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Haiti's Beautiful (and Tragic) History

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Just thinking about being a mom searching for her kids under piles of rubble brings me to my knees.

woman thinking

Kimberly Seals Allers: The images are heart-wrenching.

The devastation is beyond comprehension.

Today, I watched CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta tend to a 15-day-old baby with a head laceration, who thankfully didn't have a skull fracture but needed antibiotics.

There weren't any around.

I watched a young teenage boy watch helplessly as several men tried to rescue his sister from under a large slab of concrete. Only her feet were visible. But you could hear her yelling out in pain.

I watched men collecting and carrying bodies in a white tarp, and then putting the bodies into a forklift scoop. When the forklift is full of bodies, it is raised and the bodies are dumped into the nearby dump truck.

This is tragedy. But it is also a deadly mix of tragedy and poverty in a country that seems to have had more than its fair share of both. The recent 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, is just the most recent painful development.

Last year, it was back-to-back hurricanes that wreaked havoc on Haiti's most fertile region. And long before that, Haiti's history has been a history of coups, flawed elections, corrupt governments, various military occupations, and high crime.

Though these sad but true facts receive more air time, Haiti also has world-renowned artists and musicians, and a storied history of political defiance. Haiti is the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world. Did you know the country was created when former slaves defied Napoleon when he reversed the 1794 emancipation decree of the French Revolution? The former slaves defeated an army led by Napoleon's brother-in-law, breaking away from powerful France -- the only nation whose independence was gained by a successful slave rebellion. Imagine a country run by black men at a time when slavery ran rampant.

There was a time when I considered myself an honorary Haitian -- of sorts. My ex-husband was Haitian and, in getting to know his family over the years, I learned of wonderful food and a rich culture I didn't know much about. I can still remember the gorgeous sounds of Haitian music coming from the living room, as part of my father-in-law's Sunday ritual. Every now and then, I still travel into Queens, New York, to order my favorite Haitian dish.

There's so much we don't know about Haiti, but one thing I'm certain of: The people there are resilient and strong. They have a strong sense of pride, family, and community. With such an earnest beginning, you can only imagine their strength.

As a mother, I feel deep compassion for the women who may be searching for their children -- and for children searching for their parents. As in so many cases, it is often the children who are the greatest victims. In our "woes" as mommies in America, we take so many things for granted.

I don't know what it feels like to have your home completely destroyed, to have no water or electricity, to have lost loved ones in minutes, and to be displaced in such an extreme manner. I don't know what it must feel like to live in a place where you have to wait for emergency rescue to arrive from other countries.

I pray that with God's grace I am never in those circumstances. But, if so, I am doing what I hope others would do for me.

Be compassionate.

Donate what you can.

And pray incessantly.

next: Draw Healthy Boundaries for Your Daughter
3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Monica H.  January 15, 2010, 4:06 PM

Thank you, Kimberly, for bringing forth some of the positive things, past and present about this country that most of us know nothing about.

And yes, we should pray without ceasing…we MUST pray without ceasing.

th January 19, 2010, 12:55 PM

“I pray that with God’s grace I am never in those circumstances. But, if so, I am doing what I hope others would do for me.”

Thank u so much for this article. I had an argument with my BEST FRIEND the day after the quake hit. He asked me if i had made a donation to help Haiti i told him yes! that i am trying to get everyone i kno to donate at LEAST a $1 and to try and collect supplies for the kids. to my surprise this man who is my BEST FRIEND said and i quote “to be quite frank, i am not donating anything. those people do voodoo”

SOOOO much rage ran through my body as his ignorant remark made me want to make a fish and punch him in his mouth!!! I just kept thinking of all the babies and kids who lost their moms/dads, who lost their innocent lives. My best friends is my sons god father, i told him i will do any and everythin i can to help cuz god forbid somethign happened to me i wud hope there are people as generous as i am who r willing to lend a hand to my son. People can be so damn hearless & ignorant!

artemis fowl and the atlantis complex March 15, 2011, 3:46 PM

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