Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Poor Haiti

When I was in the eighth grade (I think), I had to do a book report in English class. I don't remember why now but for some reason, I chose to report on a book by Kenneth Roberts called Lydia Bailey.

Roberts was known in those days for writing sometimes overwrought historical fiction that always contained a bit of a mystery, a bit of romance, and a bit of suspense. Lydia Bailey was all of that.

I had forgotten this book, or at least pushed it to the recesses of my mind, but what brought it back to the forefront today was the latest tragedy in Haiti. You see, much of the book took place in Haiti during the time of the rebellion led by Toussaint L'Overture in the late 18th century. In fact, that was the only part of the book that I actually remembered. When I looked it up via my friend Google today, I found that it actually started in Boston, moved to Haiti and then to the Barbary Coast. But what had stuck with me was Haiti. Roberts wrote vividly of the landscape and people there. It is a picture I've carried with me all these years.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Its geography has doomed it to be buffeted periodically by the killing winds and waters of hurricanes. Its history of being ruled by greedy people who are only concerned with increasing their own wealth has doomed its people to perpetual poverty. By the latter part of the 20th century, Haiti was devouring itself, chopping down its trees, destroying vital habitats and resources, thinking only of surviving the day - not considering its future.

Haiti is on one end of the island of Hispaniola. On the other end is the Dominican Republic, also a poor country, but one that has labored mightily to protect its trees, resources, habitats and the animals that depend on them. It is beginning to see positive results from its efforts. It provides a stark contrast to Haiti.

And now a massive earthquake has virtually leveled parts of this poor country and killed thousands of its people. Poor Haiti. It seems it can never catch a break except the kind that breaks one's heart.

But what can we do? We can make our donations to Oxfam or other such organizations that work tirelessly in situations like these to bring aid and comfort to the suffering and we can do whatever we can to encourage our own government to help in this situation. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have already offered help. Let's hope it will be sufficient to make a difference.

Maybe I'll see if the library has Lydia Bailey and reread that book. What I didn't know at the time I read the book all those years ago, but I do now, was that in Haiti during the time of the rebellion our most famous ornithologist was being born - the French-American, John James Audubon. In fact, it was because of the rebellion and his fears for his children's safety that his father moved his family to France. From there, of course, J.J. eventually made his way to America. On such hinges hang the doors of history.

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