Monday, January 18, 2010

Thoughts on Haiti

My book of 2009 - a book that truly inspired me- that kept my interest every moment- that even inspired me to sign up for the medical anthropology class I am in right now- is the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder - a biography of Dr. Paul Farmer. Paul Farmer is a Harvard educated doctor who also holds a PhD in anthropology. Already sounds like an amazing guy, right? I haven't even begun... he works 4 months of the year at Harvard as an Anthropology professor and doctor. He then uses the money he makes in those 4 months to fund a healthcare clinic in Haiti where people can be treated for whatever they can afford- even if that means treating them for free. This is a huge undertaking since Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world, and good healthcare is unheard of. What makes Paul Farmer successful is that he approaches his medicine from an anthropological perspective. What has made the western developed world's attempts at fixing AIDS or Tuberculosis a complete failure is that lack of an anthropological perspective.

Not even 2 months after finishing this book, with Haiti still fresh in my mind, the country is hit by a devastating earthquake. With a thorough image of how poor their healthcare system already is, I think I felt perhaps even more panic and worry for those living there than others with a less informed view of how hard it already is to live there. Of course a disaster like this would be terrible anywhere, but it really couldn't hit anywhere worse than Haiti- a country where people are already struggling beyond what most Americans can even comprehend.

I watched footage last night on my favorite news channel - MSNBC (Yes, I'm well aware of their very liberal approach to news reporting, but being a liberal myself, I find myself agreeing with most of what they say...). They approached their news coverage in a way that I had not expected. Yes, there is chaos in Haiti, many are homeless, many have nothing left... but there is not as much chaos and crime as one would expect in a poverty stricken "undeveloped" country. People seem to be helping one another out in any and all possible ways.

While watching this coverage I had flashbacks to the footage of the most notable natural disaster we saw here in the States- another area close to my heart - when Katrina hit New Orleans. I was born in New Orleans, and my parents' old house was 6 feet underwater when the levies broke. What made this disaster even more terrifying was that those who were seeking refuge in the Superdome encountered, robbers, rapists, and murderers. I don't mean to judge the people of New Orleans - I have no idea how I would react in a terrifying situation like that- and this could all be skewed news reporting- but nothing like this seems to be going on in Haiti- nothing that the news is covering at least. The people of Haiti seem to be handling a terrible disaster with much more class and bravery than Americans would (I don't exclude myself from this...).

I've been pondering the effects of living in poverty for some time now. After my visit to Ghana I could genuinely say that generally- Ghanaians seem to be, as a culture, more open and giving than Americans. Something I found to be quite ironic since most Americans have so much more than those in Ghana. Perhaps the lack of material things causes people to be more concerned with people than "stuff," and that value of a person causes someone to react differently in a moment of crisis. Of course I am speaking in remarkably broad generalizations and stereotypes. And I also realize I sound very hypocritical since I, myself have lived a very cushy life filled with much "stuff."

So I hope that Paul Farmer is safe and sound - he is someone who has truly saved the world. And I know he will be essential and necessary in helping Haiti rebuild. Read about his story!

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