On the privilege of leaving Haiti: A conversation with my father

This conversation took place on my third day in Haiti. After staying with my family for two nights, my father drove me through PetionVille to the Hotel Oloffson where I stayed for the next three nights so I could meet other journalists and explore the city by myself.

The premise of this conversation: He just told me he wants to leave the country and live on another island.

(Note, French and Creole are his primary languages.)

Recorded April 6, 2010.

[Recorder on]

Me: Why would you want to live on another island?

Dad: Because I think another island is better, is organized, there are organizations, there are other… I can not fight anymore. I don’t want to fight anymore.

Me: But this is your country. If you’re not going to fight for your country, what are you going to fight for?

Dad: My country is the planet. OK? No, it’s not the planet, it’s the universe.

Me: That’s not what your passport says. No. When I was here in June, you talked about how you had pride for your country despite all of its flaws.

Dad: Yes but… what you say… it’s corrupt. There are a lot of things that are not good, that don’t function here.

Me: [Snort] Yeah, I see that.

Dad: Government, people, government. You don’t know the mentality of the people here. You know nothing about this country.

Me: I’m learning.

Dad: Pft. You try.

Me: I’m trying.

Dad: When you work like me, with people, with bosses…

Me: Well if you don’t like the way things are run, like the government, why don’t you make an effort to change it. That’s your responsibility and your privilege as a citizen.

Dad: To do what? To change the government?

Me: To change things. Foreigners can’t change things.

Dad: You know… You know me, I am a fighter, revolutionary, but I can’t do anything to change things.

Me: Why can’t you?

Dad: There is a false democracy here. With democracy you can’t do anything.

Me: Well if you can’t change things who can?

Dad: [Mockingly] “Yes! We Can!” Obama says… but here we cannot do anything.

Me: Well, who can do something, the U.S.?

Dad: That’s good for you to talk like that. That’s good. You are young and you believe in a lot of things. But, my life, I have a lot of deception of my life, you know that?

Me: What kind of deception?

[Man walks up to car window begging.]

Dad: You see that? That’s one.

Me: Are you going to help him? Give him water or something.

Dad: [Ignoring me] You can’t understand what I am saying.

Me: I don’t understand what you mean by deception.

[Traffic, horns honking]

Dad: I took my life with philosophy. But perhaps… perhaps… Comparatively, I have a good life, but I know I can do more for….

Me: For who?

Dad: For our country, for humanity. I can do more, but I can’t…. I say I know I can do more but I don’t have the possibility to do anything. I just live.

Me: OK but, it’s places like this where humanity needs the most. Humanity in the United States doesn’t need anything, they have everything.

Dad: You have an organization, the country is organized. You have everything right for you. You live, you go to school, you go to University, after that, you grow up, you grow up, you grow up. When you work, it’s like that. But everything, I have to do everything by myself here. You understand that?

Me: Yeah…

Dad: If I leave now, it’s because I never surrender with life, with everything. It’s because I am a fighter.

Me: So what would you do? If you left now, what would you do?

Dad: If I can explain myself better in English… you can’t understand me. But I tried to say something but just, but I can’t say. It is a problem to me, I can’t explain myself like everything. I can’t say… how do I want to explain to you?

Me: You’re doing a good job.

Dad: What?

Me: You’re doing fine.

Dad: I’m doing fine?

Me: What would you do if you left here?

Dad: I don’t know. Nobody knows at any time. I have the potential, I have the mentality to do anything, everything but.

[Stalled at a traffic light]

Me: [Referencing an opening in traffic to turn] Go.

Dad: Go.

Me: OK but the people who… you said you wanted to do good for humanity.

Dad: Sometimes, sometimes… every life is a tragedy. Sometimes.

Me: Yeah, but here more than other places.

Dad: Why do you think that? Here more than other places, yeah. But everywhere you go, life is terrific [Correcting himself] terrible. But you have to survive by yourself, you have to fight.

Me: Yeah but, YOU don’t have to fight. YOU can survive just fine, you’re privileged, you have things.

Dad: But —

Me: No listen. You don’t have to fight. The people on the streets here have to fight. I don’t have to fight, you don’t have to fight, so it’s our responsibility to help the people who do have to fight.

Dad: To help… I want to help, but —

Me: And you’re going to help by leaving the country?

Dad: I want to help but not like people do. My way.

Me: What is your way of helping?

Dad: My way is a philosopher. My way is what I think, my way is what is true – what is the truth. My way is what’s exact, to do, to save this country.

Me: You do want to save the country?

Dad: But I can’t, I don’t have people under my control. I don’t have anything.

Me: And you think you’re going to find that if you leave?

Dad: Pft.

Me: Well, if the reason you want to leave is to find people to help you help this country, than I guess I support that. But if you want to leave because it’s easy —

Dad: I build buildings for people, I help people. I build buildings, you know. I help people. I give jobs sometimes. I help people. But it’s not enough. And I know that. The problem is when you know that.

Me: That sounds like apathy. You know what apathy is?

Dad: Huh?

Me: Apathy.

Dad: Apaty?

Me: Apathy. Apathetic.

Dad: I don’t know this word.

Me: I’ll translate it for you on Google translator.

Dad: Apathy.

[silence]

Dad: [Sighing] But this is nice. You are with me.

Me: Oui.

Dad: And you are a beautiful girl.

Me: Merci.

Dad: You love life? No? That’s true?

Me: That’s true.

Dad: And… hm.

[Traffic jam, honking]

Dad: Arikia…

Me: What?

Dad: I love you.

[Recorder off]

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6 thoughts on “On the privilege of leaving Haiti: A conversation with my father

  1. Elaine

    Arikia, thanks for sharing such an intimate conversation with your dad. He IS quite the philosopher. The U.S. media has left Haiti’s recovery off the front page radar, and glimpses like yours into the every day lives of capable, caring, intelligent and loving Haitan citizens is really appreciated.

    Reply
  2. Arikia Post author

    Thank you all for the nice comments. I’ve just started going through the files on my digital audio recorder from my trip and it really takes me back. I wish I knew how to make podcasts!

    Reply
  3. Toni McNulty

    I just found this post, and am so glad I did. Wow! I could almost hear the anguish/sadness/frustration in your father’s voice. With each day that passes, I feel the same way – like running away – and I’m not even in Haiti! I have to keep reminding myself that in a situation this overwhelming, one person can only do so much. One person helping another, one baby step at a time, one donation, one tweet, one conversation, one day at a time.

    Reply

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