I know a lot of y’all are wondering whether this has now turned into a blog about Haiti. Obviously our trip to Haiti had a profound impact on me, and that has been reflected in all these blog entries. I hope to continue posting about Haiti, but I also intend to return more to the things this blog has always been about, whatever they are.
Because it is my nature to want to understand as much about a place as I can, before visiting it, I read a bunch of books about Haiti before our trip. Cherie has had an interest in Haiti for a long time, and she recommended this one by Amy Wilentz. I’m glad I read it.
I do have criticisms. For example, while she gives a lot of attention to the application of liberation theology in Haiti politics and to Jean Bertrand-Arisitide’s Ti Legliz (literally the “little church,” meaning the oppressed people of God), she seems to see only political issues, through the lens of American ideological squabbling. I don’t think she does justice to the spiritual and historical forces behind the movement at all. In other words, what makes liberation theology compelling to oppressed people in ways that atheistic Marxism is not? It is as if Ms. Wilentz wants to embrace Mr. Aristide as a political hero, but is a little uncomfortable with the Jesus factor. Further, she is cynically unfair to the missionaries who have stepped out in love, at the risk of their lives and the cost of their comfort, to help Haiti.
But as generally unsympathetic as Ms. Wilenz is to missionaries (and that subject is only briefly mentioned in the book), she does present a generally sympathetic portrayal of Haiti and Haitians themselves. This book describes her experiences in Haiti as a journalist between the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier and the election of then-Father Aristide, the radical priest and liberation theologian, upon whom the Haitian peasants placed so much hope.
The Rainy Season was a good foundation as I moved into Paul Farmer. Because I’d read her book, Haitian people, culture and history, were more familiar to me during our visit. I suppose it made me a little more prepared for the complex, frustrating, sad and confusing mess that is Haiti. Maybe the dramatic shock of the place was a little bit less shocking.
I read several other books about Haiti, or set in Haiti. I’m considering putting together a reading list for folks who are going to visit Haiti, particularly for any length of time. If I do that, this one will be on it, I think. I’d welcome further suggestions from anyone.