Some readers on this blog know me as a ruthless humanitarian critic, a pretentious fashion snob, or just an arrogant international blogger that’s hates mission teams. Others know me as a caring, yet honest brother, leader, and community member who just so happens to publish things that piss people off. (I’ve been getting quite the comments this week.) While any of this is true or not is certainly up for debate, there’s a side to this writer that isn’t presented much on this blog and it’s the storyteller and artist side of me. That’s the side of me that you’ll find if you read my book that just got published this week, The Grinder. Sure, you’ll get some of the same do-gooder criticism alongside evidence of my own good-doing in the book. Back in January I provided a preview of the book here on the blog, so if you read that you know what I mean. But ultimately the book is about the stories that make us human and make us one.
I originally thought that I’d be writing a book about the earthquake, much like the many other experts and survivors who’ve already shared their perspectives. As a survivor myself who was left homeless by the disaster far outside of the capitol city that was shown on the news reports, I thought that my story would be worth sharing. My experience was unique and definitely showed a different side of the event than what most people know. But as I wrote The Grinder I discovered that the project was not about the earthquake at all, but about exposing the depth of the Haitian spirit that runs pure through the communities of people that depend on one another here. It was the earthquake that truly awakened me to understand what it meant to be a part of a Haitian community, even though I had already lived here for 3 years. So although the book is set within the devastating times of this devastating event, it’s about much more than the event itself. And although most of the world has already forgotten about what happened to Haiti on that day, this sense of community that can provide each of us with strength and hope is something that is absolutely timeless,and that’s what I really want people to take away from the book. In the preface to the book I describe why I chose to write it:
When people find out that I survived the earthquake they seldom know how to react. Most of them coming to Haiti probably were inspired to do so because of the earthquake and find it hard to believe that there were any foreigners involved in the country before that. It’s easy to assume that people that look similar to ourselves and come from a similar geographic origin probably have a similar story to our own. We expect the survivor stories to come from people who look like the Haitians that we saw on the news in those days following the quake and we don’t expect their stories to have anything in common with our own. Because they exist on the other side of the lines that we draw between the people needing help and the people who can provide help. And somehow life is easier to muddle through when all the people on each side of that line have one huge generalized story for each other. That’s when it’s clear what pronouns we are supposed to use, “us” and “them”.
But when we take the time to hear just one individual story that line starts to fade because we are invited to participate in their story with them. And with each additional story that is told and heard, the lines fade more and more until they are not even noticeable any longer.
This book is that invitation to participate in the story. Not only my own story of what I lived through during the earthquake in Haiti of January 12, 2010, but the story of my community that lived through it with me. That community is Mizak, a rural area near Jacmel on the southern coast, miles away from Port-au-Prince and the devastation that was seen on the news reports all over the world in the days after the quake. Mizak, however, and those who live there, was not far removed from the tragedy that was born from that quake. The people in this community felt the effects of the quake in a very different way than those in the capitol, but none less significantly, and this book is my way to share their side of the story.
The stories represented in this book were collected in the months following the earthquake as a project of Living Media International as a sort of therapy through creative expression. It was a way to remind each other of the beauty that remained in life. Early on after the quake all anyone could see was the ugly. Through allowing them the opportunity to sit down and share their stories and get them down in writing we could also push them to look for where the hope would lie farther ahead. In the casual conversations with neighbors as everyone would tell what they had lived it was easy to focus on all the bad things that had occurred. By structuring people’s story telling with a more concrete goal in mind and in an environment of support and understanding, then they could process the fears more effectively and begin to see beyond them.
No names have been changed as those involved wanted their stories to be shared in their truest forms possible and all agreed to having them included in the book. To some this book was their only hope of having their voices heard.
I am fortunate to be considered a part of this community and am honored that they would trust me with their stories in this way.
Although through these stories many issues are explored such as humanitarian aid, religion, and racial identity, the intent is not to analyze such issues to arrive at any conclusion but simply to show their role in the big picture of the event. As noted throughout the book my conclusion is that enough words have already been hurled at the country and at the situation caused by the disaster to try to provide reasons for it all, but they only make things more confounding in the end. We can forever continue to ask why and try to explain something that’s not meant to be explained, but the only real way to step forward towards a different future is to begin to understand each other a little more completely. That is what can happen through our stories.
By reading on in this book, you not only are agreeing to open your eyes to a different perspective and see what it’s like in someone else’s shoes, but you are agreeing to help carry the load of those who must walk in those shoes daily. By reading you are sending a message that their stories have value and their struggles will not be forgotten. Although you, the reader, may never meet any of these individuals who are represented by the stories in this book, by turning the page you are stepping into their community and walking alongside them as they push forward toward a future worth surviving for.
Sound good? Well guess what, you can buy the book now on CreateSpace or on Amazon! You can also like the book on Facebook to get the latest updates and follow the website for more previews, reviews, and more. I don’t make any money off of writing this blog, so buy a book for you and all your friends, and it will help me keep living this crazy life here in Haiti. Thanks!