By Candice Russell
If you love Haiti and Haitian art or know someone who does, there is a great paperback book available that your friend will enjoy — “Farewell, Fred Voodoo” by Amy Wilentz. She is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book “The Rainy Season,” abou the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier and the ascendance of priest-turned-politician Jean Bertrandn Aristide.
Like that previous book, “Farewell, Fred Voodoo” is a personal view of experiencing Haiti at a critical moment in its history. She returns to the country that so fascinates her after the earthquake ofJanuary 12, 2010 and returns again, sorting through the non-governmental agencies, medical personnel and Haitian survivors to figure out something about why she loves it so.
I’m not sure Wilentz comes to great conclusions about Haiti, a hard place to get your arms around and figure out. Perhaps she raises more questions than she answers — but that’s all right. She’s on the front lines, making assessments about people and self-sacrifice, narcissism and desperation, with a marvelous degree of understanding and avoidance of harsh judgment.
Fred Voodoo is the slang term journalists used for any man or woman on the street with something to say. Here is what the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper wrote about Wilentz’s book: “The book’s literary journalism ispart history lesson, political analysis, travelog and personal journey. wilentz’s informed commentary is sobering and witty, her analysis insightful and her descriptions of the people and places of Haiti riveting. a must-read.”
She goes to the front lines — the gritty camps that grew up among the rubble in Port-au-Prince. One poignant interview with Moise Philippe reveals the essential dilemma in Haiti, where obstacles prevent action and governmental corruption is rampant. With his house damaged, he lives in the camp with his wife and their two teenagers: “I’m not waiting for someone to come and give me a house somewhere. I’m rebuilding my own house. We have to organize ourselves. In this camp, if we hadn’t known how to organize ourselves, we’d be dead.”
Apart from the medical teams from abroad who descend on Haiti with more ego than good intentions, there is the noble female Dr. Megan Coffee, whom Wilentz strongly admires. This is because she is inventive in solving problems for patients and getting what they need, she is also dedicated. She stays long past the time that small armies have left, along with the TV cameras and print journalists. That degree of commitment is impressive in a country that didn’t work very well prior to the earthquake. And she is truly making a difference.
There is also praise for the efforts of Sean Penn, movie actor turned do-gooder, who fails to abandon his efforts in Haiti months after the earthquake. She talks about a phone company making great strides in progress for Haiti, despite serious odds against anything getting accomplished.
One night, she is sleeping outside the Oloffson Hotel (people feared another earthquake and buildings toppling while they slept) armed with her must-have survival items: bug juice, Valium, a flashlight and rum. She goes over in her head the images of the day: including a girl inconsolably crying and a camp set up on a soccer field.
There is much more beauty and horror to be had in Haiti in coming years. With luck, Wilentz will chronicle her impressions and adventures as Haiti evolves.