You’ve seen devastation before. But this one struck your heart.
Maybe it was because it happened with absolutely no warning. One minute, everything was fine–the next minute, buildings had collapsed with people beneath them. One minute, sunshine–the next minute, clouds of dust.
It’s been almost two years since Haiti was wracked by earthquakes. So much has happened to that fierce little country, and in the new book “Haiti After the Earthquake” by Paul Farmer (c. 2011, Public Affairs, $27.99 / $32.50 Canada, 456 pages), you’ll read about progress, prevention, and a future the author hopes to see.
On Jan. 12, 2010, Paul Farmer, M.D., had just returned stateside from Haiti, having celebrated the holidays with family. His wife and children were en route to Rwanda and Farmer, the Deputy U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti under former President Bill Clinton, was thinking about all the things that needed to be done in the coming year.
Then he got the phone call. There was an earthquake and Port-au-Prince was all but ruined. People were homeless, injured, orphaned. Thousands were dead.
After a quick trip to New York, Farmer flew to Haiti to lend help and organization. Port-au-Prince’s main medical facility, General Hospital, was overwhelmed and chaotic and supplies were dwindling but doctors and nurses were foregoing sleep and basic personal care in order to minister to as many patients as they could. Still, babies were born in rubble. Broken limbs were amputated to avoid gangrene. The smell of death was everywhere.
From Haiti, Farmer traveled to Canada to have a “meeting about a meeting” and to see if more aid could be obtained. He reached out to his friends around the world as he mentally ticked off names: those injured, the ones missing, those lost. Because he had been involved in working in Rwanda, post-genocide, he compared procedures and policies. And he wondered, based on past experiences, what would become of Haiti in the future.
You almost have to look behind current events to learn what’s going on in Haiti these days. Alas, “Haiti After the Earthquake” isn’t going to help you much…
In addition to a deep look at Haiti’s history and culture, author Farmer offers a firsthand, personal–and internationally detailed–look at what happened in the days and weeks after the earthquake. This beginning section of the book is largely political in nature and quite chaotic, which is mildly interesting but dry, dry, and dry are the three words that really best describe it.
Fortunately, the latter segment of the book comes to the rescue with essays by authors with Haitian roots, doctors, relief workers, and global humanitarians. The focus on this section is less political, more in-the-trenches, and more readable–but those mere hundred-or-so pages just weren’t enough.
I think that if you’re very heavily into the politics of disaster relief, or if you can skim the first part of this book to get to the last, then “Haiti After the Earthquake” is worth a look-see. If you want something a little less restrained, though, this book is pretty shaky.