I don’t really have much to say, but I’ve been told to write even when you do not feel like it.
I skipped breakfast this morning. I haven’t seen or spoken with any other guests in a long time.
For lunch, I considered having the staff help me to order something from a restaurant. I haven’t eaten at a restaurant yet, since I’ve been going to the grocery store. Instead, I decided to get out of here and go for a walk to Kay Atizan (Artisan House). James, our lover of John Legend, gave me directions from his cellphone, “Go down this street right here and take a left at the first intersection.” It seems like everywhere I go there is a certain feeling of discomfort. I suppose it comes from not knowing much about where I am, and not feeling fully comfortable to figure everything out on my own, like I would say back in Providence.
There are high concrete walls with metallic doors on building here. A lot with a big old building sits surrounded by tents and a high metal fence with barbed wire at the top. A placard says “UNICEF.” From a distance I see “Kay Atizan/Serenity Cove” so I know that I am in the right place. I walk in with confidence, false confidence, but confidence nonetheless. Without it, I think I’d be paralyzed here. A woman stands talking on the phone through the smaller than normal doorway. She hangs up, once she sees me. There were all kinds of things. Jewelry, cool T-Shirts, bags, Vodoun artifacts. Magical.
Instead of eating something from a restaurant I went to another grocery store, one that I hadn’t been too. Same exact dynamics as observed at the previous one.
Time moves really slowly, and I’m a little lonely.
I called my parents using FaceTime.
I used to think that I could change the world. Classic messiah complex. Now, I realize that the world is nothing but change, somethings for the better and others for the worst. As a sociologist, I’ve chosen to try to understand the world as it is, while always thinking of what it could be. I feel a bit useless lol.
MOMENT OF INSIGHT: In the past, I’ve argued out loud with people about the use of analytic/descriptive categories like Global North/Rich and Global South/Poor. I’ve always seen these categories as empty and meaningless because the world is never this simple. Even as ideal-types, they fail to capture that which the concepts are supposed, that is the distribution of resources and wealth. A place like Haiti has really brought this home for me. Everywhere I’ve turned I’ve found traces of the Global North. First, there is me, and all the rest of us who go to foreign places to conduct research for whatever reason we do so. Second, there are the international development aid workers and Christian missionaries from Europe and the United States. Third, there are the people that come here from the United States to set up business operations. Fourth, there are all of the material things that come from the Global North as imports. Food, batteries, office supplies, shoes, clothes, and more. Fifth, there are the immaterial things that are imported from abroad, including but not limited to musical proclivities, words (“Chopin: Shopping”), ideas, habits and behaviors (young people wearing backwards hats with USA sports team logos, etc. There is Global North within the Global South and Global South within the Global North. This is modernity.
This movement and convergence of people, things/materials, and ideas, from disparate parts of the globe (often in the name of development, or humanitarian assistance), create the bizarre environment that I’ve been observing here in Haiti. This is what has drawn me to the supermarkets. It is wholly peculiar that there would even be one massive structure devoted to the exchange of goods (food for money) that the vast majority of permanent residents cannot afford. The only thing is, here in Petionville there are 3 of these supermarkets. There are also compounds devoted to organizations like the United Nations Development Project, or USAID, all of which are secured 24/7 by armed guards and high cement walls with barbed wire at the top. Across the hall from me, sleeps a woman here for just three weeks to work for Save the Children. Hotels exist here solely for the foreigner to feel like he is back at home in the Global North. In short, the confluence of people, things/materials, and ideas from the Global North, in a place as impoverished as Haiti, necessarily creates an environment with inequality seeping through everything.
Petionville is rife with indirect, or slow, violence. The anthropologist and medical doctor, Paul Farmer, calls this structural violence. “The core meaning of violence is the deliberate infliction of bodily violation or harm on one individual human being by another” (Shaw 2006). Foreign researchers (including MYSELF), aid workers, Christian missionaries, rich Haitian citizens, are complicit in this violence every time we walk past a mother and child exchanging dollars and cents for produce on the side of the road, to get our imported goods from the supermarket guarded by men carrying shotguns. The message conveyed, implicit and explicit, intentional or not, is that most Haitian bodies matter less. With streets populated with advertisements in English and French, when only a tiny fraction of the people here can read and understand both, the message is Haitian bodies matter less. This violence is pervasive. It reveals a contradiction. All of this foreign aid, all of this foreign intervention, all of these foreign people, things, ideas, have created a form of hyperinequality in Haiti, which is manifest in the physical, biological, and social environment(s).