Haitians Forced to Eat Dirt

Haitians Forced to Eat Dirt


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home Online through PayPal

Or Send contributions to: ChickenBones: A Journal / 13219 Kientz Road / Jarratt, VA 23867  Help Save ChickenBones

The UN came in here and slaughtered residents who supported Lavalas . . . And for what I

have to ask? So that Bigio and the Haitian Chamber of Commerce could force us back

into accepting this level of poverty? Nothing has changed for the poor in Haiti.”



Haitians Forced to Eat Dirt

An Editorial by Rudolph Lewis


The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cité Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.—The Haiti Information Project.

I receive these kinds of Haitian reports on a regular basis from Marguerite Laurent, founder of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network  (HLLN) and from John Maxwell, the Jamaican journalist. But there is also the The Haiti Information Project. It is very seldom there is any good news from Haiti or for Haitians..   I am uncertain what to make of this particular story about dirt eating, geophagy, that is, just how well-spread this nutritional supplement is. Certainly, it is a sensational story (see below).

Of course, dirt eating is not all that unusual from my own experience here in southern Virginia. It is not simply the dirt that one walks on daily. It is clay, dug out the side of a hill. Whether it is done in Haiti out of hunger or habit, I do not know. Probably it is both hunger and habit. Mama used to eat it when I was a child. She did not eat it out of hunger. She had a taste for it. It might have represented, however, some nutritional longing missing in her diet. She went from clay to eating lumps of Argo Starch.   I in no way want to minimize the hunger of (or the lack of food for) the poor that is ongoing in Haiti. I am certain that it is a devastating problem for Haitian children. Can any learning at all occur on the eating of dirt? One feels so helpless in the matter of the Haitians. One is inclined to close one’s eyes and to stop one’s ears. For matters never seem to get better for Haiti and Haitians. Matters get progressively worse no matter how much well meaning individuals sympathize with the situation there.

Self help is not the issue here; powerful forces are at play in Haiti.  There are those who have had the Haitian people down to the ground for centuries and they want to keep them down with a vengeance and malice of forethought. Many see the foundations of these present crimes against the Haitian people as a two-century old vendetta, that is, the vicious state of poverty of Haitians results as a reaction to these blacks who decided to make a revolution (1804), to abolish slavery, set up self rule for and by blacks and in the process tortured and killed their French captors and oppressors.   What is extraordinary, in the worse of conditions, is the creative and imaginative energy of Haitians: to make an eatable and saleable product (cookies) out of dirt.

I do not know what we can do about Haiti’s national oppression, presently. The UN is in charge of Haiti. The leading countries in this travesty are the United States, France, and Canada. They brought down the Aristide government and they have established the present regime of crimes.

Let us hope and pray that an Obama presidency might indeed take the Haitians to heart and foster a different and better relationship for real development for this island nation. I do not expect that a McCain administration would do any better than the present Republican administration.

A lot weighs on the upcoming presidential elections, much more than having a first woman president or a first black president. Murder and Mayhem are everywhere. Global economics disrupts everywhere. There is a great lack of real empathy and real reform (economic and political) necessary for hundreds of millions if not billions of people across the globe. I hope we will not be seriously disappointed by the election of a Democratic president.— Rudy

*   *   *   *   *

The Shocking Facts

• 75% of Haitians earn less than a $1 a day

• 70% of Haitians have no jobs

• 90% deforestation causes constant disastrous flooding

• Most children never go to school

• Life expectancy is 53 years

• More than 12% of Haitian children die before their fifth birthday, largely due to poor access to clean water

• Barely one in four Haitians can read

• 97% of Haitian homes lack electricity

• Approx. 5% of the Haitians are infected with HIV or AIDS, the highest rate in the Americas

• Major roads have potholes as big as bath-tubs. A functioning highway system doesn’t exist

• 25% of Haitians die before the age of 40 (Dr. Paul Farmer)

• Emigration from Haiti is rampant, mostly from desperation; The vast majority are in the USA and eater to help their motherland.

While working to change these conditions, we must never forget, “Nan tan grangou patat pa gen po” – In time of hunger, the potato has no skin.” Haitian Proverb

Source: Plan for Haiti

*   *   *   *   *

Poor Haitians resort to eating dirt—It was lunchtime in one of Haiti’s worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau. . . .

“When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day,” Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth. Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. “When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too,” she said. . . .

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say. . .  .

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun. The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets. . . .

Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating. Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition. . . .

Source: Yahoo  Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press Writer, Jan 29, 2008

*   *   *   *   *

Haiti’s wealthy prosper while the poor decline–One need not look very far to see where Gilbert Bigio’s interests lie in relation to Cite Soleil. According to his own company’s web site his family maintains controlling interests in 16 of Haiti’s largest companies. They are also the largest Haitian partner in the wireless communications giant Digicel, a mammoth company based in Ireland that has nearly cornered the cellular market in the Caribbean. Bigio’s family is not merely wealthy amidst a sea of poverty stricken residents in Haiti, his family represents the uber-wealthy who have benefited most since Aristide’s second ouster in 2004. . . .

The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US government blocked all of the Bigio family’s holdings in US banks following the brutal military against Aristide in 1991. Since Aristide’s second ousting in 2004, the financial wealth of the Bigio family along with those of other well off Haitian clans such as the Mevs, Brandts, Acras and Madsens have nearly doubled.

Not to be forgotten is the fact that Aristide’s forced departure in 2004 was legitimized and enforced by a UN authorized mission during the term of former Secretary General Kofi Annan. The fact that a few families of Haiti’s traditional elite continue to exact exorbitant profits, while residents of Cite Soleil are forced to eat and bathe in ditches, has shaken confidence in the non-governmental sector working with the poor in Haiti.

A young woman who began her NGO career to end poverty in Cite Soleil shakes her head in disbelief as she watches throngs wash their clothes and bathe next to Bigio’s glistening plant. There are security towers protecting every corner of the property with armed guards while UN forces in large armored personnel vehicles patrol the outer perimeter. She asks not to be identified and comments, “I bought into the development model the UN used to encourage us to come here and invest in Cite Soleil. The US government funds our organization through USAID and I came here to make a difference in these people’s lives. I am now faced with the reality of a humanitarian crisis we cannot be expected to solve. The UN’s main thrust seems to be security at any cost. This can only result in the loss of another generation of Haitians in this community being lost to poverty and misery. I am ready to quit unless something changes soon.”

In another corner of this community and trying not to draw attention amidst the children with bloated bellies and flow of the poverty, is a representative of Aristide’s Lavalas movement. Mr. Jean- Marie Samedi was brutally beaten and tortured after Aristide’s ouster in 2004. He is the leader of a movement called the Base of Lavalas Reflection and gave another view to the already disfigured politics of suffering in this community.

Mr. Samedi commented, “At least the people they called bandits and gangsters shared what they had with the community when they were here. People could eat. They had food and had running water. They didn’t have to eat dirt to live or have to wash their clothes and their bodies in ditches of dirty running water.”

Several children run by with almost blondish hair, a clear sign of malnutrition amongst blacks, to punctuate Mr. Samedi’s point. He continued, “They told us that everything would change after they got rid of the bandits and yet people cannot feed their children. You see them forced to wash in this dirty water. What did the promise of the Bush administration and the UN really mean to the people of Cite Soleil? They have merely continued politics as usual in Haiti. The rich get richer while the majorities are forced to continue to suffer in poverty. I challenge anyone to show me the difference they have made for the majority of the poor in Haiti.” Growing visibly angry and bitter Mr. Samedi concluded, “The UN came in here and slaughtered residents who supported Lavalas on July 6, 2005 and again on December 22, 2006. And for what have to ask? So that Bigio and the Haitian Chamber of Commerce could force us back into accepting this level of poverty? Nothing has changed for the poor in Haiti.”

Source: Haiti Action

*   *   *   *   *

Disregard for Haiti—According to the Associated Press, 80 percent of Haitians live off of two dollars a day, making it one of the most impoverished in the world. If you say, Mr. President, that “America is leading the fight against global poverty,” why is it that such a tiny island-nation like Haiti is in so much pain and disarray? Do not lie or mislead if you cannot acknowledge a problem so close to the United States. The situation Haiti is facing is beyond appalling. It is inexcusable on the part of this administration and the president, who boasted that the United States is the source of more that half of the world’s food aid. It is clear that this aid, which very well may (accurately) be as vast as he states, is not getting to the Haitian people, who must stretch out, at most, those two dollars over the course of the day. . . . Action is needed in Haiti and it must be taken nowDan Keenan

*   *   *   *   *

A call to halt deportations—Haiti’s President René Préval asked the U.S. government to stop deporting undocumented Haitians and instead grant them temporary protected status—After refusing for two years to ask for a U.S. halt in deportations of undocumented Haitians, Haiti’s President René Préval has asked President Bush to grant them temporary protected status. . . . In a two-page letter to Bush dated Feb. 7, Préval wrote that while he had apprehensions about seeking the TPS designation in the past, the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Noel in October has changed his mind. . . . Local immigration advocates and South Florida elected officials have long advocated TPS for the 20,000 Haitians they believe are living in the United States illegally. TPS would entitle them to temporary residency and work permits for up to 18 months. In Miami, those advocates applauded Préval’s request and urged Bush to approve it.—MiamiHerald

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *






posted 31 January 2008 




Home  Toussaint Table  

Related files:   Genocide a la bonne femme

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.