|The Bahamas Journal|
<table cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><tr><td vAlign=top>March 16th, 2009
The Impossible Made Possible
Like others around the world who have their share fair concern for the well being of Haiti and its people, we follow with interest what Jean-Bertrand Aristide has to say regarding Haiti, the question of poverty and social justice.
These questions and this interest are themselves directly allied to our views concerning the poor and their fate in lands that they sometimes experience as ‘strange lands’ -- places of captivity, enslavement, alienation and abject despair.
Even more so, we are interested in finding answers as to how it comes to be that human beings can – despite wrenching poverty – still manage to laugh; and how it sometimes happens that when things seem beyond hopeless something miraculous happens – that way out of no way!
Aristide provides a clue.
In a wonderful speech presented in 1997 to an audience in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Aristide sought to explain something real to his audience.
As he noted, "In Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince’s largest slum over 200,000 people live in one square mile, in perhaps the worst living conditions in the Western Hemisphere.
When you go there you have the impression that the people never sleep, there is activity day and night.
"This is because there is not enough physical space for everyone to lie down at the same time. They sleep by turns. How do these people survive? Why is suicide practically unheard of in Haiti?"
The answer is to the point,
"We have traditions in Haiti that allow us to:
share food when we can; raise the child of a friend or relative who cannot; work together in a Konbit to bring in a crop, or build a neighbor’s house, in exchange for a meal shared at the end of the day;
make one more place on a tap-tap that is already impossibly full;
survive in a vast informal economy that remains beyond the statisticians, yet provides the main source of sustenance for 70% of the urban workforce.
"And then we still smile, and we still laugh. In Haiti we are rich in these.
A vast wealth of experience, knowledge, and skill resides with the poor."
We suspect that Aristide’s notions concerning culture and its capacity to sustain communities are absolutely correct; applicable to his country, ours and the rest of the world.
As hard times fall, the effects are felt hardest by those people who are already at the bottom, looking up on all that is going on above them and sometimes [we dare say] to them.
Here our reference is to all those people who might be characterized as the working poor; regrettably, some of these strugglers happen to be undocumented migrants – some of them Jamaicans, Nigerians, Chinese and Englishmen.
In truth, the vast majority of these now unfortunate people happen to be Haitians. In good times, their labor is valued; in hard, their labor is still valued.
But even as this labor is still useful; clever people – some of them operatives in the penthouse of power – find a host of ways of pointing the blaming finger at these people, blaming them for having jobs.
And while they do not come straight out with the allegation; the implied contention from these ‘the law is the law’ people is to the effect that Bahamians are somehow or the other being robbed of something vital.
For these types, there is no question that Haitians are simply bad news.
Interestingly, the situation at street-corner level is vastly different: Haitians, Haitian-Bahamians and working Bahamians writ large routinely go about the business of getting on – as best they can – in good times as well as bad.
Just as evident is the fact that a new Bahamian is being forged at this level and that a striving adventurous kind of Bahamian is emerging from this re-mix. Regrettably, much of this is happening well beyond the ken of the bureaucrats and
politicians who believe that they run things in this country.
We suspect that the things they run are limited to their bureaus and their offices. Ruler-ship at street-corner level is another matter altogether.
Here reference need only be made to the ‘fact’ that there are places where police and other law-enforcement agents just do not go. And for sure, there are all those illicit activities such as the numbers business where law-breakers are apparently being carte blanche.
Indeed, there are places throughout this country where state presence and law-enforcement just happen to be woefully inadequate.
This has led to the creation, establishment and now entrenchment of any number of street-corner fiefdoms; places and operations that thrive just off the radar, so to speak.
Many of them [so we are told] are ‘protected’.
Indeed, so protected are some undocumented migrants that once caught, a quick call to someone in the know ends with both action and freedom.
Evidently, money talks in a most eloquent fashion in these hot precincts.