On Jan. 12, 2010, Jonathan Katz, the only full-time American news correspondent in Haiti, was sitting in his home, preparing to ship out in a few weeks time for his next assignment. Within seconds, the ground beneath him began to shake and everything changed.
In his new book, The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, Katz lays out a hard-hitting critique of the rescue efforts that followed the quake and why good intentions were simply not good enough. The book forces us rethink aid and how the development enterprise shifted the balance of power from Haitians to Westerners during the response and subsequent reconstruction, only to exacerbate historical injustices.
With over $16.3 billion made in pledges to help Haiti recover after the quake, and very little ever transferred to the government, Katz investigates what went wrong in such a massive aid endeavor. He describes what a cruel twist of fate it was for Haiti to experience such a disastrous event, after so many years of extreme poverty, political corruption, dilapidated infrastructure, and foreign meddling – only to have such an uncoordinated humanitarian response, which often bypassed those that were most in need.
Situated in the far southwest of Ethiopia, on the border with South Sudan, is Gambella -one of the country’s four “emerging regions.” Unique in Ethiopia, Gambella is low and humid, encompassing several river basins and the country’s sole tropical mountain rainforest in Godere. Gambella’s unique climate has also produced some of the country’s best-suited land for large-scale commercial agriculture. The forest and the farmland are two of Gambella’s greatest resources, and efforts to best utilize them can sometimes be at odds. Yet as I learned on a trip through the Godere forest earlier this year, there is much to learn there about the challenges and opportunities for reconciling these competing demands.
A trip in the Gambella region almost always begins with a visit to Gambella town, the regional capital, the type of place where the majority of the vehicles on the road bear 3-letter acronyms (IOM, WFP, MSF, etc.) Continue reading →
One cannot spend time in Rwanda without witnessing the effects of the grim 1994 genocide. From the road, passing through small towns, I saw signs pointing to memorials to direct Rwandans and other visitors to the sites where the memory of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi is encapsulated. Over 500 official memorials exist throughout the country; some created by the government, others by community associations, and still others by individuals. At some sites, skeletons are left intact in the position the person died, others display the bones of victims neatly arranged in rows, and still others consist of modest crosses at sites of mass burials. Memorialization has been positioned as a central part of the healing process of Rwandan communities and society as a whole.
However, inextricably linked to the memorialization process is the power it implies to choose how history is remembered through the, at times, static narrative of the genocide. Continue reading →
The day had been dedicated to talk of poetry and dreams and higher things like stars. It had been slightly difficult, especially because I spoke neither Pashto nor Dari, nor the Shyaari dialect of the mountainous northern region of Pakistan. But through actions and laughter, we had re-enacted the timeless story of the firefly and the bird, captured in verse by national poet Allama Iqbal. And we had talked of his vision and the way we, as Pakistanis, were all a part of it.
Now, we were moving on to talk of other dreams. This question was a difficult one to ask, especially since I wasn’t too sure how I’d answer it myself. So there had to be a steady stream of words, buying time and letting them think. Continue reading →