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A guide to writing about Haiti

September 6, 2011
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Point out that Port-au-Prince is overcrowded. Do not mention large empty plots of green land around the city. Of course, it is not possible to explain that occupying US Marines forcibly initiated Haiti’s shift from distributed, rural growth to centralized governance in the capital city. It will not fit within your word count. Besides, it is ancient history.

If you must mention Haiti’s history, refer vaguely to Haiti’s long line of power-hungry, corrupt rulers. The ‘iron-fisted’ Duvaliers, for example. Don’t mention 35 years of US support for that dictatorship. The slave revolt on which Haiti was founded was ‘bloody’ and ‘brutal.’ These words do not apply to modern American offensives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today, Cite Soleil is the most dangerous slum in the world. There is no need to back up this claim with evidence. It is ‘sprawling.’ Again, there’s no time for the thesaurus. Talk about ruthless gangs, bullet holes, pigs and trash. Filth everywhere. Desperate people are eating cookies made of dirt and mud! That always grabs the reader’s attention.

Stick close to your hired security or embed yourself with UN troops. You can’t walk out on your own to profile generous, regular folk living in tight-knit neighborhoods. They are helpless victims, grabbing whatever aid they can. You haven’t seen them calmly dividing food amongst themselves, even though it’s common practice.

This is from a great (and quite satirical) post on “How to write about Haiti” from Haiti Rewired.

Sadly, this is so true. The media, NGOs, and many of those who went to Haiti to help after the earthquake continue to push and promote the same old stories, which leads us to have a singular view of Haiti and its people. A view that is both wrong and disparaging of Haitians. This is what happens when Haitians are viewed as helpless and in need of us to tell their stories. They have their own voice, we just need to give them a chance and a platform to share it. And we need to be open to hearing a different set of stories that tell a much fuller picture of Haiti and its people.

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