Thursday, May 01, 2008

song of Haiti and its opposite

I had the idea of going to Haiti to help the poor. It turns out it's been done. In the 1950's Larry and Gwen Mellon were inspired by Albert Schweitzer's example to go to Haiti and build the Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles. The enormous wealth of the Mellon family was helpful in actually accomplishing something in a place that is notorious for resisting improvement. Their story is chronicled in the book Song of Haiti by Barry Paris, and the hospital carries on its good work today.

Of course Schweitzer himself and many like-minded missionaries did not have those kinds of resources, but were motivated by sheer conscience and conviction. The powers of conscience and conviction should not be underestimated, since they can motivate people who otherwisw have theoption to do absolutely nothing.

What haunts me are some terrible contradictions: Haiti's rise and fall from tropical tiger to neglected stray cat; the polar opposition between the US and Haiti, the former being an insult to the latter, and the latter manifesting the former's bad conscience; both nations being out of balance in a most complementary way. The US shares a similar fall from greatness. The Mellons of the 1950's represent some ideal of America that no longer really exists, an ideal that, for all its global reach and power, was apparently somewhat wobbly since the greatness it represented didn't last very long. In other words, the Mellons could go save Haiti on the assumption that their own nation was a fully functional beacon of light, when in reality it was closer to third world conditions than they imagined.


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