Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Haitian cousins

My mom has a painting like this one hanging over the living room couch. It’s Haitian Primitivism art and one of her favorites. Thanks to my cousin’s accounts, while growing up I imagined Haiti as a no-homework paradise where candy flowed freely.

Of the thirteen cousins that plagued and hounded my life as a kid, there were two I didn’t see much. They lived in Haiti. They rarely visited. We never visited. The family spoke of their dad in hushed tones and I never managed to find out why they left Colombia suddenly.

When they visited they brought with them larger than life paintings and even larger stories. My cousins spoke of their mansion and their swimming pool while they complained about having to share a room with us and asked us how we could live without air conditioning. They talked about Aristide and the things he did as if they knew him personally. They looked down on our food and switched to Creole when they wanted to make fun of us. I would have abandoned my family and all my books behind without a drop of guilt to get to go back to Haiti with them.

They don’t live there anymore. My aunt split up from her husband who now lives in a state run facility in Florida. My cousins grew up and stopped bragging about Haiti.

Even though I eventually smartened up and figured out Haiti was not the utopia I imagined, I always think of Haiti fondly.

I’ve always been skeptical of donations. You can’t give everywhere and there’s always a cause, a disaster, a catastrophe needing money. Who am I to play God and decide who should get my help? Since I can’t give to all, I give to none. Besides, with all the necessary bureaucracy tied to getting my money from my wallet to where it is needed, of the $10 I might give, only 10c might make it to those I’m trying to reach – if they’re lucky. And I’ve always thought it’s better to help locally.

So I don’t give. Ever. Except this one time.

Because the situation in Haiti is so sad and so desperate that even if they only get 10c, if there are enough others giving, it might amount to some help. And they need the help.

If you’re not sad enough to give, go read Richard Morse’s hourly account of the earthquake and the days that followed.

There are many ways to help - from texting donations to dropping off supplies at collection centers (wanna drop off stuff in NYC tomorrow?). I don’t know what's the best way to give. I don’t know if our meager efforts will be any help at all. But I can hope, and hope provides a relief to sadness.

If you haven’t donated, take a look at this article. It includes a long list of the many options there are to donate funds for relief.

Good luck, Haiti. I hope you come out of this and get to build yourself a stronger and even more beautiful country.

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