Letters From Haiti

As I sat one night on the beach listening to the waves, trying to relax, I realized I could not because I couldn't get my ambitions and my thoughts out of my head - even here at the beach I'm thinking about all the shit I have to do back home, and old arguments I had with people because of competition for this or that plum. Then I started thinking about American Express commercials and how those people are able to forget because credit cards make you free. I realized what a miserable specimen of our vacation culture I was, because I wasn't able to forget anything, I wasn't able to buy my way out, in fact I was only remembering more things, things I thought I had forgotten, and realizing how polluted my mind was with the detritus of our way of life, and how I wanted to get back to my computer, my refrigerator, and movies and clothes and cafes and opportunities. I felt like asking the people here, "Do you want this? Do you want all this shit in your head, too?" But I knew how stupid that would be.

The last night in Jacmel we got totally plowed with all these artist guys and the bocor's son. We drank and talked a long time on the corner. Then a funny thing happened with the rum bottle. Dan threw it down the drain and Jacques-Pierre immediately fetched it out. He said it's important to have a bottle wherever there was a group of people gathered at night, because if the police drove by they would see you had a reason to be there and were not just talking, because that could be dangerous.

I thought he might be joking at first. Then the conversation turned to politics, as it always does in Haiti. There were eleven candidates running for president in the election that was to take place December 16. A priest named Aristide, Louis Dejoie, Sylvio Claude, and Marc Bazin were four of the most popular. Some of the candidates were Duvalierists. I asked the people we were with who they liked. There was one candidate in town that day, a light-skinned guy whom a few of my friends thought might be all right. So many other people had been fucking them over, and this guy already had a lot of money and ties to the West, so he didn't need to fuck the people over.

I couldn't recall how that had ever stopped any politician in the past from fucking people over. It reminded me of one time in Greece when these dope sellers accused me of stealing their money and started tearing off my clothes in the street. The police came and saw that I had some money and decided that I couldn't have stolen the dopers' money, because why would I do that if I had my own? There's an innocence to that kind of thinking. I mean, in America nobody would ever buy such a patently absurd line - which is just another example of how corrupt our minds already are.

I started to feel like maybe things weren't going to change in Haiti. Like even as we sat there you could feel the distant eyes on this country, the pressures and interests mounting, the lies taking shape, the stakes of the game, which in some circles means profit and power but to the Haitian people was simply the quality of their daily lives. The West had an interest, there was this party and that party, big money was watching, people in huge rooms in high office buildings were no doubt already thinking about what they could get out of it and how they would fare on the world chess map.

They have a saying in Creole - you sometimes see it scrawled under the all-seeing eye of the Freemason sign - Ge We, Bouche Pe. The eye sees, but the mouth does not speak. This turned out to be a handy reply when I didn't know how to respond to something I didn't understand. People would laugh.

But there was a lot I didn't understand. After all, I was a tourist here. Tourists are supposed to buy things and shut up. I tried. I didn't have much money, but I did buy a picture of the loa Bossou Corbla and Erzulie Freida, and I did buy some dolls with human hair and some steel crosses smeared with some kind of tar that I have stuck up on the walls of my apartment. I really don't think they have anything to do with the bad dreams I've been having, though, or the fact that my friends are having bad dreams. I think that's more to do with the general tension, the coming depression, the collapse of our mortgaged and corrupt economy, the impending war, all those things advertised in Time magazine, and the almost certainly lower quality of life we can expect in the face of these threats, as people become more and more victimized by governments they don't participate in.

And that's how the situation in Haiti is connected to the situation in America. "Ki Moun, Ki Responsab?" is what it says on a busted ship on a polluted beach covered with garbage, in a country where some people live and other people just make movies about zombies. And they say zombies aren't really a common phenomenon, but of course they probably are. They're too convenient a symbol.

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