30 August 2011

The Haiti Narrative

For starters, always use the phrase 'the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.' Your audience must be reminded again of Haiti's exceptional poverty. It's doubtful that other articles have mentioned this fact.

You are struck by the 'resilience' of the Haitian people. They will survive no matter how poor they are. They are stoic, they rarely complain, and so they are admirable. The best poor person is one who suffers quietly. A two-sentence quote about their misery fitting neatly into your story is all that's needed.

On your last visit you became enchanted with Haiti. You are in love with its colorful culture and feel compelled to return. You care so much about these hard-working people. You are here to help them. You are their voice. They cannot speak for themselves.

Don't listen if the Haitians speak loudly or become unruly. You might be in danger, get out of there. Protests are not to be taken seriously. The participants were probably all paid to be there. All Haitian politicians are corrupt or incompetent. Find a foreign authority on Haiti to talk in stern terms about how they must shape up or cede power to incorruptible outsiders.
That is how Ansel kicks off his piece on how to write about Haiti in Haiti ReWired. Read the full thing to get a sense of the narrative that has played over and over for the past year and a half.  The same template can be used for just about any other disaster, relief and recovery writing.  Haiti holds a special place due to the proximity to the United States, but the point boils down to making everything seem as simple as possible.

Foreigners are the ones who provide the assistance and locals are either incapable, incompetent or desperate.  What is unfortunate is that those three adjectives can be found every where in the world.  Innovative, courageous, and successful are equally as easy to find but seem to not be as present in the context of Haiti.  Only with the assistance and guidance of outsiders can this be accessed.  It gets redundant to post about this, but it happens too often.  Let's dispel this single story and embrace multi-layered or series or stories that tell about all that is happening.  Not just the parts that elicit guilt.