The measure of the catastrophe in Haiti is measurable by the fact that even venues that normally take little notice of the news were advising folks how to help. So it was that this morning, the first thing I heard on the radio was a DJ telling folks how to donate $10 to the American Red Cross relief effort by texting “Haiti” to the number 90999.
That’s one thing you can do, so I pass it on. It’s good to be able to do something. Too often, my own response to such events is to have odd, irrelevant thoughts such as this one:
Why do these things always happen to the very poorest countries?
Haiti was the very first foreign country I ever visited, back in late 1962. You’ve heard of people in the Third World diving from boats to catch coins tossed from cruise ships? Well, at that point in my life (9 years old) I had never heard of it, but I saw it and experienced it. I threw a few coins myself. We weren’t on a luxury liner by any means, just a small combination cargo/passenger ship taking my family to my Dad’s new duty station in Ecuador. At the time, I was fascinated at the skill it took for someone to dive from a small boat and capture a coin far below the surface before it was gone for good. I was like, “Wow! I couldn’t do that!” (although I longed to get down there and try). I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was only later that I was mature enough to think, “My God; what desperation it takes to develop such a skill and practice it — rowing out in the harbor and going to such exertions for such a small return…” And of course, at that point I felt bad about my own role in it, as the “rich” child casting scraps to the poor for sport. But at the time, I was innocent, seeing it as a game, showing off, a demonstration of skill. I actually envied the divers.
That was my initial introduction to the Western Hemisphere’s most desperate nation, one that had never had a chance from the start. When you look at the advantages this country had, with a highly qualified cadre of well-educated people with unlimited resources to found the institutions upon which our republic is based, and you look at the desperate need of that nation founded by slaves, you get an education in the gross unfairness of history.
Then, when that bad hand is compounded by something of this magnitude, you have to wonder why? Is is just that the world’s poorest people have no means to move away from the parts of the world most susceptible to quakes and tsunamis and other calamities? I realize that the extent of devastation is exacerbated by poor construction and the lack of an infrastructure of first responders and such — and some calamities, such as those staggering losses from overturned ferries and such in Pakistan and elsewhere are a direct result of poverty — but it seems like, generally speaking, these more extreme “Acts of God” just don’t happen where rich folks live. Add to that the fact that since 1945 the wealthy countries haven’t even been visited by war (history’s great leveler), and the utter unfairness of the universe is just overwhelming.
I don’t have an answer to this; my mind is thoroughly boggled.