The presentation went pretty well. 150 people came out on a rainy Friday night and most stayed for the whole two hours. We had a historian who spoke about Haiti's difficult birth and the difficult conditions that have held Haiti back over the centuries. I was speaking on the geology of the quake, and the implications for a place like California, so towards the ending I tossed up the graphic shown above to see the relative scale of plate boundary relationships in the Caribbean and California. There is no direct correlation, with California part of the American mainland and Haiti an island on oceanic crust, but the idea of a complicated boundary of multiple strike-slip faults leading into a convergent boundary is valid.
It was the last part of the evening that got to me. On the one hand, I was talking to a bunch of Californians and Americans who were interested and upset about what happened in Haiti when the earthquake struck, but despite anything we could say, the country is still pretty much remote from our everyday concerns. On the other hand, three young women sat in the front row listening to our academic discourse. They are MJC students, attending under the auspices of the Cooperative Association of States for Scholarships, the goal of which is to prepare foreign students to return home with personal, academic, and technical skills which will enable them to continue growing professionally, share the benefits of their training with others, and make positive contributions to the development of their countries. Needless to say, these three young ladies were from Haiti. They had lost friends and relatives in the quake, and had to live in fear for days before finding out the fates of their own parents and siblings.
They spoke briefly to the crowd, telling of their pride in being Haitian, and showing pictures of the best of their country, the places of beauty and magnificence, many of which have been lost. I can't imagine what it was like for them; in this country for only a little over a year, learning English almost from scratch, and hearing of the devastation of their home country from afar. And then trying to describe their feelings to an audience of strangers. Sympathetic strangers, but strangers just the same. I tried hard to understand what it was like for them, but the best I could do was to try and imagine what it would be like if the if the situation was reversed. And I felt the tears...
Not to be cynical, but Haiti is going to be gone from the news headlines soon. Some Hollywood star is going to divorce another Hollywood star, or some pro athlete is going to do something stupid, or some politician is going to make some colossally hypocritical assertion. And our collective short attention span will wander to other places. Please don't let it happen. A donation that feeds a few people for a few days is wonderful, but we need to look to the future of the country, and the efforts to help Haitians rebuild an infrastructure that can support the people in the long run. Please consider donating to Habitat for Humanity or other groups that will be participating in the rebuilding of the country.