"A Little While"
January 29, 2010 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat writes a devastatingly personal account of the Haiti earthquake and its victims. From The New Yorker.
posted by deticxe (19 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Awful story, for the way in which the tragedy seems so.. casual.

On the plus side, the writer has possibly the most awesome name since Eardweard Muybridge.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:51 AM on January 29, 2010

We're about to enter compassion fatigue. I saw it happen with New Orleans, where the the further we got from Katrina -- both in distance and in time -- the less interest people could muster in the subject. And Katrina was terrible, terrible, but there were surrounding states to absorb the people who escaped, and there was medicine, and there was food, and in Haiti there is none of that, and so a tragedy just gets endlessly compounded as Haitians struggle just to take care of themselves in the aftermath of the earthquake.

It's awful, but I have come to understand that it's human. There's only so much we can offer. And this has caused me to think that this really is one of the reasons we need government, and government must include compassion and selflessness. Because, as a people, we can join hands together for a short while and offer our support, but a year later we're back to our own lives, not even thinking about somebody else's tragedy. And here we are, in the richest country in the world, and New Orleans still isn't rebuilt. Imagine Haiti, one of the poorest country's in the world, when the world won't support it in its attempts to rebuilt. That sort of thing must be taken over by government, because they can make taking care of it somebody's job, and they can marshal the money and the expertise and the resources to do something that will take years and millions or billions of dollars.

And we must. We spend that money now tearing down the word. Look at the Middle East, where the claws of the west, scratching across it, has caused murderous fanaticism to spring up, and to turn against us. Imagine if we had spent those resources helping people. We would have a world of allies, instead of enemies.

I know. Maybe I'm naive. God knows I'm naive enough to think that when somebody is in pain, it's better to help them than to let them suffer. I don't even want to lose that sort of nativity.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:53 AM on January 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

I was getting 'bored' of hearing about Haiti, which is probably a more blunt phrasing of 'compassion fatigue'. This article changed that, somehow. At the risk of sounding cliché, it really brought home how terrible mass-loss of life really is.

There was something about the last line as well which reminded me of mysticism, this notion that life and death are almost identical in their polarity.
posted by deticxe at 8:09 AM on January 29, 2010

We're about to enter compassion fatigue.

I think in Haiti's case, the compassion fatigue started a long time ago. Andwhen the poorest country in the hemisphere is sitting right there, a short flight from Miami, directly in the middle of our sphere of influence, and they are poor in large part because of our policies and our support of a series of kleptocratic regimes, well, there wasn't even that much compassion to start with.

It's a beautifully written essay, and moving, just as one would expect from Danticat. Well worth reading.
posted by Forktine at 8:14 AM on January 29, 2010

She is a wonderful writer; I look forward to reading this when I get some free time.
posted by Mister_A at 8:21 AM on January 29, 2010

Danticat introduced me to 'perejil'.
posted by The Giant Squid at 8:22 AM on January 29, 2010

Wow. You can always count on the New Yorker to shiv some great writing in the back with one of their snotty cartoons. Yes, "food-snob fear factor" was just the right thing to hang in the middle of an article about a personal tragedy in a developing country.

Way to stay in character, New Yorker.
posted by mhoye at 8:28 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

The comic on that page really fits the old "Christ, what an asshole" punchline.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:30 AM on January 29, 2010

Oops, I didn't know the comic changed with each page load. This was the one I was referring to.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:33 AM on January 29, 2010

“Don’t cry,” she says. “That’s life.”
“No, it’s not life,” I say. “Or it should not be.”
“It is,” she insists. “That’s what it is. And life, like death, lasts only yon ti moman.” Only a little while.

Perspective really is everything. If you are feeling sorry for your plight, even if you are one of the devistated people forced to sleep in the street or bushes, events can come about that can make you say, "well, at least I'm not confined to a buried concrete box, surviving for weeks by drinking old coca-cola and toilet water."
posted by Pollomacho at 8:39 AM on January 29, 2010

“No, it’s not life,” I say. “Or it should not be.”

It should not be.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:12 AM on January 29, 2010

Compassion fatigue is totally normal. I just wish people wouldn't forget so soon. Being tired of hearing about Haiti is significantly better, in my opinion, than not thinking of Haiti at all.
posted by sallybrown at 9:47 AM on January 29, 2010

that's the kind of article that makes it about real people and not just horror of the disaster large scale.

i like that there are no pictures. reading the story without pics of her famliy and friends makes it easier for your own images of aunt, uncle, cousin to populate in your mind's eye.

thanks for posting this...i would not have seen it otherwise.
posted by sio42 at 10:05 AM on January 29, 2010

I can't fathom what it would feel like to sleep, hungry, in the bushes with dead bodies nearby. I mean, really. Great piece, if a little devastating to read. Oh, Haiti, I'm so sorry.
posted by heyho at 10:24 AM on January 29, 2010

I was delivered this comic, thought it was oddly affecting if a little irrelevant.
posted by deticxe at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2010

You can always count on the New Yorker to shiv some great writing in the back

Actually this piece was the first one in the "Talk of the Town" section this week, which is the magazine's first section with articles (comes after table of contents, letters to the editor and NYC event listings).
posted by i'm offended you're offended at 1:24 PM on January 29, 2010

the problem with compassion fatigue and Haiti is that everybody already had compassion fatigue for Haiti, probably because most people in the US don't know enough colonial history to know why Haiti's in the shape it's in. I mean, given that most people don't know where Haiti is, you'd be considered fabulously well-informed if you'd even heard of the Duvaliers, and that's just a symptom - by no means the whole problem.

And since we can't talk about such things here, at least not until university, where most people dodge their history and humanities classes, almost nobody knows how complicit the US has been in fucking Haiti.

We took more than 50 years to recognize their independence. We lent them money at pawnbroker's rates when they needed (at gunpoint) to pay France. We dump below-market rice on them, ruining their ag economy. And we unjustly persecute their asylum-seekers who are fleeing starvation and political persecution.

I think it's nice that France is urging creditor nations to forgive all of Haiti's outstanding debt. But I think it'd be nicer if some of the nations who had the biggest hand in raping what was once the most valuable colony in the Caribbean would step up to help rebuild Haiti's ecosystem and ag economy, starting with some fair trade agreements.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:20 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I look forward to reading this when I get some free time.

It's a short TOTT piece, not a multi-paged feature. I've seen longer comments on MeFi.

As to compassion fatigue, from almost the beginning I was seeing on my local newspaper's website comments to the effect that "we have hungry in this country, we shouldn't be helping these people". Today there was a local family displaced by a fire, and out of nowhere there were several comments (sparked by the first, a true derail) about how awful it was that people in Haiti were getting help and these poor people were getting none at all (which probably wasn't even true). I weep for my country quite often.
posted by dhartung at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2010

When I first heard of the earthquake in Haiti, I thought immediately of Edwidge Danticat (if you haven't read The Farming of Bones, I'd recommend it, especially if you'd like to experience a bit more of Haiti's history, fictionalized in that novel).

I'm glad to see she's written something about the topic (especially imagining how wrenching the whole thing must be for her and so hard to put down on paper) as she's certainly powerful enough with her words to bestir the fatigued.
posted by librarylis at 10:50 AM on January 30, 2010

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