06 November 2010

Haiti, the earthquake, & environmental justice

I've taken a long break from my blog...  too long... since my last posting, I've had a whirlwind of fall deadlines and intense teaching and community work. I also went to Haiti in August - doing groundwork and building for a healing project (Ayiti Resurrect) that I am helping to organize with a team of artists, healers, and community workers. As soon as I got back, my fall semester of teaching and other commitments began. The months have flown by and it seems there is less and less time for my creative writing. Nevertheless I remain dedicated to my craft even as I spend most of my writing time in an academic / teaching / focusing on scholarly book project space. But I bring my creative into the academic.  

I was invited to speak at a symposium on Black Environmental Thought and the Future of African American Studies at Indiana University Bloomington in October - specifically because of my work in the Caribbean and to bring a Diasporic perspective into the conversation. And as I prepared for that in September, I decided to focus on Haiti for my presentation - titled "Exiles in Paradise: Towards a Green Caribbean Future" - particularly because of my trip and the fact that Haiti has severe environmental degradation created and exacerbated through neocolonialism. I wanted to compare this to the tourism destinations of the region like Jamaica - to discuss how the environment suffers in the name of so-called development at each end of the paradise spectrum (i.e. represented from 'heavenly' to 'dangerous'). I wrote bits and pieces of poetry and prose while I was in Haiti and I ended up using that to begin my reflections.

I decided to share this today on my blog as I read reports about Hurricane Tomas bringing rain into Leogone and the fears that flooding will make the recent cholera epidemic worse...  all this on top of the catastrophe still happening post earthquake...  all this within the same context of human-made disaster(s).

Work in Progress: "Exiles in Paradise"

I made a promise to the stars
under a night sky in Ayiti
That I would remember
what it looks like to be an exile in your own country
what it must feel like to be excised from citizenship
what struggle sounds like
what survival is

and the cost of producing/being paradise for everyone but yourself
in this land of revolutionary dreams and broken results
I made a promise to bear witness

Under an August full moon after dusk, I walked through the largest tent camp in Croix De Bouquet and made this promise (where over 10,000 people are living - displaced because of the earthquake – relocated from other tent camps in Port Au Prince damaged by rain and wind, from one set of temporary housing to another). Over 1 million people in Haiti remain displaced and living in temporary shelters or tents – nine months later.

I was humbled by the strength and resilience of my Haitian sisters and brothers – who have created living spaces out of tents, gravel, sheets, tarp, wood, and metal. All across Port Au Prince into Leogone (the hardest hit area), I saw Haitian people making do with what they could – bringing depth and new meanings to the tenants of environmentalism – reduce, reuse, and recycle.

I traveled to Haiti as part of a grassroots collective and organizing team in order to initiate a healing project that we plan to facilitate with Haitian partners on the ground. We went there to learn, ask questions, and build relationships with specific communities through the principles of solidarity, creativity, and collective resilience.

Post-earthquake... everything has changed – I heard this over and over again... in the context of this “natural disaster”... But there is nothing natural about what happened in Haiti after the earthquake. A country already devastated socially, politically, economically, and environmentally through slavery, colonialism, debt for so-called independence, new imperial powers enacted through occupations, guns, free trade zones, medical testing, transnational manufacturing and textile plants, and the devastation and inequities produced by globalization.

There is nothing natural about poverty and unemployment produced under the choking hold of neocolonialism, IMF and World Bank debt, and structural adjustment.

There is nothing natural about “peace-keeping troops” that occupy military style... preventing growth while supporting the elite, dictatorships, and coups.

There is nothing natural about mass deforestation... and the soil erosion and land degradation that happens after forests are stripped because people have so few choices – forced to sell and use natural resources faster than the land can handle...  nothing natural about the lack of trees and roots to suck up water in the rainy and hurricane seasons that bring mudslides and massive flooding.

Nothing natural about small farmers moving from the countryside into crowded cities because there is no room for their crops in market places where they are cut out… in so called free trade.

Nothing natural about families who cannot feed their children...  nothing natural about the accumulation of debt at the expense of life… in a global economy that values profit over human need.

There is nothing natural about lack of infrastructure and poorly constructed buildings put up too quickly in the name of progress and modernization.

There is nothing natural about the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti - mass graves, bodies still under rubble, tent cities with no protection for women and children – who are the most vulnerable in these moments of crisis – and the lack of social services in a country whose government depended on too many NGOs to provide for its people...

And so people will do what they must in order to survive... what I saw in Haiti was resilience and resourcefulness.  I saw an entirely new level of what it means to Recycle Out of Need...  re-cycling through re-using what you have, creating new things out of old.  This is a part of life in the Global South – especially for poor and working class people.  Recycling, re-using and reducing are part of the daily fabric of living.  This is a different relationship with one's environment.  The Global South is currently demonized for its pollution production and lack of environmental policies, but rarely do we consider how the Global South has been toxic waste dump for the Global North while also finding new and innovative ways to recycle and reuse what is thrown out in the Global North and by upper-class and elite located in the Global South. And Haiti – along with other countries in the Caribbean have long endured the environmental degradation and injustices created through unsustainable development.

prayers and blessings for Ayiti

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