Additional Coverage Special Report—Haiti
This story is just one article in our special report on Haiti's women's movement.
We'll be adding more stories in the coming weeks—for now, take a look at other articles in this series.
• Read an assessment of the earthquake's impact on Haiti's women's movement in Honoring the Ancestors.
• View photographer Nadia Todres's powerful photo essay, Documenting the Lives of Girls in Haiti.
• Read Didi Bertrand's column, Bearing Witness: Girls and Women in Haiti's Camps.
• Take a look at SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti Elections—Why Vote for a Woman? to read interviews with Haiti's three female presidential candidates to learn more about their platforms.
• Read the first story in this series, SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti, Women, and the Elections, which takes an in-depth look at women on the ground and the upcoming elections.
• Read World Pulse and Anne-christine d'Adesky's previous coverage on the earthquake, Holding Up Haiti: Women Respond to Nightmare Earthquake, published shortly after news broke of the devastating earthquake.
Edwidge Danticat: Return to Haiti
In terms of earthquake recovery efforts, what has been disappointing to you and what has given you hope?
I’ve been encouraged by the smaller efforts that I see everywhere: People who have decided that they are not going to wait for the billions of dollars the international community has promised in aid.
I have been very proud of the Haitian-American community: the doctors, nurses, teachers, young men, and young women who have returned to do what they can. Churches, hometown associations are working harder than ever. That’s the part we don’t hear a lot about.
The saddest part is that even in the middle of hurricane season there seems to be no more urgency to it. The tent cities are looking more and more permanent. There is a new wave of trauma as Haitians begin to realize that nothing is going to change anytime soon.
A lot has been said about Haitian resilience, but sometimes I think that is being used to let people continue to live in these deplorable conditions. So much rubble is still in the streets; so many people are still homeless. You see so many hungry people; so many hungry children; people with no job prospects. People feel abandoned. Those in power tell them to be patient, elections first. But will the elections change anything? Will they change the lives of the poorest?
We’ve hit bottom, so we have to hope that it will get better. We have to make sure that Haitians are empowered to rebuild their country. They ultimately must be unified in building a more egalitarian Haiti with more opportunities for the poor, for women, for the disadvantaged, which now includes thousands and thousands of disabled people as well.
What is the situation for women like now?
The last time I was in Haiti, I saw all these little girls with big bellies. I had never seen that before: little girls walking in the neighborhoods with big bellies. I was in Jalousie, one of those precarious neighborhoods perched on the hills, and I saw all these little girls in corridors and alleys with those bellies. I asked someone what was going on and she said, “phenomene de tente”—the tent phenomenon. Young girls have been raped and are now pregnant. A health worker I talked to said she had treated a pregnant 10-year-old. And there is gang rape, what people call “beton.”
But we have some extraordinary women leaders rising out of these same camps. There are some you will never hear about. I know a woman who had 100 people in her yard after the earthquake, and she fed them and gave them water. She would have never considered herself a leader before but she organized everyone.
Women want to take charge, but they need our support.
What is your vision for the future of Haiti?
Ultimately, we should be asking the people in Haiti what they would like to see, what their vision is. But if I’m being Utopian, I’d like to see a society emerge out of this rubble where every child can go to school, where every person can eat every day, and have a roof over his head that won’t blow away or crumble at the slightest wind.
What many don’t know is that the women of Haiti have been trying to build this for years; they try to work miracles. The people who are in charge of this “rebuilding” should study these efforts very well. I believe recovery efforts can learn a lot from the way women have been recovering for years—from droughts, from floods, from hurricanes. Let’s not leave those
folks out of the conversation.
As a mother, what do you tell your children about your country?
My children—they are 5 and 1-year-old—have been to Haiti many times, and will always know the good and the bad because that is the way we have experienced it.
I will continue to tell my daughters the stories of the great historical and everyday women (and men) of Haiti. I will probably drive them crazy, but they’ll know all about them.
People often pity or idealize Haitians: They are seen as either “poor Haitians” or “super-resilient Haitians.” Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.
It’s worth remembering that Haitians have a lot to teach the world. I will continue to teach my children that we are often in positions where we need a lot from others, but as Haitians, we also have a lot to give to each other and a lot to contribute to the world.