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What happens after

Last Sunday, a group of Melton Fellows had the privilege to listen to Jonathan Katz, the only Associated Press reporter to be present in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. He showed us images he had taken in the days and months following the disaster and shared his interpretations of how each person or group of persons interacted–or didn’t interact–after the earthquake–whether they were Haitian, worked and lived Haiti before and after the earthquake or if they came as a part of relief agencies or security forces following the earthquake. Everyone taking in what had happened and conducting themselves according to whatever they held fast to–religion, law and order, mission and/or ethos–in a place where the literal ground had just recently shook from beneath them.

One image and explanation struck me deeply, it was an image that Mr. Katz took of the UN base where he said that on one side of the fence many people sat in meetings after meetings discussing how to best help Haiti–country and people–recover while Haitians stood on the road outside. As someone who evacuated from Hurricane Katrina as a college student and will forever be connected to a city who faced a similar disaster in unexpectedness and destruction, I found great similarity in the image of then President Bush flying over a flooded New Orleans looking through a small airplane window–there but detached.

In no way am I connecting the disruption of a part of my life to the destruction and upheaval of the entirety of the lives of the Haitian people, but more of connecting the aftermaths of both with a bit of an idea of how people talk to people after disasters.

After Katrina, people would say things to me like “they should just wipe out the city and use it as coastline” or “awww, all of that is gone,” without any thought to sentimental value or the emotions I was processing at the thought of huge aspects of my current identity being underwater or of unknown whereabouts. Jonathan also spoke of how few actors that came in after the earthquake actually engaged with the people of Haiti, spoke Kreyol or made any effort to discuss with the people of Haiti what they needed so that everyone moved within the same rhythm.

But maybe, as I write this, because so many people lack the ability to effectively talk with people after disasters, it is the listening that matters. Not the talking, but the wanting to listen–the wanting to hear what people are going through; what they need and how they are processing the new world they live in and ground they stand on. It is the being there and being connected–not through your lips but through your ears. Listening to learn–learning ways to make your support effective and collaborative.

Oddly enough, I used to tell my elementary school students, “When we listen, we learn.”
so let’s listen,

—Ashley Wilson