Hard Difficulties

Was feeling the current Harper’s “Notebook,” a brief overview of Haiti’s recent history. Didn’t know the U.S. had fucked up Haiti so methodically (or at all), ’cause I’m ignorant. SOMEONE PLEASE REFRESH ME BRAINFIRE ‘BOUT THE MYRIAD DAZZLING BENEFITS OF MODERNITY?

In 2008, a spike in food prices provoked the world’s poor to riot against the governments of Haiti, Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. Haitians lined up for rations and filled their bellies with fine silt mixed with water, shortening, and salt, shaped into discs and set out to harden in the morning sun. Dirt eating in Haiti stems from a craving not for any trace minerals the eaters may ingest but for the sheer mass in the gut. As one woman said to a journalist, “Once you eat [the biscuits], you don’t feel hungry anymore. That and a glass of water and you feel satisfied.” To supplement the clay cakes, children compete with pigs for the gleanings along open sewers. “No one talks about the sugar,” said a furious woman in a public market. “No one talks about the corn, the beans, and the oil. No one talks about the education for the kids. No one cares about what we go through.”

In the logic of economic development, land that feeds people is underemployed, freeholder sufficiency is poverty, and independence from wage work is backwardness. People once called isolated and unproductive now starve from being integrated and unemployed. They starve, in other words, from the very dependency that represents their modernity. These millions of Haitians—the great-great-grandchildren of the slaves who instructed the luminaries of the European Enlightenment on the meaning of liberty, the great-grandchildren of the proud smallholders whose cassava and dasheen gave material meaning to that freedom—grind earth between their teeth.

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