For over a week, a dozen yellow buses transferred us mostly Americans with our hard hats and tools from a barbed-wire campsite to a barbed-wire under construction village.
You couldn't miss the tin shacks, tattered canvas pieces, ragged huts posing as homes and stores. You'd see the milling masses in their ramshackle markets with food and clothes piled on rags. You'd take a photo of the open rock-lined trenches battered with trash and debris serving as their sewage system. You'd wonder how the children, with white bows in their hair, dressed in immaculate red and white uniforms, could each day appear so pristine while living amidst dusty, humid squalor. You'd marvel that such cleanliness could come from crouching women and children beating clothes in streamside plastic buckets.
Such wasn't new to this former Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) from the slums of Mumbai with several Habitat Builds notched on my belt. What was new? Building and camping behind concertina-wired ten foot fences and only looking down the bus window upon the harsh living conditions, rather than mixing amidst the poverty stew.
Also new was the looks detected on so many faces looking up at our air-conditioned buses. Stern, hard, maybe angry" Did that kid flash me and my windowed camera the bird?
As PCVs, most of us became accustomed to smiling adults and kids happily hanging on to our arms. We won hearts. We weren't finger saluted.
Stateside we may rightfully complain about our increasing wealth concentration and our consequential myopic public policies. But the bad hand America's poor and shrinking middle class has recently been dealt is being thrown in spades throughout much of the world, which is dangerous -- even when you own drones.
Dispatches from Columbus' colonizing era indicate that Haiti (Hispaniola) was a trusting, communal, and prosperous place. It became the ideal setting to ignite the greedy economic engine of human slavery and then the more opaque debt servitude. When the heat of centuries of hot political intrigue, corruption, and self-aggrandizement is added, today's Haiti looks like this through the CIA's concerned eyes:
- More than 2/3rds of the labor force do not have formal jobs.
- Illiteracy rate 57%
- Population Below Poverty line 80%
- In abject poverty 54%
- Lowest 10% Consume 0.7%
- Highest 10% Consume 47.7% (2001)
- Gini Index 59.2 (2001), among world's worst wealth disparity
- Unemployment 40.6% (2010 est.): 188 out of about 200 countries