Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Once You See It, You Cannot Unsee It...by Tanya Sneed


why is it
i wonder
a child's problem
to figure out
how to survive
the streets
why do adults like me
let children sleep there
why do kids
have to negotiate
the horrors of such a life
when i go to haiti
i sleep in a bed with a pillow
while little kids, even 3-year-olds, have
no place to lie
their heads
why do i
let it be that way
why is it their problem
and not my problem


everywhere i go
i see her
the little girl, in tattered, filthy clothes
begging for a gourde*
outside our car window
everywhere i go
i see the man without a leg
begging through the fence
the hungry used to swarm us
at the airport
but now they have to beg
from afar
everywhere i go
i see the old woman
emaciated and desperate
imploring us to give her some food
everywhere i go
i see the toddler
sitting there
in the dark
a rat scurrying by
everywhere i go
i see the man's blank stare
standing there
in the slums
holding a baby
the consequence of
a long history of
everywhere i go
i see them
no matter how much i try to forget
everywhere i go
they are there
pleading for

More thoughts. . .

Last night, a coworker was asking me on the phone, do I really enjoy going to Haiti? I imagined out loud that, sure, I might be happier basking in the sun on a beach at some resort, and she insisted I wouldn't, and, after further reflection, I decided that maybe she's right, because I wouldn't want anyone to see my white flabby legs (ha!). Still, it seems like an odd thing to say, that I enjoy going to one of the most hellish places in the western hemisphere. If I say it's a pleasure to visit a place where there is untold suffering, it feels like I must be exploiting it on some level. And maybe I am. I am always open to the possibility that this is more about me than it is about them, that my selfishness, as it often does, reigns supreme. But I say that if someone feeds the poor, it doesn't matter at all to the hungry person the motive of the one who gives. Whether he or she is altruistic or narcissistic, what does it matter to the person whose belly gets full? And so I won't use my self-centeredness as an excuse to not do anything, but I want it out there, in front of me, right there on the table, for all to see, so that I don't get too full of myself, thinking I'm good when I know all too well that my goodness is a mockery of goodness. I know the truth about me, and I'm OK with exposing it. In the meantime, there are people crying out for justice, and we must hear them, no matter how complicated and convoluted and downright wrong our reasons for listening and responding.

I'll close with some of my favorite Arundhati Roy quotes:

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.

You have come to a stage where you almost have to work on yourself. You know, on finding some tranquility with which to respond to these things, because I realize that the biggest risk that many of us run is beginning to get inured to the horrors.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

We don't want to be like good middle-class Germans in the 1930s, who drove their children to piano classes and never noticed the concentration camps springing up around them--or do we?

The trouble is that once you see it, you can't unsee it. And once you've seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There's no innocence. Either way, you're accountable.

Haitian proverb: Wòch nan dlo pa konnen doulè wòch nan soley.
The rocks in the water do not know the suffering of the rocks in the

(The baby pictured above weighs 10 pounds and is one year old. Photo from malnutrition clinic in Cite Soleil, May 2007.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I was especially moved by the sentence "Once you see it, you cannot unsee it." That describes how we feel everytime we return from Haiti. Our past trip we were able to go to Cite Soleil and the images of the people and the poverty there is something we cannot "unsee". Yes, we are accountable and are more determined to help in whatever way we can.