In case you have not heard… Haiti was the poorest country in the hemisphere, the 2010 earthquake was a terrible natural disaster, and the response of the world made the situation significantly worse. All evidence points to peacekeepers from United Nations as the source for the cholera epidemic that began in the fall of 2010. People from around the world who tried to help, through ignorance and mistrust of the Haitians, did more harm than good.
I begin this review as I prepare to go to Haiti in one week. My next trip will be my third this year. My experience with Haiti began when the dean of the School of Theology at L’Université Chrétienne du Nord d’Haïti invited me to teach philosophy of religion in 2012. Now, each year, I go to teach this course to future Christian pastors. On one trip, my son and I visited an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. He noted that the children had no place to store their meager possessions, so the church where I serve as pastor sent a group in February 2014 to build cubbies. Now, in one week, another group from Kilmarnock Baptist Church will go to the orphanage to have Bible school with the children. This has been my experience with Haiti, and I appreciate the opportunities I have had to go to this beautiful land.
Jonathan Katz was in Haiti as a reporter for the Associated Press when the earthquake struck. He stayed for the following year and made careful notes about his experience. These notes and his journalling follow the events in the year after the earthquake. The Big Truck That Went By tells both his story and the story of Haiti. By seeing it through his eyes, it is possible to begin to see the tip of the iceberg that is this complicated half an island.
In the course of this review, it would be redundant to tell Katz’s story. The book is excellent. It is readable and would be enjoyable, if it were not so infuriating. It is too easy to look at Haiti as an outsider and project one’s cultural ideology into a place where it does not belong. Katz tells about the true number of people who died in the earthquake (i.e. there is no way to truly know). He writes about the known facts about cholera, the “biggest health scare in the nine months after the earthquake” (p. 162), and most impressively, he writes dispassionately without making judgments or filling in details that do not exist. He writes about promised US$ billions and their failure to materialize or their donors spending them in the donors’ country, not Haiti.
Katz’s story is a personal one, and he invites readers to share bits and pieces of a private chapter in his own journey. In the aftermath of the earthquake, he meets a young lady who is doing research in Haiti, falls in love with her, and in the Epilogue, he seems to ride off into the sunset with his love. It is a warm, happy ending for a book about a place that does not seem to have a happy ending. In the end, I wish him and Claire all the best for the future.
In Christianity, we believe in redemption. As complicated and difficult as Haiti’s story is, I have to believe that there is the possibility of redemption for this poor country.