Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A note to Richard Morse

Greetings, Richard, from the immigrant banlieues - lieue de ban - of Paris. You will recall the last time we met was here in the city this past spring, after your band Ram followed the brilliant Haitian jazzman Thurgot Theodat for a most enjoyable evening of Haitian music. We chatted briefly after the concert was over, and though I can't say that I agreed with your rather rambling denunciation of Barack Obama at the time, the conversation was pleasant enough.

I confess to, if not surprise, then bemusement as, having followed Haiti pretty closely since my first visit there in 1997, reading a note you had posted to a Haiti list-serv on my recent piece in the Washington Times (Tentative calm brings optimism to a 'failed' Haiti), a note which a friend forwarded to me and which read as follows:

If I had read Michael Diebert's recent piece in the Washington Times while living in New York or Miami, i would have assumed that everything in Haiti is fine; however, I live in Port-au-Prince. I guess being a journalist can be like being in a band; sometimes people hire you to say things or sing things.

I’m not so bothered that you didn’t spell my name correctly (a common enough mistake, even among my detractors), but the last comment, that independent journalists such as myself are “paid” to say things, is indeed a curious one. Though I could never afford to stay at the Hotel Oloffson, the hotel you run in Port-au-Prince, many journalists have over the years, and you have certainly profited from your relationship with them. As such, I would have thought you would have been more knowledgeable about the often half-starved finances of journalists who travel to Haiti on their own dime and then try and sell articles after they have written them. As you know, accusing people of taking money from here or there in Haiti can often be a nice excuse for getting them killed.

As someone who enjoys a listen to Puritan Vodou now and again, my advice to you would be not to become too irascible and irrational. Unlike musicians, the job of journalists is to listen to people, to judge a situation from the ground up, and to report it, whether one likes the way it is going or not.

Perhaps some day, Richard, we can switch places: I will manage the Oloffson for a month and you can try and live off the money I make as a freelance journalist for a month. For my part, I often do miss Ayiti Chérie here in my lieue de ban, and, for your part, I bet even with your many years in Haiti, you could still learn some things on those long tap-tap rides among moun deyo and those commutes around Port-au-Prince in taxis stuffed to overflowing that I still take. Even for someone like me whose job puts them elbow-deep in man’s inhumanity to man in various corners in the world, my recent trip to Haiti revealed ever-so-much cautious hope among the people there today, a dramatic change from the charnel house I saw the country as upon my previous visit there during the Martissant gang wars of 2006.

Predicting disaster in Haiti is an easy game, because more often than not, if the country’s history is anything to go on, you will be proved right. But there are always opinions in Haiti besides one’s own, valid ones at that, and you, like me, always have the opportunity to learn new things. Step out from behind the gates of the Oloffson sometime. You might be amazed at the country that you find there.

There are a lot of faces I see in my head when I think of Haiti, of Haitians working diligently and honestly to improve their country, despite its rancid political class and the irresponsible economic elite. It’s easy to scoff at and spit on their efforts but, like you, as someone who grew up in the “country to the north” and had so many advantages that your average Haitian will never have, I never really thought it was my place to do so.

A Haitian whose father was imprisoned by Jean-Claude Duvalier for thirty-three months in Fort Dimanche once told me, of his hope for Haiti, that "everyone has their own skills, everyone can bring their own particles of sand to help build the wall.”

I know that cynicism is fashionable but, despite the great odds stacked against Haiti, I haven't lost hope that better may yet come.

2 comments:

jean said...

Mike,

Thanks for your support to our motherland, Haiti. Thanks for not giving up at your people, our people. Haiti will rize again, Haiti will become the pearl of the caraibean

Anonymous said...

Greetings from kill city, Afrique du Sud, good luck to you. Sac pase? An interesting exchange. From musician and writer nyamzane imhlophe. Vive Republique d'Ayiti