Note: This post has been written years ago. I believe it is very important but no one has picked up the idea. So I keep it at the top of this page at least, in the hope that one more person might read.
First we need definitions. Democracy, coming from the Greek word dēmokratía, literally means “rule by people”. Dēmos “people” and kratos “rule”.
Merriam-webster defines it as:
“a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
The direct democracy is where people vote on specific issues. Today, with the growing population direct democracy is difficult, so we usually have representative democracy. We vote for representatives, and they govern. Voting is considered an exercise of power by the people. It is sold as such. We've been made to believe from a young age that democracy is the best form of government, that elections is a civic duty, that's how we have our say in the government. We've been told over and over again that it is the most just and fair system. Winston Churchill's words are famous: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
However, this does not mean that we should accept it as is and not try to find a better way. The problem with democracy today is that people do not really rule. It's not even the government who rules. It's the people with the money, the lobbyists who rule. The people with money have the power, the more power they have the more money they make, the cycle repeats.
“If voting made any difference they wouldn't let us do it,” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain. Regardless of the original author of the quote, it has a big part of truth to it. Elections and voting is just a part of the game that keeps the game going by giving people the impression that they have power and there is a possibility of change. Whereas in fact, the players change, but the game still stays the game. The only way for people to actually rule, to exercise power is by them having a say in where money is spent. Because that's how our world works. It works on money. Money runs the world. That's why money decisions, where it's spent, is a very important issue. And it's very important that the one who pays the piper plays the tune. Whereas now, we are paying and the governments are playing the tune. It's totally unacceptable.
Some people say taxation is theft. Many others are fine with taxes. After all, public services need to be run, the fabric of society needs to be protected. No need to argue whether taxation is theft or not. The bigger problem that is overlooked here is not whether we are taxed or not, it's that governments get to decide where our tax monies go. Even if you are for paying taxes as a dutiful citizen, you should not be fine with governments spending that money, your money, on things you do not approve of.
For example, in 2014, Erdoğan built a Presidential Palace with more than 1,150 rooms. It was called Ak Saray (meaning "White Palace"), both as a reference to the “White House” and to the governing Ak Party. Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) AKP is also called Ak Party. Ak means “white” or “pure” in Turkish. The presidential palace was also called “Kaç-Ak Saray", again a play with words, kaçak meaning illegal, making it “Illegal Palace.”
Now... This is not a criticism of Erdoğan. It applies to every single item of expenditure in our national budgets, for every single country. People pay the taxes, they give the money, they should have the say. Instead of arguing for or against the building of such a palace, there is a different way of approaching the controversy. There are people who would like to brag about their country being so grand and see the president's office as representing their grandeur, those people should be free to pay for such a presidential palace. But others, who are not fine and do not consent to give a cent to pay for this lavish expenditure, should not be compelled to do so.
Similarly, if there is anybody who wants to pay for controls, for erecting walls/fences, for fancy tech equipment that makes war-mongers get rich, let them. There are people who feel more comfortable and secure that way. Anybody who wants to give money to soldiers, let them give it. Anybody who wants to pay for the security equipment at airports, to put security officers here there and everywhere on a salary, help yourself. But nobody should be obliged to do the same. Nobody should be obliged to pay for things s/he doesn't support.
Governments may dictate how much everyone is supposed to pay. But they may not dictate where that money will go to. People need to be given the means to decide where their money goes. It's their money after all.
With today's technology, it's not that difficult. In fact, it is partially put into action in Italy. You may give 5 per thousand of your due tax to any NGO of your wish. There is no reason for this not to be 1000 per thousand. The government makes a list of expenditures and how much is needed for what, this list is published online. Then, people go and pay their taxes distributing it to the causes they see worth. Just like a crowdfunding project. The only difference is that the government runs the crowdfunding and people paying taxes make the choice. If something is not seen as necessary, it won't get enough funding and cannot be put into action. If there is money, it gets done. Simple as that.
Even then, one might be in the minority, with the majority supporting what the status-quo propagates; still, it might be just a bit easier to accept the situation than what it is now. At least, one could go to bed with a free conscience that s/he didn't have to pay for things s/he didn't support.
Of course not everybody cares. Some people do not mind where their money is spent, they do not wish to be involved with such banal matters. They prefer to just give the money and let others think about it. So the governments won't be left without any resource for things they want to do. Not everybody in Italy uses the 5 per thousand for a cause they care about. If you don't say anything, the state gives it to the Church. But at least, people have a say over their 5 per thousand, in case they want to exercise that power.
Just like the 5 per thousand in Italy, the majority of the population will most probably not bother even if they can have a say over the 1000 per thousand of their taxes. That's not important. The important thing is for people to have control over what governments do with their money. Everybody who pays taxes should have that right. That should be a basic right. Nobody, not even an elected government, should be able to spend somebody else's money without their consent.
Today, governments use taxes collected from the public for all sorts of plunder, nepotism and power games. It all ends up with money. You cut out the money, you make a blow to the corrupt system. Only when people control the money, only then do they control the government. At least up to a certain point. Otherwise, the government controls the people.
Sure, people with more money will still have a bigger say on how to run the country, what gets done. But the numbers are on the side of ordinary people and we might just have a chance if we are given the smallest amount of power.
The saying goes “He who pays the piper plays the tune.” Whereas when it comes to taxes, we pay -that is the governments get the money from us by threat, by force, grabs it even before it gets to our pockets- and they get to play the tune. Seriously... If you are the one to pay, you should get to play the tune.
Today's “democracy” is totally fake. The real democracy, true democracy, in the sense that people get to rule is only possible when we, the people, can say where our monies go. It is time to put that saying into reality: The one who pays the piper, plays the tune.
You want to give... But giving has to be done in a certain way.
We had some children stuff. I had actually saved Lara's nice clothes and shoes as a memory, but in the end, I decided not to keep them. Just a few. Who knows what's going to happen in two decades? If she will have children, if we can store them safely. Before going to Madagascar we wrote to Jean-Claude to ask if there was an institution we could donate children's clothes and toys. He said it's better to give them firsthand, where people in need get them.
In a way, I find that better as well. I know from experience that when you donate things to an institution they are at high risk of either:
a) being appropriated for the benefit of the people running the place,
b) being left rotting in a corner.
We had given some stationery to an orphanage in Ghana, the man in charge just kept most for his children. The rest of the books and pens were stashed in a corner, he didn't distribute, let them rot in the humid air. To his credit, the children in Africa do not really know how to appreciate things and look after them. Not that children in Europe or in other places do know it! They generally have too much and could not care less if some things went missing. In Africa, it's a different kind though. They do not value most of this stuff that they have no use for. Perhaps it's because children don't have a concept of possession yet. Or at least for things they don't especially care about, because they hang on to precious things. Actually they make a fuss if anybody else attempts to touch something they are not even using. When another wants something, all of a sudden, it becomes precious. Children scatter things around. If things get lost, they cry so hard so as to stress the parents. Then they forget. They move on to whatever is at hand. If it's found, it only takes a short time until it's tossed aside again.
Anyway... In the end, we ended up stopping on the road and giving the things in people's/children's hands.
I knew we shouldn't be doing it that way. Naturally, there are always many children surrounding us. So what happens?
We stopped at a rest place where other cars were stopping as well. Children ask for empty plastic water bottles. They serve for so many things, putting oil, gas, drinks... Or they make cars out of them. Toy cars. Anyway, we had given out everything, had only one pair of socks left to give out. Lara took them out, passed them to Jean-Claude, who passed them out from the window. These two 13-15 year-old boys started tugging the socks. And they started a real fight over it. Seriously hitting each other. I don't know if I can describe how horrible it felt, just try to imagine: You give something to someone, you want to help, then you witness them fighting over that, hurting each other. You ask yourself whether it would have been better if you didn't give, if they didn't have anything in the first place.
Of course that's not true. The thing is, people need to have their minimum needs met. As if you don't see the same ugly fight between the rich who have more than enough!
“Over something which neither of them has use for,” I said to Carlo when we were discussing what had happened.
“They trade amongst themselves,” Carlo said.
Could be... Whatever the case, it is heavy to see that there are people in the world fighting over an old pair of baby socks. No wonder about the fights going on over things at bigger stakes. Some companies do it in a politer, more civilized fashion; it's done at a subtler level. But the fight, is as ugly for the ones who can see it.
We had run out of any material thing to give away. The kids on the riverside asked for biscuits. I had a couple of biscuits that I had taken from Rome, for us to munch on on the road. Once again, feeling obliged to give something, I took the bag out to give to the children. Again, of course there is not enough to go around. I suppose in general it's best not to take out anything unless you have enough for everybody. Anyway... I was going to distribute one by one. First, I randomly picked two girls to give to. A boy grabbed one from my hand before the girl could get it. Then one of the girls tried to get it from the boy. The boy, trying hard not to give it to her, squeezed his hand tighter. As he squeezed, the biscuit all fell in crumbles. The other biscuit had the same fate as the children were fighting over it.
Would it have been any different if there was enough for every kid? Perhaps. Perhaps then I could line up the kids and hand each a biscuit, one by one. Still, that wouldn't have guaranteed that there wouldn't be one who tried to grab a second from another.
This actually sums up what I learnt out of life in my almost half a century on this earth. There is a cake, or the image of a cake, and we all try to grab what we can. Some, like me, are weary of this greedy game and do not wish to get involved. (Of course lucky too to have enough.) Others like playing the game, their personality type fits perfectly for this kind of competition. Still others feel compelled to join the game as a matter of livelihood. There are not many options to live a decent life in our world. If people who are more than willing to work cannot get jobs, they may feel obliged to resort to other methods.
This may not absolve them, but it certainly is an explanation that calls for our understanding.
This time there was an elder man around the group of children. He had a stick in his hand. Anytime anybody tried to reach out and grab something as we were pulling it out of the bag, or anytime someone tried to get something given to another, the man would hit lightly on the children.
I'm not sure if I like/d this method. However, it seems to be the one that works. Do we need to have an authoritarian figure distributing the resources of the world like that to each one of us?
Perhaps that could be the only solution!
Or of course, we just keep playing this "the powerful or the rapacious grabs, the others starve or just get by" game.
I don't know about you, I don't like either. We'd better set up a long spoons game somehow, where the greedy cannot eat and have to learn to share if they want to survive. The continuation of our race might depend on that, because the way things are going, we will keep on plucking each other's eyes, or at least trying to.
As Anand Giridharadas so aptly says in his book “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World":
“You can inspire the rich to do more good, but never tell them to do less harm. You can inspire them to give back, but not to take less. You can inspire them to join the solution, but never accuse them of being part of the problem.”
The crux of the matter is: The elite “...clings to a set of social arrangements that allow it to monopolize progress and then give symbolic scraps to the forsaken -many of whom wouldn't need the scraps if the society were working right.”
Give symbolic scraps to the forsaken... This cannot be emphasized enough.
-many of whom wouldn't need the scraps if the society were working right...
This cannot be emphasized enough either.
We really need some drastic changes. When I say drastic, I'm talking about radically different ways of thinking, not going on with the “already on the table, cold plates.” Those plates have long gone bad, they did not serve, and we live in a totally different world than when those solutions were served. I have some ground-breaking ideas that need implementation. Come up with yours. Let's start discussing them. Let's get the conversation going on a totally tangential route. It may seem erratic, but the route we are going on is the erratic one; it's time to change our approach, it's time to redefine our concepts regarding borders, nationality, money, profit, governments etc.
We need UBI for everyone. We need to establish free-market citizenships where governments woo for our loyalties and taxes instead of us being chained to them at birth, without consent.
Here are some quotes from “Winners Take All”:
“the connection between the extraordinary helping and the extraordinary hoarding, between the milking -and perhaps abetting- of an unjust status quo and the attempts by the milkers to repair a small part of it.”
“There are many ways to make sense of all this elite concern and predation. One is that the elites are doing the best they can. The world is what it is; the system is what it is; the forces of the age are bigger than anyone can resist; the most fortunate are helping. This view may allow that this helpfulness is just a drop in the bucket, but it is something. The slightly more critical view is that this elite-led change is well-meaning but inadequate. It treats symptoms, not root causes; it does not change the fundamentals of what ails us. According to this view, elites are shirking the duty of more meaningful reform.
But there is still another, darker way of judging what goes on when elites put themselves in the vanguard of social change: that it not only fails to make things better, but also serves to keep things as they are. After all, it takes the edge off of some of the public's anger at being excluded from progress. It improves the image of the winners. With its private and voluntary half-measures, it crowds out public solutions that would solve problems for everyone, and do so with or without the elite's blessing.”
“The only thing better than being a fox is being a fox asked to watch over hens.”
My view is the more critical view, the place I've underlined. Even though the darker way of judging also has a substantial truth to it. The moral outrage is shushed and diverted and there can be no change without moral outrage. Because for change to happen, there has to be pressure. Where is the pressure going to come from if there is no outrage at the unjust status-quo?
Change must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglas
The ironical part which no one notices is expressed by Kirkus Reviews: "Give a hungry man a fish, and you get to pat yourself on the back—and take a tax deduction."
Yeah, that's what happens!
In Forbes, Jay Coen Gilbert comments:
“Giridharadas speaks truth to power, calling elites to account for giving so much lip service to 'changing the world,' while mostly upholding an unacceptable status quo."
Yes, the unacceptable status quo. Unfortunately, it's not only the elites who uphold it, it's a big part of the middle-class too. Nobody wants to give up their privileges. People are scared to lose their established status. They want their entitlements.
We're all playing a game of musical chairs. Who gets the chair?
The ones who already have a chair do not want to give up their chairs for even a short time to anybody who might be in need. It's logical in a way. They know they might never be getting their chairs back ever again. In fact, the probability of their not getting their chair back is almost 100 %. So we stick to our chairs and the status-quo.
Until somebody strong enough comes along to throw us off. Sometimes it happens, but not too often. The reason?
1- People are blinded by the status-quo. After all, they are like kittens who grew up with goggles as in the Blackmore experiment . Even the discriminated against are not aware most of the time.
2- Even when they are, “It is what it is” is a typical acceptance.
3- It's so difficult to break inertia.
So how do we change this game? The Musical Chairs Game... We can even keep playing it, but we need to establish a rule that forbids some people occupying million chairs when so many are without a seat. Plus, absolutely no stealing other people's chairs. (Which is actually what big global corporations and politicians do all the time.) Those who do, will be severely punished.
More important than that, we should change the song. Or change the game altogether. Let's start the game of long spoons. Those who are not altruists cannot survive. Solution for the overpopulation problem too. One stone, two birds.
A friend who did a marathon in North Korea was criticized for going there and supporting a despicable regime. My answer in his defense:
Perhaps apart from a handful of countries which might be considered "innocent", there really is no country in the world who has not had atrocities, grave wrongs in its past or present. Who talks about the countries drilling our world? Who talks about the ones hosting the global giants exploiting the world for profit? Who talks about the countries producing and selling arms? I mean some do, but too few.
North Korea is on the agenda because we are looking from “our” side. What travelling the world and reading/talking/thinking has taught me is that there is at least some good side to things we see labelled as bad. I have difficulty in understanding how the US can be hailed as a dreamland when there are so many problems which do not exist in many "backwards" countries. Italy is a pothole country, sorry to say not much better than the shithole ones in many ways.
It's all a matter of perspective and nothing is really so black and white when it comes to the political agenda. There is always propaganda and much we don't know of.
As for what Ryan did, I think it's a great experience. We all share this world, so why not run the same tracks with other fellow human beings? I currently live in Italy, pay the government taxes; I am obliged to support them, otherwise I'd go to jail; but they don't have my consent or approval on anything. I exist in this world, I travel and shop and do other things, none of which is a testimony of my support of the system; it's only a simple fact of existence. This is what it is, the world which I'm born into. I do what I can to change it. Until it changes, I will be living under the conditions as much as I can stand, or isolate myself further and further. So, with or without our support, the wheels of politics keep turning... I'd say we need to remove our support from our end first, before directing criticism to other countries.
“As you probably know, it's a private island owned by Royal Caribbean.”
I was so disappointed when I heard this announcement. Such a thing had never occurred to me. I mean we had been to Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas but it had said “private island” in parenthesis in the itinerary, so I had known that in advance. And we had been to Nassau as well, so I didn't mind being on a private island too. But Haiti was different. I didn't want to come to a private island in Haiti, I wanted to see the real place.
I mean I didn't expect to get to see much. I knew Haiti was one of the poorest and “worst” countries in the world, thus it certainly wasn't a typical cruise destination. I knew we would be kept away from the poverty and illness that the country suffered. However, I was thinking I could at least get a glimpse of it. With the private island thing, I lost all hope.
The Artisan Market
Getting off the ship, we started walking. There had to be a village somewhere as the brochure talked about historical points. However, it soon became apparent they were landmarks of where Columbus first landed sort of thing rather than monuments or buildings. It was all beaches.
At the end of the half a kilometer sandy road there was a small covered market. We were about to enter when men in orange and yellow jackets waiting a little bit outside approached us timidly.
“There are more shops up the road. If you want to have a look...”
“Okay, thank you,” we said. “We'll be looking around there too.”
After we went in and came out of the covered market, we started walking up the road. One local waved us to follow him saying “Let me show you my store.”
What else could we do, we followed him. It felt rude to reject. I wanted to stop to have a look at the other shops on the road too, but I'd be going back I said to myself. After looking at the man's shop, we thanked him and walked on.
Looking at the things in the shops along the way, a stone figurine caught my eye: A woman holding a basket over her head and a baby in one arm. I asked to see it, the man handed it to me.
“It's heavy,” I commented. But now, I had to ask the question: “How much is it?”
“25 Dollars,” said the man.
“Thank you,” I said returning the piece and turning around to walk away.
“20 Dollars,” he offered.
“I'll be coming back,” I said. I had liked it and was going to buy it. Just for the sake of leaving money in Haiti. Otherwise, I have given up buying souvenirs from any place. They only make clutter in the house. Plus, I cannot carry heavy stuff.
“10 Dollars,” said the man this time.
I had really meant it when I said I'd be going back. I had just wanted to have a look at all the shops before buying anything. I would have turned back and bought that piece at 20 Dollars. But now the man was offering it for 10. I felt obliged to buy it.
Respecting Your Job
At the end of the road was another beach. We decided to sit there instead of the place we came from. This place looked a bit more protected, cleaner and more importantly less crowded than the other side. Carlo went to ask if the sunbeds were for rent. “They're free,” he came back. “You just tip the guy for bringing it.”
“Okay,” I said as I thumped my bag on the sunbed that was right there. I handed the guy a dollar. When I got the bag back in my hand to take out the towel to lay down, the man grabbed the sunbed and went away. From afar, I saw the man removing and putting back a couple of sunbeds from a stack.
“What is he doing?” I asked Carlo.
“He is earning his money,” he replied.
The man came back with a newer and cleaner sunbed.
I said I lost all hope of seeing anything of Haiti; yet I'm an optimist on the road. I still thought I could see something. Even if just a glimpse... So after settling down at the beach, I left our daughter to my husband and set out to explore the surroundings.
I walked up to the main road and wanted to walk further to see where the road was leading.
O oh! There was a gate blocking the whole road. It was strange. A bright green 3-4 meter high gate on a dirt road looked so out of place. As I could not climb over it and figured it wouldn't be wise to try to sneak out the small bit of opening on the side, I turned back. I started looking for a trail to walk around somehow. I looked behind the toilets. There was a policeman sitting there. “Are you looking for something, may I help?” he asked.
“Just looking around, thank you,” I said and turned back once again.
Now need to look for another exit... A way out of this artificial and forced entertainment environment. In search of the tiniest bit of authenticity.
I decided to go back where the fork was. Going through the marketplace once again, the man I bought the figurine signaled to me. “Come come,” he said. I didn't understand what he wanted, but approached him to see what he was saying. He was holding yet another figurine, exactly the same type.
“Do you know how much it is?” he asked. “I'll give it to you for 10.”
“I already bought one,” I said walking away. I felt bad. It is bad. The way they look at you. You feel the urgency in their faces.
Wanting to have a look at the shops but wishing desperately to avoid lingering too much in any place so as not to feel the pressure.... Hovering between the desire to interact with the locals, to exchange smiles, and the need to walk looking straight ahead not to come in contact with them... I reached the fork. Going a bit further up the road, I saw that that end had a gate too. The other main road of the village led to the pier where we had come from, so that was a dead-end too.
Thus it was that I realized we were locked in!
Police and Security
Then came lunchtime.
Going to pick up food from the buffet, I saw a policeman. He looked so serious, and scary if I may say so. He was armed, seemed quite proficient and ready to take action. When I went back to the table, I said to Carlo:
“You know when I see a policeman around I feel unsafe. The presence of police says to me 'This place is not safe, so you need someone to look after you.' But I guess it has the opposite effect on most people. People feel secure when they see the police around.”
“This place is poor, you have everything, it's natural that they might want to come and snatch things from you. So you need the police,” Carlo replied.
Okay, I know that. I wasn't arguing against it, I was just making an observation.
Then Carlo went to get food.
“Did you see the US and Canadian police? They are out there with full gear!” he said as he sat down at the table.
“Ah!” I said, “I was talking about that.”
“Are they trying to protect their compatriots? The local police is one thing, this is strange.”
That's why I had made the first comment.
And that's what is so wrong with the world. The privileged who have quite a high-level of security and enjoy basic wealth and comfort of life demand even more security whereas those who have so little and could use more secure life prospects cannot get access to it.
At the beach, we had sat right in front of musicians. They were playing local music. I tried to encourage Lara to dance, but she did not. I left some money in the musicians' tip box. I wanted to buy a CD too. Not for the music, again just for the sake of helping out. I told Carlo. He approved. When does my sweet husband ever refuse to buy anything! So we were looking at the CD's. I turned the back side of one to see if it was clean.
“Is there music on this CD anyway?” I asked unwittingly. -There was no line, so it was either completely full, or empty.- The moment I said it, I realized I shouldn't have. It was a simple observation, no suspect was intended; but hearing my words, I realized it didn't sound right; but then again, it was too late.
“Of course,” the musician said. “I give you my name and address. You check. Otherwise, they wouldn't let me in here.”
“No, I believe you,” I said. It wasn't a matter of distrust, I'm sure all these people have to go through a very thorough background check in order to be accepted here.
The man asked for 20 Dollars for the CD. I had seen it was 15 at the central shop. When I told him so, “It is 15, but I have children at home too, just like you,” he said. “They expect me to bring something, they want presents.”
How can you say “No” to such a plea? Of course his children are children too. And like everywhere around the world, children have needs, and they like presents. Paying high above the price of something is in conflict with the general bargaining nature of commerce, but juxtaposition of the rich (or rather the ones with means) against the poor (or rather the ones in need) is an unusual circumstance which requires unusual deals.
A Chat with a Fortunate Local
There were a couple of stands with a Royal Caribbean file marked “Labadee Artisan Market Survey”. I decided to stop and have a look. Started reading...
“How would you rate the Market vendors' Friendliness?”
How do you rate such a thing? How do you tell anybody that they are unfriendly, even if “somewhat unfriendly”? What's more, this isn't about friendly, this is something totally different.
“How satisfied were you with the shopping experience today?”
“Did you feel safe at the Artisan Market?”
“If you answered no, please indicate the reason why.”
“How likely are you to shop in the Artisan Market on your next visit to Labadee?” with the answers being: Not at all likely, Somewhat unlikely, Somewhat likely, and Very likely.
“How likely are you to recommend the Artisan Market to friends and family?” with the answer being a mark from 1-10.
Oh! This survey was really difficult to answer. As I couldn't fill out the form so easily, I started chatting with the man there. He was in a Royal Caribbean uniform, so I asked if he was from Haiti or was working for RC.
“I am from Haiti, and I work for Royal Caribbean,” he said.
“Do you work on land or are you on the ship?”
“I'm on land now. We are 6 months on land, 6 months on the ship.”
“How long have the ships been coming here?”
“I'm 31. And they started coming... Oh let me see...” he said raising his head and thinking. “Since 1987.”
“Oh, that long?” I remarked and went on with my next question. “How far is it to the main island?”
“You are on the main island,” he answered.
“Ah,” I said. “I thought this was a private island.”
“Oh you are talking about the country,” he said. He got a pen and drew a map. “If this is Haiti, you are here. The closest village is 45 minutes from here. These people all come from there.”
So it wasn't actually an island but a peninsula we were on.
Then he marked other points. “This is Port-au-Prince (sort of central), this is Jacmel (in the south). And this is Cap-Haitien (in the north),” he said. “Jacmel and Cap-Haitien are the touristic places with nice photos to take, go out and have fun.”
I wasn't interested in tourism. I am interested in knowing about the situation in the country and understanding why it is so, what can be done etc.
“How bad is the situation in the country if I may ask?” I asked cautiously.
“Quite bad,” he answered.
I was glad he was honest and not trying to paint a nice picture for the tourists.
“We were exporting a lot of stuff. We had coffee, it's gone. We had banana, it's gone. We had cacao beans, it's gone. We had the best of everything. Now we have to import everything. We import rice, eggs...”
“What do you mean?” I asked bewildered. “You don't have chickens on the island?!”
“We have them but for example one has 15 chickens, they lay a hundred eggs, it only provides for the family and a couple of neighbors. We don't have more to sell on the market.”
“Oh, I understand,” I said nodding my head.
“Rice is so good here. I have travelled the world, so I have tried many rice. I wouldn't change my rice to anyone else's. And our rice is pure, what we are giving is health. The world needs to be cured. They are using chemicals everywhere.”
“True,” I said as I nodded again.
“If I could rule, I would dismiss the whole political system and start from scratch,” he went on. “But they wouldn't allow me.”
I smiled. As I entertain such thoughts as well and know as well that I do not stand a chance.
“So what would you do?” I asked.
“They would take me down before I made it there,” he explained.
“Yes I know that,” I said. “But what would you do? I would like to take down the whole system as well. I'm curious to hear your ideas.”
He talked about economy, not saving the day but making sure to have income for the future as well; investing in agriculture to provide for themselves and not need outside help; promoting tourism to bring in money... In short, the classic things.
“What about the foreigners coming to the island?” I asked.
“Ah they come, do something and make lots of photos. They say they have done this and that. But it doesn't serve anything. They don't ask us what we need. They bring clothing, but maybe we don't need clothing, we need food. It's only the charities that do good here. Like Caritas and Goodwill. They get their hands dirty, they do concrete things. I am a Christian. Not that my faith has to do with it, but they are the organizations that do something on the island.”
Even though I dislike exploiting other people's misfortune and poverty to religious ends, to impose your beliefs on others... -Would missionaries do all the good deeds had they not had the goal of converting people, that is the question. But that's a question I have no right to answer; it's each missionary's own business.- The good that they do cannot be denied. It's just that looking at the grand churches all around the Caribbean and the Amazon, you see that they have done a good job at promoting their religion too. But that's the way it is. It's the same with me and my daughter as well. We all want everybody to believe and act in accordance with the same ideas and world structure we believe in. No?
“How often do ships come here?”
“4-5 times a week.”
“Oh!” I said surprised. I had expected him to say “One or two.” 4-5 seemed a lot. I had not come across so many cruises with Haiti in their itinerary while searching. Then I asked “Do you think it's good, having the cruise ships here?”
“Sure,” he replied. “You are here and we are talking. It's good.”
I don't know if he was just repeating this line because he was working for and therefore representing RC. “How many people come and ask about Haiti here, how many people care about the situation and take the time to talk to a local about it? These people are after their pleasures. Even I wasn't going to do it. It felt out of place to be speaking about such serious matters in such a phoney environment.” These I thought to myself only, didn't tell him.
“If we miss a ship, 50-60 families will not know how they will feed,” he went on as if he read what was going on in my mind.
I nodded my head. I could imagine.
“Does it happen often? I mean do ships divert their course?”
“Yesterday Allure of the Seas couldn't come due to weather conditions.”
That was another unexpected answer for me. It had never occurred to me that there could be diversions in this season. So we could have not been able to come either. After all the arrangements I made. I felt lucky.
“You see those trees over there,” he said pointing to the swaying palm trees... “they were almost on the ground, what if something happened? You know liability issues...”
How can I not know? Americans! The world turns around liability for them.
“You married?” I asked jumping to the next topic.
He had one thick and two thin golden rings.
“Yes,” he replied. “I got married recently.”
“You have children?”
“No,” he said. “I do everything according to a plan. I say to my wife, here is my salary, what do you bring in, what can we afford? Then we do it.”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“Ah that!” he replied laughing shyly. “My father was a man with many women.”
“As all Haitian men I suppose!” I winked. Not that I had any knowledge. One just assumes such things on an island. He didn't contradict.
“He had four wives, we are eight in total. We are two from the same mother. Four of us emigrated to the US, two went to France.”
“How did they go there?”
“One's wife was American. The other went to France somehow and took the children,” he said. “I have no desire to go to America,” he went on. “I don't think it's a nice country.”
“I don't think so either,” I said. “You can go on.”
“I hope you are not American,” he said.
“I am not, don't worry.”
At that point, some local brought me a stool to sit. I thanked him, but his gesture reminded me I had to get going. I had told Carlo I was going to the toilet and it had been half an hour. “My husband will be worried about me,” I said. “I'll be coming back.”
I took the questionnaire to Carlo to fill in. He could do that; unlike me, he was good at rhetoric.
What To Do?
It was difficult even for Carlo to answer those questions. While he was working on it, I went for a swim. After being in the water for a while I saw Carlo handing over some money to one of the musicians. I wondered what he did. He wouldn't have bought anything else.
“Ah I gave 5 dollars to one of the guys,” he said when I came out, without me needing to ask. “He approached me and said he was in trouble,” Carlo went on. “He had to go back by taxi. He didn't have the money. He said he was 41. I asked if he had children. He said 'No, I can't have them.' I asked 'How is the work situation?' He said 'It's bad.'”
I guess it was obvious that we were inclined toward their situation. As we had bought the CD, given tips. We were a middle-age couple with a young child. Perfect target for ripping off.
One cannot help doubting if he was faking to extract money from us. I don't know... Would you ask money from someone? I guess you would if you were poor and you knew the other had more than enough. I mean what do you do? Seriously, what do you do when you don't have the opportunity for work, for making money, for living a decent life? What do you do?
I know it's no good to give hand outs to people. They say it undermines dignity, brings on begging, children prefer to hang around tourists instead of going to school, and men/women prefer that instead of working. But in Haiti, people do not have the opportunity to hang around tourists. These few are the “lucky” ones who can. And how much can they get by just selling trinkets? How can you deny another human being a little help when you have more than enough and they have so little, how?
I took the survey back. But my chat partner was on the phone and I didn't want to disturb him more. I had had in mind to ask about illnesses in the country. I skipped it.
Artisan Market Survey Answers
My answers to the survey would have been as follows:
“How satisfied were you with the shopping experience today?”
This question has a wrong assumption. Of course I understand, we are their customers and they are trying to satisfy us. However, they should be asking the locals how satisfied they were with the selling experience today. I highly doubt anyone cares to ask them anything about their needs and satisfactions. But perhaps they do, who knows. I should not be too cynical.
“Did you feel safe at the Artisan Market?”
Again, this is not about feeling safe. It's about feeling uncomfortable.
“If you answered no, please indicate the reason why.”
Because there are too many shops competing for the same thing: to get the money from the pocket of the tourists. Because even though these people are obviously not beggars in the general sense, walking through the market is like walking through a street lined with starving monks, each asking desperately for alms.
“How likely are you to shop in the Artisan Market on your next visit to Labadee?” with the answers being: Not at all likely, Somewhat likely, Somewhat likely, and Very likely.
Before that, they should have asked “How likely are you to visit Labadee again?” My answer to that question would be undoubtedly “Not at all likely.” However, I believe the cruise company assumes you'd be coming back to this counterfeit place that they have created especially for you. After all, you spend half a day at the beach, stuff yourself up with food and drinks, go on several adventure rides, you can buy souvenirs with Haiti written on them and get to say you've been to Haiti! That's the concept of fun and a good time for typical cruisers.
“How likely are you to recommend the Artisan Market to friends and family?” with the answer being a mark from 1-10.
I would recommend... I don't even know what I would recommend related to the Artisan Market. I would recommend people to find a way to help Haitians more efficiently. I would ask people of the world with means to find a way to remove this economic and existential rift, this chasm between the people of the Earth. This inequality is a gaping wound. This inequality is an obscenity. Not just for Haiti, all around the globe. And I don't for a moment wish to say we should all be equal, but everybody should at least be able to lead a decent, a human life. Be able to exist on this world without having the need to beg or swindle, or starve.
Feeding on Crumbles...
Even though I had realized it after my attempt to roam around, it took me a while to grasp what was going on and get the whole picture. Or rather for the stark reality to sink in. We were literally locked inside this coastal strip!
I kept thinking trying to make sense of this parody: So here we were, taken to Haiti, on a Club Med sort of resort where the cruise company was selling all kinds of drinks, all types of branded glass souvenirs and renting all types of snorkel, diving equipment, there were all sorts of entertainment and water sports: jet-skis, banana boat-rides, water-slides, water-trampolines, parasailing, a 3.000-foot (900 m) zipline, you name it. Each of them costing from 40 USD and up. Royal Caribbean was making loads of money. Then there were the locals, trying to sell trinkets to you for a couple of dollars.
Then of course there were the cruisers. Those whose money both parties were after. Those whose money had to be taken out from their pockets. I'm sure not everybody on the cruise was “rich”. But rich is a relative term. When I use it, I refer to “Western” standards. According to Haitians, we are all opulent tourists here on a cruise vacation. Most of the cruisers were here to enjoy a couple of carefree days on a cruise ship and in the Caribbean. We enjoyed ourselves too, not that we didn't. But we rather stayed back from all the activities and were there more like observers rather than a part of this pseudo-reality show.
These people were, like me, going to claim that they have been to Haiti without actually having seen anything of Haiti.
I have never been locked up in a small enclave in a country. Even in North Korea... They criticize North Korea, or let me say DPRK as they do not like the idea of North and South, for it emphasizes a divided nation and they feel they are one. Okay, you are taken around, you cannot go out on your own and cannot interact with the locals in the DPRK but at least it's open, there are no gates but people stopping you from walking out of your designated circle; at least you get to move around in a bus or a train, you see the Pyongyang, you see the country even if only outside of your window. I was horrified with Haiti.
Carlo was criticizing travelling with cruise ships and how fake it is. I agree of course. But I am glad we went to Haiti this way. Otherwise, how else were we going to see this striking contrast and the theater played in the name of decency, respect, manners?
You feel attacked walking through the marketplace there. There is no threat, no violence. There is just the urgency of money. You feel the poverty, you feel the need. And you know you cannot help them all. It should be our collective responsibility to eradicate this kind of poverty, this need. In Labadee, the needy is gathered in one place. And they are put in front of those who have the money.
They behave. They are taught to behave. Like dogs. Otherwise, no food for them at all. If they be the good dogs, they might have a chance at the bone from the meat the owner eats.
They say “No pushy”, “Come and have a look. Enjoy. No pressuring.” But that fact is in itself pushing and pressuring.
It's so understandable. I understand them so very well. That's why I feel so bad. What would you do if that was the only way you knew you'd be making some money and taking food to your family?
“Cruise industry is good for the locals. They are bringing money in.”
You say it's good. There is a grain of truth in that. On the other hand of the coin, there is a different picture: The cruise lines market these people's country, use it to their own ends, convert their land into a money-printing tourism “mass product”, reap the profits, the locals pay the price by selling their dignity.
You say it's still better than having nothing. I'm sorry, this is no consolation to me. The cruiselines are getting all the bulk of the benefits. You are basically saying that it's good that these people feed on the crumbles that fall from our mouths. This is unacceptable.
Those of us who have more than enough need to find a way to wipe such environments out of the face of the Earth. Commerce is fine, you say capitalism, fine to that too, but there should be a limit. I understand very well that the worth of the money in your pocket depends on the need of your neighbor. Russell explained it so well in The Veins of Wealth. However, let's not abuse the power of the money in our pockets and the lack thereof in other people's pockets. Let's not try to get as much to ourselves as possible, but let's bargain the other way around, to maximize the gain of the needy.
A friend had recently commented “Didn't the result of your travelling the world come out as 'forget about this ephemeral world and enjoy yourself'?”
I had said “The result came out that there are many things that need to change in this world. But more people need to see that that change is crucial. That change needs to happen. And it needs to happen soon.”
No, it's not my style to say “Ah what do I care about this world, I live my own merry life.” I cannot do that. I enjoy my life. I try to make the most of all the things I have been blessed with. But I feel obliged to find a way to make it possible for more people in this world to enjoy those blessings, the wealth of this Earth. As I said, I enjoy my blessings but I cannot enjoy them to the fullest, I have this uneasiness at the back of my mind all the time. Until everybody has at least a bit of a decent life, I can never sit at peace with myself. I cannot. And I wish nobody could either.
What else is at the root of the problem with immigration?
People are self-righteous to claim a piece of land as theirs, people are near-sighted to claim only a piece of land, not the world as theirs to roam freely. For some reason, they stop short at an imaginary line, or they claim a continent. And this is a natural result of the current political system.
In “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951), the political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote:
“The conception of human rights based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships – except that they were still human. The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human. .... (Refugees knew) that the abstract nakedness of being human was their greatest danger.”
Yes, isn't it ridiculuous to argue that a sovereign nation-state has a right to control its borders and decide who can get in, but a human, any human, does not have a right to go anywhere s/he wishes on the planet s/he was born by the mere fact that s/he is a human?
We have rights as citizens, and we have more rights if we are a citizen of a “great” country. We do not have rights as humans.
As Joe Humphreys writes in the Irish Times:
“Arendt witnessed how those without a state were “expelled from humanity”, and the same applies today.
Slavery is better than being stateless, she wrote, as “to be a slave was after all to have a distinctive character, a place in society more than the abstract nakedness of being human and nothing but human”.
Think about that the next time you bleat about your right to something. Think about what’s being done to refugees in your name. Their vulnerability is ours.”
Yes. Their vulnerability is ours. And deep inside, we all know that. That's why the resistance not to accept a basic human right: the right of movement. That's why we want to deny others that right, so that we can enjoy it ourselves. For as we believe in scarcity and not abundance, and we are selfish. We believe in scarcity and not abundance even when it comes to security. We do not believe everybody can live in security. It's either our security or theirs. Eh, when faced with that choice, it's the most natural thing to choose our security over "the other's.
As long as the political arena stays the way it is, i.e. As long as there are countries... No, let me not say that, let there be countries... As long as we see countries as on a political map, as long as we set up artificial borders between people, as long as we see sovereign nation-states and being its citizens at birth as the norm, as long as there is the belief in a government to protect us and to defend our rights, as long as we sustain governments by our money, as long as we go on with the same money game, I don't see a way for us to get out of this.
Our goal should be to install a new world software where man does not fear man.
Our goal should be to install a new money software where we give/share/exchange the produce of our labors.
Apart from these... To me, the best message would be... To break down the artificial barriers between people, to break down the current political system. And the way I found to get the message through to achieve that end is to travel to every country in the world and burn my passports. So please endorse my endeavor and let's be in this together. Let's reset the world!