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The Big Truck That Went By

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Everything is thrown against everything else. “There was a contest between the up and down and the side to side,” he writes. Minutes later, a colleague gets him out.

Katz doesn’t linger long on his personal story. Just a few pages later, we’re listening to the pitched wails of mourning. “I had only ever heard Haitian women make that sound, and only ever standing before the worst thing in the world: the collapse of a home, the death of a child,” Katz writes. “Now it came from everywhere.”

Haiti had seen its share of natural disasters, but the wealthy had rarely suffered. This earthquake leveled off economic advantage: “[G]reat government ministries and posh hotels had crumbled alongside the meanest cinder-block homes. The homes and apartments of embassy workers had collapsed along with the supermarkets and gyms they had frequented.”

But the equalizing power of nature lasted only until the world powers intervened. Foreign rescue privileged privilege: In one of his most heartbreaking stories, Katz writes about a young girl Haitian workers didn’t have the tools to rescue. Just over the hill, at a posh hotel favored by foreigners, six rescue teams led by an ex-Army Ranger were assisting trapped hotel guests.

In Haiti it all depends on whether  you live in or outside “the blan bubble.” “Blan” is Creole for “white,” but it denotes all foreigners, whose power and means allow them to live in near-isolation from the Haitians they’ve come to help.

What stands out in this critique of expat communities and development is Katz’s declarative tone. He refuses judgment, even as his observations indict the system in which they work. He forces a confrontation with the hubris and double standards of international aid, yet he’s anything but haughty.

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