Monday, April 4, 2011

No Reservations, Haiti episode

Last night I watched a new episode of No Reservations, he goes to Haiti.


screenshot from episode - linked above

This episode was very not food-centric, for reasons that will become very clear when you keep reading. One of the first things they show is him walking down a dirt road with the cameraman about 20' in front of him. As he walks people of Port-au-Prince keep yelling "blanc!" (white in French/creole). Now this wouldn't be an issue if it was just an observation, a little weird but still maybe just a local way of noticing somebody different, but it wasn't. Later its shown that the reason they're yelling it is to alert all people in the area that somebody with money is around...

He then goes to an outdoor market, with an English-speaking guide. After the guide stresses "do not take out any money, put away rings/watches/jewelry, stick near me" they go to an outdoor seating area where many similar street food vendors are. He (Anthony) goes with his guide to what is said, by the guide, to be the best one. It was very clear to the viewer that the guide and the proprietor were friends, as much as they tried to hide it, so much for unbiased. After applying hand sanitizer (he's told its to reduce the chance of Cholera, which can kill in 24-48 hours) Anthony blatantly says "honestly, not really loving the food". The quickly-assembled group of (very hungry) people crowding around them kept increasing in size, then slowly but surely got closer and closer. Needless to say, he and the production crew started getting really uneasy. It was really sad to see the looks on the crowd's faces with all that food on the table. The vendor (rather rudely) mentions that that she's had a period of really bad business lately because nobody has money for prepared food. It is implied that the huge thing of rice/beans/meat/slaw she has would probably go to waste at the end of the day. The production crew and Tony decide to buy out (they make a point to say "at full price") all the meals she has and hand out to the hungry crowd. Seems like the right thing to do right? Yeah, a riot breaks out, people start pulling off their belts and whipping each other for a spot on the hand-out line. Its really sad how quickly it turned to chaos.

b) I get it, there is no food, but why is there absolutely ZERO sense of sharing, one of the most basic human qualities?

They then made a point to go through how "95% of the people of Haiti are artists" and very few will ever see any money for their art. Most of the art is found and repurposed items, sculptures, paintings using natural pigments, etc. If the above attempt at giving out food as a good deed went so horribly wrong, why the hell are 95% of Haitians WASTING THEIR GODDAMN TIME ON THIS. Yes they're doing their best to preserve/develop a cultural identity, I honestly respect that. But survival actions like above and leisure (I'm sorry I like art as much as the next guy but that's what it is) are mutually exclusive. You're either trying desperately to stay alive OR you're survival takes a lower priority for developing one's surroundings.

They went through neighborhood after neighborhood of building rubble, crushed cars and even a mass grave. Yes its impressive that there is recent art all over these places too, but why aren't their efforts steered towards reconstruction? If so many people on Haiti are metal sculptors and building many different kinds of inanimate "structure art" (they made a point to show this many times) why can't that be applied to basic buildings? I'm pretty sure every architect I've ever met takes a firm stance that their trade leans more towards art and less towards engineering (a civil engineer would agree, but that's a different discussion).

Yes, they included Sean Penn in the episode, how I normally feel about him aside (meh, but high five for bagging ScarJo), I genuinely think that he is trying to help. Having said that, its really hard to see how anything he does actually makes any type of impact. In the part of the episode where he is talking, there was an impending hurricane coming. Tony asked "how do the locals prepare for something like this", Penn says "they don't, they hope it goes somewhere else" (it did). I do understand that they have literally nothing, but if you're trying to convince me that any small amount of aid will actually help, why isn't the same idea for 'any amount of preparation/planning' applied locally too?

Over and over and over in this episode they imply that priorities are the biggest problem here. Its one thing to say that they don't have the luxury of long-term planning, but quite another that some (it should be ZERO) of the limited food is in fact wasted, a critical mass of foreign aid has a very hard time actually getting to the intended recipient(s), and during the earthquake they all cheered as the presidential palace started coming down. It really isn't a matter of race, if so why is the other half of the same island so different? They (Haiti) are stuck in a constant loop of poverty, ill preparation, poor infrastructure and worst of all a veil of how their social system actually works. The guides/translators repeatedly talk about how there is the upper and lower class, but it seems that they also bridged the gap too, which if you saw it was portrayed very hypocritically towards their own countrymen they claim to speak for. I almost feel like Haiti needs to make a very tough decision and take feelings out of it. If they ever want any progress, they need to focus their efforts on a single thing at a time, and only try to fix something else if there is actual progress. Starting with fighting corruption. That is the crux of 100% of Haiti's problems.

Lastly: great, you collectively hate your "administration", wasn't this entire country FOUNDED on the sole principal of revolt and self-rule? You did it once, why not try again*? Could it really be any worse? (in case you missed it, I'm attempting to imply that if one bad dictator-like ruler is overthrown for another, there will never be progress).

This episode really upset me, and I'm honestly not sure how I feel about No Reservations' take on it.  Yes they kissed Sean Penn's ass a bit (which honestly could've been far worse), but I expect that of anything on TV. Yes I probably got some of the quotes a bit wrong, and some of the things happened out of the order in which I described, but you got the bulk of it. Before I get an influx of negative comments, I really did my absolute best to write this without sounding like a westerner that really doesn't know what its like in actual poverty, but when it comes down to it I don't. If the excuse of "not knowing any better" can be applied to them, why not me?

Please feel free to comment.

*I am not calling for a bloody anarchy-laden revolution, quite the opposite. I'm just saying the current system of  ("faux-elections, that have been decided beforehand" -said while at the cafe with the 3 guides) seems to be mutually exclusive from progress.

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