Monday, April 22, 2019

Greg Beckett's "There Is No More Haiti"

Greg Beckett is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Western University in Ontario.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, There Is No More Haiti: Between Life and Death in Port-au-Prince, and reported the following:
Page 99 comes near the end of the second chapter, called “Looking for Life,” which explores how people try to build meaningful lives in the midst of the precarious and informal economy of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city. The men who’s stories I tell in this chapter are all struggling to make a living, working as artisans, taxi drivers, guides, and fixers. At this point in the chapter, we are reading about how political and economic uncertainty has made it even more difficult to look for life. Page 99 presents the end of a story about a dispute between two taxi drivers over potential clients. A younger driver named David poached the clients from an older, and well-known, driver named Frantz. After a heated argument, Frantz was left without the lucrative fare. Later, Frantz and several other men discuss the incident; they come to feel that David has acted in the wrong, since he knowingly approached the clients after Frantz had already booked them, a serious violation of the unstated norms among taxi drivers. As they talk about the story, the dispute comes to stand for a much wider problem in Haiti: the end of respect (respè).

As we learn on page 99, respect is a key value in Haitian culture, and also a quite complicated word. It means respect, honor, character, and dignity. It is meant to be given to other people, and it is also received by those who act responsibly and who fulfill their social obligations. In the story at hand, David had not just stolen clients; he had also disrespected Frantz. In the days and weeks after the dispute, the story came to stand as an example not just of a lack of respect but also of the way in which the very possibility of giving and getting respect has disappeared. Another driver sums up this position, saying “In Haiti today, people don’t have any respect.” This is the essence of how crisis feels in Haiti; the many crises people face every day have made it impossible to live a meaningful life, to live according to key cultural values like respect. Page 99 is a small glimpse into the broader theme of the book: what if feels like to live through the breakdown of a whole way of life.
Learn more about There Is No More Haiti at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue