How Long Are You Going To Stay Here, Joe?
. . . You Don’t Care, I Know
America, “Ventura Highway”
I have never been to Haiti, but I have been to Jamaica.
Long ago, I had the chance to experience what I consider heaven on earth.
Haiti’s not so far away, you know.
There was something to say about landing at the Jamaican airfield, coasting in from the steel-mechanized, work-obsessed, cold-stamped, logical, pragmatic, noisy, and overcrowded industrial Northeast and landing in a land far removed from the tensions and debilitations faced by those who live in good old America.
I remember a tour guide, Joe, from Lime Hall, who had never seen snow in his lifetime. His family was removed from the pressures of our American modern living. About the snow, and what was that like? he asked. Cold, Joe, but sometimes lovely. So, Joe, what does your family do for a living? I asked him. Well, they grow limes at Lime Hall, he said. They enjoy each other. They praise the Holy One for the beautiful land. They are close to nature. They are satisfied with what the Holy One has given them. They don’t need the iPad or synchronous voice and Web-surfable cell technology. Cell technology to them: what is the best seed to sprout the best genetics for the lime trees?
Joe's family makes a living in Lime Hall - barely. Jamaica, a third-world country, entirely too dependent on the tourist trade. Poor Joe.
I thanked him for his courtesy and his kindness and his delightful, peaceful, beautiful country that I would love to make my home, in a heartbeat.
But I couldn’t live there. On the ride from the airport, I was sickened by the shantytowns, by the abject poverty, by the crushing lack of social systems – or the social systems good old America provides. Unless you are used to some of the most impoverished conditions, how can you live in a country like Jamaica?
I am reminded of the denizens of that other forgotten third-world country, New Orleans, and how they choose to live in a land ravaged by hurricanes and flooding, as predictable as an early exit by the Cincinnati Bengals from the American professional football playoffs. Anybody remember the comedian Carlos Mencia and his stand-up skit on what it is like to live in New Orleans? Like being in the middle of a soup bowl floating in a bath tub.
Why would you want to do that?
I mean, I could call MY home the middle of Interstate 95, just south of Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. I could be a Native American with roots to the middle of I-95, where some wonderful natural plants used to grow and where the sun reflected nicely off the natural pines. However, if I live there, I will be hit by cars. Nobody cares about a home that is so perilous to live in, especially in Philly, trust me.
So I began thinking about Joe, and those like Joe, and about Haiti.
Here’s an article from HutchNews.com by Seth Borenstein, AP science writer:
When it comes to natural disasters, Haiti seems to have a bull's-eye on it. That's because of a killer combination of geography, poverty, social problems, slipshod building standards and bad luck, experts say. The list of catastrophes is mind-numbing: This week's devastating earthquake. Four tropical storms or hurricanes that killed about 800 people in 2008. Killer storms in 2005 and 2004. Floods in 2007, 2006, 2003 (twice) and 2002. And that's just the 21st Century run-down.
Like living on I-95 and expecting not to get hit by big, mean vehicles.
Look, I have donated generously to the Haitian recovery. But I would feel so much more comfortable if that money was given to a travel fund to get the people out of there! They should put up a warning buoy off the coast that warns travelers, enter at your own risk! Dangerous area! Leave! We’re not responsible!
If all the relief efforts could go to relocating people away from Haiti, I would be all for it.
But as of now, I shake my head.
Jamaica is exempt from the earthquakes. They also seem to escape devastating hurricanes.
All that is saved, I suppose, for their unlucky neighbor, Haiti.
I wish Joe the best.
What else could I do?