Thursday, September 27, 2012
Human family stratified
I just finished A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez. It is a simple telling of two visits to Haiti from the Dominican Republic, one just before the earthquake and another 6 months after. Julia Alvarez was born in the Dominican Republic, currently owns and operates an organic coffee farm there with her husband Bill, and also watches the demise of both parents with dementia who live in a home created by her father years ago in his homeland. Julia and Bill live and work in Vermont, but as time allows, they return to the Dominican Republic.
As in the United States with illegal border crossings, it is common for Haitians to illegally cross the border into the DR to work. That is how Julia and Bill come to know and love Piti and are extended a wedding invitation when Piti returns home to Haiti to marry the mother of his daughter. It is thus that their Haitian adventures begin. Julia is an author of several books and a journal keeper. She keeps a journal of their journey by four wheel drive pickup deep into northwest Haiti, never planning to write the memoir that eventually emerges. We are plunged into the culture and lives of Haitians as she writes for us from that journal. After the earthquake they return with Piti, his wife, and child to bring supplies and to check on family members. This time as they also venture south to Port Au Prince, we are immersed once again into the horror that was post earthquake Haiti.
I have been thinking a great deal about this quote, "When we have seen a thing, what then is the obligation?" Julia Alvarez shares these words from a friend who had traveled the world and seen hard things. What truly is our obligation? Bill's answer to his wife is, "We do what we can. We try to be generous wherever we find ourselves."
And then Julia writes:
"And tonight it happens -- what seldom happens in a human family so scattered and stratified, so divided by opportunity that sometimes it's difficult to recognize the critter at the top as kin to the one at the bottom. Tonight, oh holy night: a disparate group has gathered like pieces of a story under one roof, all having eaten enough, all safe enough for now, all asleep or ready for sleep. . ."