Four year olds like to make play houses from just about anything, If it looks like a “hut” or “hideout”, even better. My son is no exception. Last night we conducted our nightly routine of building a house on the bed constructed of pillows. The procedure then involved (as usual) camping-out in the “hut”, for story time.
As we lay in the pillow-house, he told me that we had to “scrunch” up our legs so we fit inside, and I had to position my body carefully so that he could place the roof on (another pillow), the operation left us in a strange, unnatural position – then the pillow walls and roof began to cave in on us.
Though just a game, the image bothered me – it reminded me of Haiti.
I began to think about the children trapped inside concrete houses in Haiti, the walls collapsing there too, though not because they were soft pillows, but rather because of an extraordinary natural disaster, and because of poor construction – and the abject poverty in general they have been forced to live in.
I had spent nearly a week trying to avoid the images in the media of innocents suffering – but now, I made up my mind not to avoid it any longer. The media and photographers had done their job too well, and I allowed myself to go back to the images, and to let those images sink into my mind fully.
Two images in particular had never left my mind, stuffed though they were in my sub-conscious. Now I allowed them to come into sharp focus in my conscious thoughts. Although not immediately obvious, I found they were related in an important and close way.
The first image is of Haitians processing in the streets (as if in worship) in solidarity, in peace, their heads held high in dignity, they move forward with a slight dance in their gate - it is indeed an image of strength - they are singing what sounds like a “victory” hymn. Apparently, (if the date of the video is correct) this event took place precisely three days after the January 12th earthquake.
I do not know what the words to the song are, but it is beautiful, it has all the innocence of an African celebratory hymn. This video, which I caught only a glimpse of last week, was extraordinarily difficult to find online this week, and yet it had never left my mind. Indeed my assistant reported that it was next to impossible to find anywhere other than the original site it was published on (cnn.com), and even there it was a challenge. Rarely have I ever seen such a poignant thing, yet it is virtually absent from the media – its meaning perhaps lost.
The second image, which I could not put out of my mind, was of the collapse of the presidential palace – one of the finest, if not the finest, edifices on the small island nation – although also a symbol of contradiction. It seems strange that a “Palace” existed here in the first place, the building is big and beautiful, richly decorated, and white (as in pure). Yet, the history of political disaster in the country has been anything but – leaving an entire people, in suffering decade after decade - leading to tragedies as great as genocide and now this; unnecessary fatalities due to a poorly constructed, crumbling infrastructure, which without an earthquake seemed already “uninhabitable” to us.
The images tell a story of a people whose institutions have failed them. Whose neighbors hardly knew they existed, or worse. Chances are, prior to January 12th, 2010, few in the United States could even locate Haiti on a map, even though they are our close neighbors.
In the wake of having everything taken from them, homeless, poor, dirty, their clothes torn, they arise and sing what seems to be a song of victory, in what can only be described as a pure melody, one of innocence, one of faith. While the former symbol of power, the presidential palace, lies in utter ruin, beyond repair, along with the rest of every semblance of security – the vestiges of much corruption.
I couldn’t escape the obvious (though I tried). I reasoned the dates were wrong, the video was mislabeled, there were a hundred excuses to put the connection out of my mind, but I couldn’t. The words once spoken were clear in my mind, word for word, I knew them; “…Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…”
This article is part 1 of a 2 part series.