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A Wedding In Haiti: Save What You Have By Sharing It

July 9, 2012

If you’ve enjoyed any of Julia Alvarez‘ novels (e.g., How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In The Time Of The Butterflies), you’ll probably enjoy A Wedding In Haiti, a small, non-fiction, travel book recounting how Alvarez and her husband end up going from their home in Vermont to their fair trade, organic coffee farm (another story in itself) in the hills of her native Dominican Republic to drive Piti, one of their longtime Haitian employees, home for his wedding.  It is a story of evolving friendships and encounters across (and at) the border that separates the two countries of Hispaniola from each other, and the ocean that separates them from the United States.

A Wedding In Haiti is filled with fine sketches of dozens of people and encounters on the wedding trip in 2009, and a followup trip in 2010 after the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince.  Alvarez writes with wry humor, keen insight and brutal honesty about the challenges—physical, political, social, and emotional—of making what in much of the US would be a simple 3 hour drive.

“In our intensely social, intricately interconnected, so-called Third World countries, the best-laid plans will most certainly be subject to revision, mostly the revision of addition.  That is, if you plan a trip for just four of you (Bill, Piti, Eseline, me) and a baby, before you know it, there will be seven of you and a baby, and at one point during the trip, there will be eight of you, a baby, and an iron double-bed frame, which a young Haitian man had been carrying home to his new bride five kilometers away in the rain.  If you have a heart and live in Haiti, or in the Dominican Republic, for that matter, your life is going to be complicated.

Actually, even if you don’t have a heart, and live safely and separately and sumptuously, your life will get complicated in another direction.  For example, the next time there’s a revolution, your big mansion, your late-model Mercedes, and your kids with expensive First World educations will be targeted….  Life is going to be complicated no matter what, so you might as well open the door and invite it into your house, or your pickup, as the case may be.  Besides, someday, when you have to carry your double bed on your back, someone you once helped might give you a lift.  It’s the basic investment plan of the poor: save what you have by sharing it.”

Which is not to say that the investment plan always works—any more than the investment plans of the rich.  Or that the poor always stick to their “investment plan”, or that it’s easy for the affluent to learn a new way of “investing”.

However, by following the “basic investment plan of the poor”, there is at the end of the book, a sense of more—more possibility, more connection, more understanding, more power.  It is the kind of power that is created when, as Alvarez writes in an introductory Author’s Note, we realize “how much is possible when we step outside the boundaries that separate us one from the other.”

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From → Books, History, Politics

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