Why I’m En Route to Haiti
I ran into Al Jazeera English Fault Lines correspondent Josh Rushing in the Dallas Fort-Worth airport a few hours ago. He lives in Austin now, apparently. The U.S. military spokesman-turned-journalist said he’s been touring the country speaking to journalism students, telling them to choose a place or subject area upon graduation and dive into it as a reporter. He said too many of them are following the beaten path of traveling to New York City or some other media hub, hoping to work their way up the ladder in a (probably dying) news company.
So he was glad to hear that I’m on my way to Haiti, not the Big Apple. Later today I arrive in Haiti’s capital city, Port-Au-Prince. I’ve been studying Haitian Creole all summer, but haven’t had a chance to practice speaking it. If I can pick up the language, I’ll be in Haiti working as a freelance multimedia journalist for a number of the coming months.
The American people are woefully misinformed on the historical and ongoing impact of U.S. foreign policy on Haiti. That’s partly because there is little to no in-depth feature reporting by U.S. journalists working in Haiti. When Haiti does receive attention on occasion, it is too often with sensational stories of extreme poverty (or success). In that sense, I’m “going to where the silence is.”
Haiti is constantly described as the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere,” but of course, it’s so much more than that tired catchphrase. That the country’s founding slave revolution was truly “a giant step for mankind” is not recognized in our history books. Haitian soldiers fought in the American revolution and its independence had a profound influence on America’s territorial expansion. Bill Clinton, now U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti, said in an interview on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show last week that “they [Haitians] have the best chance to escape their history in my lifetime.” What that means is anyone’s guess, but his words matter because the ex-president is leading public-private philanthropic partnership intent on integrating Haiti into the modern global economy.
Where does the average Haitian family fit in to development schemes concocted in Oxford or New York? What say do they have in the process? The United States, Canada, France, Brazil and other major powers are politically invested in Haiti’s growth. There are more international NGOs per capita in Haiti than any other country. Readers of this site know that journalism is a democratized two-way street now more than ever, with the establishment media’s gate-keeping and agenda-setting functions increasingly usurped by technology-equipped citizens. Is there a two-way street between Haiti and the West? Are Haitian women artisans, or the farmers’ konbit, recognized as pillars of the global economy?
These are some of the questions I’ll have in mind in Haiti. I’ve got a long list of story ideas to begin working on once I’ve settled in. What are you interested in learning about Haiti? Story ideas for me? Tips or connections that I’m missing? Please share your comments below.
This trip is not financed or supported by any grant, scholarship, or institution. It is based entirely on my own savings (thanks to Capital Pedicab for the gainful employment over the past few years). I’ll be accepting donations online soon. I’m prepared to produce video, image, and audio reports with a Panasonic AG-HMC150 HD video camera, Panasonic FZ-35 digital camera, Zoom H2 flash audio recorder, Macbook Pro, 1.5TB in external hard drives, and 40GB in SDHC cards. I’m grateful to journalist Reed Lindsay for helping with the arrangements – this wouldn’t be happening, at least not now, without his guidance.
Previous Mediahacker Haiti coverage here.