The recent earthquake has focused the world's attention on this small country that is the western third of the island, Hispaniola; the Dominican Republic makes up the other two-thirds.
As with many events that involve predominantly black countries, myths abound about the people and culture of Haiti. Despite the worldwide fame of stars, such as Wyclef Jean, most Americans know little about its history.
In fact, it was the first nation in the Western Hemisphere to gain independence, when the legendary Touissant L'Overture defeated British, Spanish, and French troops to emanicipate the slave population in 1804. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/
Movies and TV have depicted Haitian voudu (or voodoo, as its more commonly called) as dark and mysterious. In fact, it's a blend of religious worship originating in several West African countries transplanted to Haiti.
This week, Pat Robertson, chairman and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, http://www.cbn.com/700club added to the confusion by stating that Haitians had made "a pact with the devil," which led to the earthquake. (Mr. Robertson, how do you explain killer mudslides in China, tsunamis in Asia, or the World Trade Center devastation?)
Fortunately, the international community, celebrities, medical personnel, and relief organizations have rushed to meet the needs of the people without judgement. Relief aid is difficult to administer when the structures that housed government offices have been demolished and political leaders have no resources or places from which to govern.
Haitians outside of the country are helpless to reach or help their own. I learned this week that a friend lost her sister in the earthquake. Her family has no idea how it will arrange for services.
On the positive side, ordinary people (like my granddaughter) are donating five and ten dollars to the relief effort. This is the best response to tragedy: reach out to those in need without prejudice. http://www.icrc.org/