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Edwidge Danticat on Haiti's Challenge

The celebrated Haitian-American author joins us.

A worker sprays with disinfectant a woman with symptoms of cholera in Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, November 10, 2010. (AP)

The news from Haiti can seem to go from disastrous to worse. An epic earthquake in January. An outpouring of sympathy from the world. 

Then there was the reality of rubble and flimsy relief camps. Recently, there’s been a hurricane, a deadly cholera outbreak, and now riots. 

Famed Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat is watching with the rest of us, with the rest of the Haitian diaspora.  She’s watching with the special pain of watching countrymen and women, cousins, the country of her birth, in agony. 

-Tom Ashbrook


Edwidge Danticat, award-winning Haitian-American author. Her new book is “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.” She’s also author of the new children’s book, “Eight Days: A Story of Haiti.” She won a 2009 MacArthur “genius grant.”

Jacqueline Charles, Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald, and close friend of Edwidge Danticat.  An award-winning journalist, she arrived in Haiti a day after the earthquake hit in January, and was the first to interview Haitian President Rene Preval after the disaster. She herself was born in the Turks and Caicos Islands; her mother is Haitian and she has many relatives in Haiti.

Here’s an excerpt from Danticat’s new book:

By Edwidge Danticat

Excerpted from her new book, CREATE DANGEROUSLY. © 2010 Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.

I am not going to make it all the way, I think. We’ve been walking for four hours and suddenly I have a piercing pain in my side. My cousin Maxo’s oldest son, Nick, is about thirty feet ahead, hiking at a steady gait, following my Uncle Joseph, who’s been struggling up a steep mound on a borrowed mule. We have been told that the mule knows the way, instinctively, has made the journey several times before, but I haven’t, not for a while, not since I was eight years old.

Short and stout and handsome, Nick stops and pulls a pack of menthol Comme Il Faut cigarettes out of his shirt pocket. While lighting up, he turns around to check on me, doubled over, hugging my midsection, where the pain has spread from my abdomen down to my thighs. Nick walks over and puts his nonsmoky hand on my shoulder.

“Tired?” he asks.

I want to tell him that I am more than tired, but I am saving all my strength to ward off the pain.

“I think I’m dying,” I finally manage to say.

“No you’re not,” he answers, chuckling before drawing once more on his cigarette. “I was just like you when I came back here for the first time in a while. All the walking is just catching up with your body. You’ll be fine in a minute.”

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  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    I am soooo excited that Edwidge D. is on today! Her books are amazing I can read and reread them I have loved many a night in bed reading an ED book, can’t wait to hear her…Yea!

  • Renae

    I wanted to read more. A good sign of a good read. I was drawn into the characters right away almost ready to take that walk with them to see where it was leading, like where in the book was this passage in comparison to the beginning and the end. Interesting thanks.

  • LIZ

    The last major earthquake in Haiti was in 1860. It is not an active area. Cholera was not historically a problem.

    Why are these things happening now? Is it possible the American government is getting ready to declare Haiti a U.S. territory? There would seem to be strategic advantages.

    Google “HAARP” and its ability to cause earthquakes.

  • hellen

    The United Nation is a Useless organization. The majority of the countries that govern the council come from dictatorships that don’t work and they want to give advise to the rest of the world? Haiti is just one of their victims .

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    It’s time to tell Haiti to take care of itself. We’ve been helping that country for the better part of a century, and no good has come of it. Tell the Haitians that we’ll be here when they’re ready to form a good government and be productive citizens of the world, but we aren’t going to support corruption and riots any more.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I heard a report this morning, I believe on BBC Newshour, that NGO’s are weakening Haiti. In short, foreign aid is making it tougher for Haiti to get their own act together. They cite the high pay for visiting professionals, who live in hotels, expect the best of care, all that. The cost of airfare to bring them, for instance. Wouldn’t it be better for churches and other non-governmental organizations just to hand over some money to the ambassador and hand it over? The answer was posed. I don’t recall the answer.
    It sounds like Haitians abroad, expatriates, can help Haiti more effectively.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    No, Sisyphus is the right symbol. Haiti rises, only to fall again, and its fall is caused internally. Blaming the rest of the world is easy, but wrong.

    Springdale, AR

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    A vision that stays with my eyes from the Haitian earthquake is a waving arm with a hand attached, waving from a gigantic pile of stone, building material. The arm waved and waved. I continue to be fascinated by Haiti especially by Edwidge and also Wyclef J. who I heard live two summers ago and loved it.

  • Zeno

    Haiti has been a political puppet for so long that it seems unable to operate without some outsider pulling the strings.

    Lack of education, too much religion, too much theft, too much heat, too few resources / too many people?

    I know in my heart that my $10 that I gave post earthquake never got there, but likely ended up in the pocket of some CEO at the Red Cross.

    60 Minutes ran a story on what seemed like government corruption to me: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7054223n

    I have to say though if the same conditions were to occur in America the violence would be stunning, however the Haitians must have learned through abject catastrophes both political and physical, behaved with great humanity. It was quite stunning to see.

  • Robin Smith

    Robin Smith
    Nashville, TN

    I would like to ask the speakers about something I heard when I was in Haiti in July. One architect from Germany and other intellectuals have said, “The NGOs should pull out and allow the country to fall into civil war. The population will be decreased and the country can rebuild at the right population numbers.”
    This really sad words have haunted me.

    I totally agree with Maggie, the current caller.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Yes, Maggie, you can’t understand. That’s because you’re blinded by your own do-gooder mentality. You’ve been going for thirteen years. Have you accomplished anything, other than giving yourself a good feeling?

    We have nothing to learn from Haiti, beyond seeing a case study in a failed state. We must not take anything from Haiti. Our society works; theirs doesn’t.

    Springdale, AR

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Did the Haitians take down all their own trees, denuding the hills, and exposing themselves to dire straits? Who is their central planner? Or did they sell their resources abroad? I read about their eating sandwiches, literally. Sand. If everybody is well-behaved nonetheless, I’d just say that Christian loving-kindness persists even when one can’t hit back.

  • michael from Quincy

    I was reading that the Night Clubs there are still packed and fueled by NGO’s

  • Espierre Cimea

    Espierre Cimea
    Boston, MA

    I am very excited listening to Edwidge Danticat and at the same time sicken to my spirit to see Haiti becomes synonym of suffering and despair. Is it eternal? Our leaders seem incapable to comprehend the significance of this country is far greater than their miniscule collective ego.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Yes, we would have a different outcome. Let’s see: a people who revolt against a foreign power, suffer civil war and interference from the outside, but survive and create a great nation. What am I talking about? The United States. The parallel is exact. Haiti and the U.S. started around the same time and faced the same challenges.

    For an example in the Caribbean, look at the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor. The Dominicans have made a successful nation. What’s going on with Haiti?

    Springdale, AR

  • michael


    why does the media not talk about clintons involvement with undeomcratic forces doing the 1990′s in Haiti and the reason for such(since it was not in the best interest of the U.S.)

  • http://challenginglachesis.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    Perhaps if Haiti was given the freedom they earned with their successful rebellion against slavery, instead of being further enslaved economically by having to pay back France for reparations, they would be in a better position now. How much money are we spending on putting soldiers there, that could be put into food, shelter, and clean water to allow the Haitians the peace of mind and the strength that they need to actually be able to rebuild themselves.

  • michael

    “”undemocratic forces during the 1990’s””

  • michael

    Also wasn’t Haiti sued by the french and forced to pay after such rebellion?

  • http://challenginglachesis.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    If it’s the rainy season, perhaps there will be enough rain for everyone to collect drinking water off of the tarps. Until they can get the sanitation issues under control, this drinking and washing with rainwater only would prevent the spread of the cholera.

  • Zeno

    “What am I talking about? The United States. The parallel is exact. Haiti and the U.S. started around the same time and faced the same challenges.” -Posted by Greg Camp

    Haiti : 27,750 sq km
    USA : 9629091 sq km


  • Walter Simpson

    One caller emotionally called atention to the coups that have occurred in Haiti and the role of the U.S. government in orchestrating them and generally meddling in Haitian politics to the detriment of democracy and public welfare in Haiti. That was an issue that deserveded attention and discussion. It seemed like you dismissed it. I wish you hadn’t done that. At some point we Americans need to come to grips with our nation’s history of the very destructive illegal interventions in other countries. There has been a lot of lip service about promoting democracy while just the opposite has occurred.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Zeno, and it takes us less than 300 times as long to approach the degree of victimhood of Haiti, but here come the bankers, from here and from China, here come the corporations, macro-managing and micro-managing for the benefit of hedge funds and pension funds (for the benefit of senior voters?) blasting natural gas from under the earth thereby polluting water for whole districts. I’m sure others can elaborate. In short, I don’t trust that we are managing at all, just running ourselves into helplessness and harm. So who are we to boast? If this is a horserace, we aren’t near the end. Or if we are, we have cheated and bullied our way to the finish.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Walter Simpson, agreed. During the Cold War, post World War II, a lot of anti-democratic intervention could be overlooked on account of the domino-theory of global balance Communism/Capitalism — or Communism/democracy. But plenty of our client states were not democratic at all, and we overthrew elected leaders. I’m thinking of how we propped up the shah of Iran when Moussabeq (some name like that) had actually been elected. But that seems to be the shadowy truth globally. Post Cold War, we still say we are spreading democracy, but isn’t it really hegemony and imperialism? Is a peaceful globalism possible when most of the power belongs to one nation, especially one like ours? Or rather, what would be the better alternative?

  • Zeno

    Ellen – In general we US citizens refuse to acknowledge the actions that the US takes against other nations as anything other than helpful. But it is very far from the truth.

    In the case of Iran, we over threw the democratic and America loving Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. However when he moved to nationalize the oil fields for the nation B.P. (remember them) with the assistance of the US CIA installed the dictatorship of the Shaw.

    Imperial powers have been yanking this tiny island around since the first genocide at its founding. The original Haitians are extinct.

    So many imperial powers have stomped on that tiny island its no wonder they still can’t get a footing in civilization. Truly a political pawn if there ever was one.

  • Colleen Bynum

    I have been reading one of your books a week. I haven’t been reading them in any special order. I don’t believe I could endure the trials that the Haitian people have gone through. I have Haitian friends and I am wondering what pain they are carrying with them.
    Thanks for sharing your stories and never stop.

  • Roxanne

    I’m in New Orleans, LA. A Life long friend of mine is current in Haiti trying to help with building schools and the cholerea epidemic. I have been getting daily reports on the situtation on the ground as it were. Is haiti becoming the new ethiopia?

    Explaination; when I was growing up Ethiopia was considered least diserable place in the world, famines, wars, you name in. Now it seems like Haiti is constantly being bombarded with trials and tribulations.

  • Potter

    Thank you for having Edwidge Danticat. She more than anyone has made me feel sorrow for the people of Haiti- that they have taken about as much as they can. She is a real sweetheart too.

  • http://allwellbeing.com/ Douglas Adams

    A simple solution to Haiti’s Cholera Outbreak!

    The Solar Still

    Solar Stills operate on the same principles that produce rainfall. The sun is allowed into and trapped in the Still. The high temperatures produced destroy all pathogens. The water evaporates, and in this process, only pure water vapor rises in the Still, only to condense on the glass. The glass is sloped to the south, and the condensed water runs down the glass and is collected in a trough. The water is allowed out of the collector through silicone tubing, and is collected in 5 gallon glass jugs. There are no moving parts in the solar still, and only the sun’s energy is required for operation.

    The design of the our Solar Still began with many hours spent researching previous designs, successes and failures. Our goal for the Still project was to design and develop plans for a Still which could be replicated using “off the shelf” materials.

    We designed a still which is easy to replicate, using standard building materials, of which 95% are available “off the shelf”. The exterior materials were chosen for their ability to withstand our desert climate with minimal maintenance. The still produces an average of 3 gallons per day in the summer months. Winter production is expected to be 1/2 that amount. The Solar Still can utilize a standard size patio glass replacement, 34″X76″. The material costs per still are approximately $150.

    Brackish water is carefully placed inside Solar Still via an inlet near the base of the Still. As sunlight warms the black silicone bottom and heat is transferred to the water, the top of the water evaporates on to the inside of the glass cover, which is tilted toward the fresh water drain. approximately 8 square feet (of glass cover) will distill around 1 gallon of water per day, over five hours of full sunlight.

    The most important elements of the design are the sealing of the base with black, high temperature silicone rubber; (spread it on with a Bondo squeegee) and creating a good seal between the glass cover and the bottom of the box.

    This information was found at TheFarm.org

  • Teresa Cappelli Brady

    Espierre, I hope you receive this note sometime……I think of you whenever I drive through Everett Square and remember the wonderful students and patients at the Anna May Powers Health Center. Your family was an inspiration to many. It was not until I worked in Everett that I read anything written by Edwidge Danticat.
    Terry Cappelli Brady 

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