Amy Wilentz's new book is titled “Farewell, Fred Voodoo”. In her book Wilentz writes that visitors to Haiti, including herself, tend to be guilty of writing about or photographing Haitians in their despair. She calls this "pornography" when we write about or photograph poor Haitians for its shock value. And the Haitian subject usually never knows what becomes of their story or photo. They hardly ever benefit in any meaningful way.
I agree that this is some form of pornography. But if the story or the photograph may spur someone to do something good for the person or for Haiti, I rationalize that it may be less pornographic.
I have found myself in the same spot that Wilentz describes in Haiti many times in 30 years. And I have asked myself: Why am I here? Should I be here? Do I have any right to be here? Am I doing any good to be here and to document what I am seeing?
I realize I am different than the Haitian I am examining or interviewing or photographing in that I can leave Haiti anytime. Wilentz says that poverty is not so bad when you can “snap your fingers” and it comes to an end. In other words we can go home when we have had our fill. But Haitians cannot go home when they’ve had their fill. They ARE home. Most are condemned to live here forever.
Living in Haiti should be wonderful, like the Arawak Indians found it to be centuries ago. But the Arawaks lived with dignity and most Haitians do not. Haitian roofs leak and their kids hair is orange and they vomit worms. And so a million Haitians, give or take a few hundred thousand, have left Haiti with visas or on creaking boats. Many have made it big but many are cleaning bathrooms in South Florida airports and hotels. They do the undignified work we won’t do.
Yesterday I was approached at St. Catherine Laboure Hospital in Cite Soleil by a thin man who was walking with a woman. He had the requisite IV in his arm. Haitians firmly believe that getting IV fluid is good for what ails you and it frequently is.
He politely said hello and came over and sat down next to me on the wooden bench in the courtyard of the hospital. He told me his name is Pierre and that he is from a little village named Lilavois located on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. He said that he had been a carpenter until he got too weak to work. And then he started telling me his medical problems.Please read his whole post. In my own way, I wrestle with the same issue: Is my blog just a form of disaster porn, providing agreeable thrills to safe, well-fed, healthy people with a fast online connection? I feel that especially when I see my traffic spike, as it did when the Bopha/Pablo storm hit the Philippines, and just the other day after the Solomon Islands earthquake.
Like John, perhaps I'm rationalizing, but I know that much of that traffic is from healthcare experts and government agencies that really can do something about the natural and public-health disasters I post about. Others have friends or family in hot-zone countries.
And finally, I hope my posts, like John's, bear some kind of witness to the suffering they report—suffering that the rest of the world should not ignore.