May 8, 2011
Recently I walked out of When the Drum is Beating, a new Haiti doc that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. I fumed on Twitter but later that night I dropped in on the after-party at a hotel bar for the doc’s stars, visiting members of a 62-year-old orchestra from Cap-Haïtien, the Septentrional. By Flatbush, Brooklyn standards the party would’ve been a flop but as far as artsy-intellectual Manhattan gatherings go, it wasn’t too bad either. “There’re a lot of newcomers to Haiti here tonight,” was how one enthusiastic Haitian mingler described the crowd. Makes sense. Much of the doc came across like it was made for a liberal sensibility that’s shocked-just-shocked by deprivation.
When the Drum is Beating is about the band and the history of Haiti from slavery through the 2010 earthquake. That’s a lot, too much, and it shows. Thank God then for the archival footage (rare stuff, to hear a 1915 Marine narrating the US’s arrival), some poignant interviews and the festival scenes. As a concert-goer says during fet chanpet, “When Septen plays I’m rich, when they stop I’m poor.”
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March 14, 2011
I really, really wanted to like Mac McClelland’s one-year anniversary article, Aftershocks: Welcome to Haiti’s Reconstruction Hell. Good writing aside however—and the fact that these guys and many of these guys dug it—I have a problem with a 6,000-word piece of journalism that holds no specific office or official to account for Port-au-Prince’s misery upon miseries:
“Every day it is like this: fighting, a lot of violence, murder, a lot of rape,” [MINUSTAH soldiers] say, shaking their heads. “A lot of rape.”
That’s like there being a decade-long rape epidemic in New York City and a reporter not asking any public official, why? Followed by, what are you doing about it? Followed by, why aren’t you doing anything about it? — Snow wasn’t removed on time after a huge storm this holiday season and within hours every New Yorker knew the name of the head of the department of sanitation. No reporter would’ve covered that story without answering the main question: “Who f%$ked up?”—and that’s just snow. The same news gathering standard should apply to rape.
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August 1, 2010
Self portrait: 10-year-old rape victim, Flore (not her real name)
This past Friday, one of nine remaining tents in one of Port-au-Prince’s better camps went to a 33-year-old mother of five whose 10-year-old daughter had been raped and molested by at least three different men on three separate occasions in another camp. I happened to be there reporting another story so after, I went to find this woman. I’ll call her Marie.
My translator’s face froze at a few points during the interview, which lasted about 45 minutes. Marie’s daughter was bright and cheery, giggling while taking pictures of her younger brothers and sisters with my digicam (it was upside down most of the time) while us four adults sat cross-legged on the ground. After a bit of chit-chat I asked the fourth adult, a male member of the camp committee who showed us to the tent, to leave. No fuss displayed but I’d basically come into someone’s house, his camp, and asked him to scram. My translator went outside to smooth that over. On his return, alone, Marie sat up and started talking like I’d flipped a switch.
In my mind, her story is a stand-in for those of the mothers of another camp, Tapis Rouge, where a woman leader said in reply to my direct question, “There’s no rape but a lot of our teen girls are pregnant.”
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May 9, 2010
Panelists (L to R) Nancy Dorsinville, Taina Bien-Aimé and Alice Backer discuss Haitian women's absence in the reconstruction plan
Last Tuesday I attended another capacity-crowd diaspora panel, Reconstructing Haiti: Women at the Center subtitled, Where are the voices of Haitian women in the post-earthquake recovery of their country? Again I left this gathering of experts with the main question unanswered: if I want to help and complain–in this case on behalf of women–where is the best place to go? The public square is full, the crowd’s fists balled but no one is yet telling it where to strike.
I have yet to hear The One speak at the flurry of post-earthquake meetings of various diaspora and allied groups. So now I focus on why not. Without a tactician, it’s very possible that the crowd will remain a disorganized mass of well-meaning but politically impotent individuals. Their contribution to Haiti will remain their tangle of separately-run humanitarian projects in the Republic of NGO’s. That’s not a good thing.
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