19 January, 2010

Of DOM-TOM past and present.

DOM-TOM stands for Département d'outre-mer - Territoire d'outre-mer, and is a commonly used acronym used to refer to Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Polynesia (ah, Tahiti dreaming in January), Saint Barth, and other French territories. Think sun, sand, a little pink umbrella in your drink.

Then there's Haiti. After being pillaged by the Spanish for slaves and gold, the French and Spanish settled their differences and split up the island, with the French quickly setting up plantations. By 1790, over 30,000 French had emigrated there seeking their fortune in sugar and coffee--on the backs of thousands of local and imported slaves. Shortly thereafter, however, inspired in part by the French Revolution, freed and enslaved blacks began to insurrect. To appease them, the French abolished slavery, hoping to develop longer lasting alliances. This position shifted with a change in government however, and Napoleon Bonaparte sent in soldiers to retake the highly profitable island. His attempt failed and in the process he would ultimately lose 50,000 soldiers. The French owners emigrated en masse, and the French government demanded that the newly independent country make very significant reparations, all but bankrupting the country before it even started. Nonetheless, Haiti was the first former colony in the world to emerge wholly independent after the abolition of slavery.

Western powers, including the United States (which occupied it from 1915 to 1934), continued to intervene in Haiti through the decades, usually to the overall detriment of the country. It has been structurally weakened over time by corruption from within and without, much to the misfortune of the average Haitian. This weakness is painfully evident in how completely the inadequately prepared Port-au-Prince collapsed after the devastating January 12 earthquake. The photos and news of profound suffering are very difficult to ignore.

But we can help right now.

If you can spare the price of a modest restaurant meal or two, please consider making a donation to a worthy organization. Partners in Health is one such organization, with a well-regarded 20 year track record in Haiti and a staff that is primarily locally-based nationals. Please take a quick moment to visit their site. And spread the word.

In 2010, Haitians are certainly ready for some acts of mercy.


  1. I've sent $100 to Partners in Health. So many people have been touched by this tragedy, a new chapter is opening for them.
    Europe was rebuilt after WWII, I think there is a very good chance it will also happen to Haiti.

  2. Great news! You made my evening, after a long slog of a day. Let's hope others will join in. Can you imagine that scale of disaster happening to your neighborhood and family?

    I really hope you are right about that comparison to Europe...

  3. Unfortunately, I can imagine this same disaster happening to Los Angeles. We had an aftershock last week from one of last year's earthquake. Scientists have been saying for years to beware of the "big one". We all know it will happen but here we are, staying put and hoping it won't happen in our lifetime. It is not denial, it's that we have nowhere else to go to. Our jobs are here... so we stay.

  4. Nadege, that sounds...unsettling. I have never been in an earthquake, it must be unnerving. Aren't the building codes and technology in place to minimize the impact? Or is the "big one" predicted to be so massive that it won't matter?

    In some ways it is frustrating because there is so much need out there, and I know that as much-needed funds are directed to this disaster in Haiti, other vulnerable, impoverished zones may get fewer funds. But the images are so affecting, and at some point you just have to step up and respond to another human being's desperation in any way possible, even if it seems small in the grand scheme of things. And you hope others join in.

    We have significant flooding periodically in this part of France, and a few years ago it was really catastrophic, with water levels rising to second stories, a car floating in a supermarket, deaths, etc. Children came to school mute with shock. But the thing is, people had built on areas that historically flood every 50 years or so. The housing demand was irresistible. It almost seems as though they were hoping it wouldn't happen this time. But it did. In some places, you still see the marks on the landscape. The highwater marks are notched on the buildings in Sommieres.

  5. It is sad when houses are being built where it might not be safe. People build on the hills of Malibu, LA county... and every year or so, fires come through and burn everything. We have earthquake faults all over California, but millions of people live there. We don't get rain very often, but when we do, houses are flooded if they were built in flood zones... It is what it is.
    Earthquakes are very scary. In a second you can lose everything you own, even lives. No amount of safety can prevent the wrath of "mother nature".


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