Even before January 12, the media’s description of Haiti usually always included the following words: poverty, war, corruption, militias, violence.
But a country is more than its reputation. At least that’s what I found when I went to this beautiful semi-tropical, Caribbean isle. This country of 8 million is very diverse in culture, food and landscape.
Port au Prince Only One Part of Haiti
The negative images most people have of Haiti usually come from its capital city of Port au Prince. The city has the trappings of urban centers found in many developing countries: acres of concrete, exposed rebar, unpaved roads, crowded streets, out of control traffic and lots of yelling for seemingly no reason. But just three hours west, away from all this hustle and bustle is the city of Miragoane.
The Future of Haiti Is Written in Its Name
Haiti is an Indian word for mountains (the indigenous population of Haiti is believed to be from the Arawak ancestry), and you have to get out of the city to experience their beauty in places like Miragone. Nearly untouched by the earthquake but still steeped in economic woes, this sleepy sea-side hamlet offers a beautiful alternative to the chaos that reigns in Port au Prince right now. It’s beautiful Caribbean Sea views, colonial-style cobblestone, hilly streets and quaint road side vendors offer a plethora of eye candy and peaceful satisfaction. Just north of here, on what’s called the top of the mountain, Gladys Thomas, the Haitian-born director of the Fondation Pour Les Enfants d’Haiti (FEH) has a dream for a better Haiti.
Her dream seems impossible: an educational fortress complete with a technical university to rival MIT that would take the thousands of forgotten children in Haiti on a rigorous educational journey from learning their ABC’s to becoming college educated adults, engineers, professors, doctors, civil servants, who would rebuild Haiti instead of the often dream-killing dependence on the kindness and power of strangers. As Gladys stood on that mountain top, surrounded by clumps of fire red dirt, the grass-covered emptiness evaporated and was replaced with visions of circular driveways, bustling campus centers, glass-encased libraries and student-filled lecture halls.
Finding Haiti’s Future in Haitians
A volume of books to fill 10 libraries have been written about Haiti’s suicidal dependence upon aid. I won’t go into all that now, that’s a subject for another time. But in a country where 95% of the people are employed in the so-called underground economy, a 50% employment rate and only 4% percent of the population owns 66% of the wealth, (stats gleaned from Why Foreign Aid in Haiti Failed) it’s clear that free rice, beans and even homes aren’t going to cure what ails Haiti. One possible solution is the dream of one Haitian woman. A dream so big that it begins within something small – Haiti’s children.
Danny Boyle is a dolt. Well, I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But he’s a dolt if he thinks the American buzz over Slumdog Millionaire would mean anything to people in Mumbai and other parts of India. I mean, let’s get this straight, Slumdog Millionaire is a film set in India, cast with Indians and based on a book by an Indian but it ain’t no India film. It’s like Indian film sanitized.
Having been to India and seen its media, its Bollywood movies Slumdog Millionaire has a lot of elements of India and it gently brushes around the ragged edges of this so-called world super power, but it is still India through a Westerner,s eyes. And that, my friend, is why Indians won’t like this film. I’m surmising.
India is a country of contrast. What country of 1 billion people isn’t. When I returned from that country (just a week before the Mumbai terrorists attacks btw) here is what my diary read: “Well, I’m just about to leave the land of Bollywood, public urination, Hinduism, high technology and low-income drudgery. To say India is a study in contrast is to utter the most simplistic of obvious observations. My weeklong visit to this land with ancient roots has ended with a sense of joy and dread. Joyous that I’m leaving this country that seems to have a personal vendetta against order and dread that I won’t get to experience its quirkiness again anytime soon.”
Ya see! India through a Westerners eyes. Substitute untold mountains of trash for public urination, replace low-income drudgery with beggar orphans, keep Hinduism but add radical, change high technology to low-tech call center jab and water down the colors, music and sets in Bollywood and you’ve got Slumdog Millonaire in a net shell.
Only a dolt would think that a country that prides itself on being prideful, that pushes its progressiveness while it dismisses its people’s immense poverty as a historic event and is so masterful at keeping people in their place that most don’t object, only a fool would think they would appreciate a film that focuses only on the “bad” side of life without an education, status or money in India. I mean, c’mon people there’s a reason that most Indian films are overly sugary, filled with joyous music and about unbridled love. I mean most Indians can look out their nonexistence windows to see trash and sewer in the streets, corrugated tin roofs and maimed children begging. Who wants to see that displayed 60 feet high?
I secretly think Westerners love Slumdog Millionaire because it knocks that burgeoning capitalistic democracy a peg or two down the ladder. A sort of “sure you’re taking my call-center job but at least our beggars have all their fingers and toes.”
So here’s India: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
The Good – This country has the best airline system. I flew eight intracountry flights while I was there and they were all fabulous. Bravo.
The Bad – If India ran its car traffic system the way it does its airlines then world domination would be in its sights. Alas, chaos is the reigning order of the day if you have to travel by car, bicycle, moped, carriage, rickshaw, horse, cow, flip-flops – all modes are available on all highways and streets at all hours of the night. And someone needs to remove the horns of every car and truck in this country.
The Ugly – Try as it might India cannot out live its poverty presence. More than 220.1 million people live in poverty in India. So for every five call center workers you got 1 guy living on the rice he picks out of the dung of cows. I mean the number of India’s poor could soon outnumber the entire population of the United States. The poverty in India isn’t like that sleep in your car, go to the food pantry once a month poverty we see in America. It’s brutal, difficult to watch and, I imagine, unbearable to live.
To watch the film Slumdog and see a child purposefully blinded a spoon so his beggar gang could earn more money was excruciating – to watch it knowing that it happened to your child because you were too poor to save him well, that’s an unspeakable tragedy. India has got to fess up to the extreme poverty that is its legacy from its archane caste system. If it does not develop a moral conscience then it will never be counted as equal among the progressive countries of the world. Sure India can make war with one arm like its Democratic allies do, but it must make peace with its own citizens to be truly accepted as one of them.