I heard about the tragedy in Haiti last night and after the usual lament for the already so poor and disenfranchised islanders, my disorganized, tired mind thought about Samuel Dalembert (the much maligned Haitian-Canadian center for the Philly 76ers) before I thought about my singer-writer friend Cassendre Xavier, who had been kind enough to show me her cover art for a recent book she is completing. If you follow this blog, you might recall USK's interview with her in March, 2009.
Anyway, it seems to be more of the same, the poor getting dumped on in the worst ways imaginable while the rest of us try to save or protect or build upon our own little lot in life. Roberto Bolano's "Maurico (The Eye) Silva" is on my mind when I think about the futility of the situation, but I think about Voltaire's Candide and its "philosopher" Pangloss too.
Many Haitians live in the larger Philadelphia region, and I was fortunate enough to know a married Haitian couple who lived in my father's third floor at 44th and Pine for a couple years of my childhood. The husband's name was Antoine Astache (spelling is probably off), and he had been on the radio in Haiti, speaking against whatever government was spoken against in the 1970s. He was a very warm person, and I remember running into him years later in a movie theater and being greeted again with his kind smile.
I believe that my 8th grade French teacher, Mr. Bien-Amie (yes, "Mr. Good Friend") was also from Haiti, and I remember a classmate's tape-recorded rap that included the refrain of "Fermez La Bouche," followed by "You shut up!" in the way that this kind teacher would repeat in English when the message warranted it.
I also know that Philly, poor in its own way, couldn't find anyone to pay to accept a huge ship full of its garbage that for this reason wound up floating around the ocean for months and months (years if I'm not mistaken, years during our John-Street years if I recall correctly). In the end, as I remember it, Philadelphia paid Haiti to accept this malodorous bounty; we paid their government to leave our trash on their beach. (In fact, this Steven Hayward article says, "Even Haiti wouldn't take it," and in fact, I am mistaken about the dates too... if this is the same ship, then its travels began in 1982.)
If you would like to donate to Haiti, here is one URL that can help.