Like you I’ve been watching the coverage of the Haitian earthquake. Each detail makes this sad story sadder. It’s difficult to imagine a spot less able to cope with this kind of adversity.
I have been to Haiti. Strange as it seems I vacationed there with my friend Neal sometime in the late 70s. We spent a week at the Club Med “Magic Isle.”
Even then Club Med never mentioned the country’s name in its promotional material. The club is long since closed, a victim of Haiti’s reputation as the basket case of the Western Hemisphere.
A few weeks before the trip we got paperwork from Club Med. We’d need to take medication before our departure. Malaria was the concern. In most of the country modern sanitation just didn’t exist. Judging by what’s coming out tonight that hasn’t changed.
We flew from JFK non-stop. Back then the airport bore the name of former Haitian president Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. His son, “Baby Doc,” was in charge of the country. This was an iron willed dictatorship which produced riches for a few on the backs of many.
Our bus trip through the countryside passed many streams. All were marked with health warning signs. Still there were people in each of them, mostly washing clothes. We didn’t slow down. My glimpses were brief.
Club Med “Magic Isle” itself was an armed camp. A guard station turned away locals who wanted in. Once a week local craftsmen were allowed to approach on the beach. It was obvious this part of Haiti was not for Haitians!
During our week there Neal and I never left the property.
The club itself was as beautiful as it was underused. About half the rooms were empty–this after being priced well below any other Club Med facility.
The view from my room was of stark mountains. They had been clear cut for charcoal–a cash crop. Haiti’s sister country on Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, had similar rough hills. Theirs were covered in green!
The club was reasonably new when Neal and I arrived. Staff who’d been there for the construction told us the property was totally built by hand. There were no bulldozers or excavators. Hiring locals was much cheaper!
I was conflicted vacationing in this incredibly poor nation. I didn’t think of it before the trip, but it was tough to get off my mind while we were there. I had never been… still have never been… anywhere else with this much poverty. It was everyone. I was unavoidable… except inside the club.
It’s impossible for us to fathom what Haitian life must be like tonight. People who never had anything now have less.
The earthquake is just the first disaster. The next will diseases as dead and decaying bodies rot in place.
It is monumentally sad.