Friday, 22 January 2010

I can't watch

On my wall I have a framed photo I took in Haiti.

I spent a week there in early 2008, tagging along with an NGO as they negotiated the development of a new medical facility on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border.

I took the photo in Port-au-Prince, looking down a steep hill onto an alleyway lined with concrete facades. The green mountainside in the background is barely visible through a haze of smoke, and its lower reaches are a patchwork of cinderblock homes.

I wonder now how that view has changed; in the two years since my visit, Haiti has been devastated by two hurricanes and a massive earthquake.

I can’t bring myself to watch the footage of the aftermath of the quake. When I read of the destruction in Petionville, a neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince where I spent most of my time during my visit, I felt a confusing mixture of emotions wash over me: grief, loss, and the awkward sensation of having accidentally walked in on someone in a moment of private pain.

My reaction surprised me. When I returned to the D.R. after my week in Haiti, all I felt was relief. I’d spent the entirety of my stay in Port-au-Prince in a state of high agitation, worrying about my money, about my food, about the discussions in Haitian Creole I couldn’t participate in, about the bugs slowly eating away at the wooden headboard in my hotel room.

I listened and looked and sensed, internalizing my surroundings without understanding them, and when I stepped off the bus in familiar Santo Domingo, it was like releasing a gigantic breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding in.

When I debriefed the experience with the founder of the NGO, a Haitian-born lawyer from New York, he cautioned me against making assumptions about the things I’d seen.

I had viewed Haiti through a privileged lens, eating in nice restaurants and touring only the safest neighbourhoods. I never ventured into those misty mountainside shanties, just photographed them from afar and wondered about the lives being lived out there.

Haiti’s situation is uniquely complex and probably one of the least understood of any developing nation in the world; I acknowledged this, but with a sense of regret that I hadn’t really connected with the country or its people.

For that reason, the strong sadness I felt at the news of the earthquake felt misplaced, inappropriate somehow. The hundreds of thousands of deaths and the utter destruction of beautiful, historic Port-au-Prince are undisputable tragedies, but ultimately, they’re not my losses to bear, or any of the millions of people who have generously donated to the relief effort.

The outpouring of money and support is wonderful, but much of the lightning-fast response smacks of opportunism.

Everyone who’s anyone in the journalism industry is down there covering the story and some of their dispatches sound almost giddy, as though picking their way through mangled, body-strewn streets and asking survivors about the horrors they’ve witnessed is the thrill of a lifetime.

In the days immediately following the quake, North American expats in Haiti were the only accessible sources of information about the situation, and some, like American Luke Renner, saw their chance to seize a few moments of fame. Renner’s Twitter feed is a stomach-turning combination of self-promotional references to his interviews and talk show appearances interspersed with gory updates on the carnage.

I refuse to watch the Haiti telethons (either incarnation) because to me it seems like the height of exploitation — a bunch of wealthy, fabulous people essentially using the tragedy to further boost their profiles.

The absolute nadir was reading that a woman in New York who was involved in some political sex scandal (I can’t be bothered to mention her name) was planning to donate all the proceeds from her “strip-a-thon” to the Red Cross.

All of this is completely removed from the Haiti I choose to remember, the Haiti I hope rises from the dust, the Haiti that captured my imagination and my heart without me even realizing it.

The world will tear its eyes away, the television crews will pack up and go home, the stars will find another worthy cause they can use. In that sudden vacuum of attention, I hope it’s Haitian voices that emerge, telling their own story, in their own words, inviting us to understand.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Too sexy for my teammates

Edmonton Rush defenceman Ryan McNish coquettes for the cameras at a press conference announcing the Rush's 2010 lineup Jan. 8 at the LRC. McNish is one of nine returning players on the team, which also snapped up key talent from the now-defunct Portland Lumberjax. General manager/head coach Derek Keenan said the Rush have undergone a lot of changes since last season but are well-positioned for a strong showing in the National Lacrosse League this year.

(Photo by Alexandra Pope/Sun Media)


The body of Sgt. George Miok, who was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 30, returned home to Edmonton this morning. Members of City of Leduc Fire Services were on hand to provide an honour guard as the hearse carrying Miok's body made its way out of the Edmonton International Airport towards the highway.

The members saluted as the procession went past.

According to deputy fire chief Bob Scott, the local fire services do this kind of thing all the time, but usually it's for crowds of smiling soldiers returning, very much alive, to their families after a tour of duty.

The body of Cpl. Zachery McCormack, also from Edmonton, returned home on a later flight. Funerals for both will be held this weekend.

RIP Sgt. Miok and Cpl McCormack.

(Photos by Alexandra Pope/Sun Media)