Frantz Cartright has family and friends in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I asked him to please write this post.
When the earth trembles…
our confidence instantly vanishes and we immediately come to terms with the frailty of our existence. I have had many such moments in California, in Indonesia and in Haiti.
Why so much devastation in Haiti?
Traditional construction in Haiti uses common cement blocks and reinforced concrete to make all construction strong. Often, in the interest of cost saving, steel reinforcement and concrete strength are inadequate. But earthquake resistant concrete construction requires more than strong concrete and adequate steel reinforcement; it also requires the knowledge of where to place the reinforcement. Haitian engineers follow the code of the American Concrete Institute on reinforced concrete construction, the same code which governs construction in the US and many other countries, but like in most of the US, does not follow the more stringent part dealing with earthquake resistant construction.
After the San Francisco earthquake, the building code there was changed to make construction earthquake-resistant and of course the changes were costly. Soon, contractors complained about the cost of construction. The city made exceptions and a very large number of buildings were re-built the old-fashioned way. Today, San Francisco is undergoing a program aimed at strengthening the buildings against earthquakes. Such is human nature.
In Haitian construction, no consideration is given to earthquakes even though every so often earthquakes occurred and studies and reports were written. It all crumbled like a “house of cards” because of the magnitude of the seism, and because the epicenter was right where the oldest and most inadequate construction and the highest concentration of people were.
Are the poor being punished again? Pat Robertson would have you believe that they are paying for a pact that they made 200 years ago with the devil. Of course more of the poor people are dead, there are more of them. They are the ones whose bodies are being dumped by trucks along with trash, pushed and scooped into piles by tractors, buried or burned in mass graves or piles…for health reasons. They are the ones whose last breath is the stench of their death. No one will ever know the stories of their holocaust that started many years before. They will gradually be forgotten like the many thousands before them that prematurely met their end for one poor reason or another.
Cathedrals, churches, hotels, the most common and spectacular stone constructions have nearly all collapsed. So many icons and landmarks have crumbled that the Haitian psyche is being altered forever. It is the confluence of a multiplicity of bad practices accumulated over the years. Luckily, there were virtually no fires, lines of natural gas being non-existent.
Everyday the news gets worse. The government seems to be absent. How could any government know how to cope or where to begin, amidst so much devastation? Only outsiders can have their heads straight and then, only for a while.
The landmarks that define the Haitian environment, the icons of faith, have all but crumbled. The very definition of the Haitian people is being shaken at the core. People assemble to pray in front of the ruins of churches and cathedrals. They have faith that God is still there somehow, somewhere, between the fallen debris that has buried those trapped who no longer have the strength to cry for help. They give thanks for having been spared.
Alas! One thing my Haitian brothers and sisters know is how to endure misery, suffering and death. We have been doing this for many, many years against all odds and adversities. This social aftershock is testing our faith, yet, our collective humanity endures. The whole world is helping.
Haitians will come out of this. In Haiti, after every mountain there is a mountain. This unshakable spiritual strength for survival will never go away. From untold treachery, through suffering and bloodshed, our ancestors vanquished the mighty French, not by “making a pact with devil,” as Pat Robertson would have you believe, but by wanting to be dignified humans like all children of God, and by submitting to the Almighty because they know that He is really in control, and that all is by His Mysterious Will.
The echoes of the institutions of slavery are still resonating in Haiti. Social layers exist and are not equal. It is an on-going silent dialogue on race. Haitians need to learn to look each other in the eye and truly believe that although they may be of unequal social condition, as humans they are truly equal.
From Haiti, the only nation forged by slaves that broke the shackles of servitude, maybe the dialogue on race will help us all better understand our humanity.
By Frantz Cartright
I received the following email from Frantz, this is what prompted me to ask him to write a blog about the earthquake in Haiti.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I am requesting donations on behalf of my high school in Haiti, the institution Saint Louis de Gonzague where I spent 13 years of my youth. In Port-au-Prince the buildings have been badly damaged and one building in adjacent Delmas has collapsed. There are casualties but the news is still sketchy and we are awaiting more details. The situation is a total catastrophe.
SLGAFI is the Saint Louis De Gonzague Alumni Foundation of which I have been a board member for the last 5 years. The main goal of the Foundation is to provide scholarships for needy children. Today however, we are making a drive to raise money to assist the victims of the earthquake at the school. I hope that you can participate with me. 100% of the donations go to the victims. Please make your donations on line by visiting www.slgafi.org. No amount is too small.
Send donations by mail to:
The Saint-Louis de Gonzague Alumni Foundation Inc.
1 Club Boulevard
West Orange, NJ 07052