, on that late July day when I stood in front of the National Palace that I had not previously heard of or seen images of (apparently not as famous as its White House cousin in America) I was surprised by its beauty. I loved its architecture and its gleaming white facade, even its nicely contrasting green iron fence. Regardless of whatever political realities it represented, for me it represented the unexpected beauty I had found in Haiti. It symbolically said that Haiti is not only poor, make-shift shacks stacked upon each other. There is hope for Haiti yet, it said, because there's beauty, pride, ability and hard-working humanity here.

So when I see photos of a demolished National Palace and think of the long rebuilding ahead for that one symbolic building, I weep for Haiti. Once again for me it symbolizes big things: why must Haiti's hard-won beauties be stripped away? How I hope that her people will survive this new blow and build a stronger country in place of the one that collapsed around them today. How I pray for God's mercy on these poor, beautiful people, people created in His image just like the rest of us.

*All photos are from my late July '08 visit.


Cydil said...

Thanks, Kami, for sharing this perspective. Your photos showed a different side than I had seen before! It sounds terrible down there now, though. It's in our prayers.

Jonathan's Mom said...

Thank you for this, Kami. Haiti is on my heart also, and I so appreciate what you have to say. I'm going to link to your post. I can't believe I had never seen a photo of their beautiful palace before.

Jeremy Reivitt said...

Thanks for just a bit more perspective.

Ciona said...

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

sunflowerwriter said...


This is beautiful -- and offers the perspective that what was beautiful and whole and hopeful can be again in this time of tragedy and tears. Thanks for writing and sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article. We returned from Haiti (flying out of Port au Prince) last Thursday. We were visiting our son and his family in the Central Plateau. The Haitians we met in both Port au Prince an the Central Plteau are loving, giving, beautiful people!