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A Promise in Haiti
A Reporter's Notes on Families and Daily Lives
Author BioMark Curnutte is a reporter with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Main DescriptionWhen a devastating earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on January 12, 2010, the world reacted with a collective, yet distant, horror. For Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Mark Curnutte, hearing the news provoked a far more visceral response. Curnutte had grown to love Haiti and its people as only someone who had lived with Haiti's families could.
A Promise in Haiti is Curnutte's story of his time, spanning the last decade, living among several families in Gonaives, a city of 200,000 people a hundred kilometers north of Port-au-Prince. He began traveling to Haiti as a volunteer with the aid organization Hands Together, eventually building trust and credibility with many Haitians. Curnutte introduces the reader to the Cenecharles family, strained by entrenched unemployment and the need to continually travel for work. He is invited into the home of the Henrisma family, and is forced to reconcile journalistic detachment with basic compassion as he contributes financially to help them. The reader is confronted with a complicated, conflicted written and photographic record of a worldview that evolves right on the page. As a reporter, Curnutte found parallels between the lives he encountered in Gonaives and the world of the Great Depression recounted in James Agee and Walker Evans's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Agee and Evans loom large as a challenge and inspiration to Curnutte.
The result is equal parts homage to that historic chronicle, on-the-ground reporting, and introspective narrative on the lessons Gonaives taught Curnutte about his own life and family. In late February 2010, Curnutte went back to Haiti on assignment, but conditions made it impossible for him to return to Gonaives. The resulting frustration provoked a meditation on the monumental challenges that face Haiti -- and on the destructive cycle of international attention that constantly moves on to "The Next Big Story."
Reviews"A truly useful and thoughtful 'life-on-the-streets' view of life in Haiti both pre and post the apocalypitc events of 2010."
--People In Aid
Named a 2011 ForeWord Reviews Silver Book of the Year
"That the book's description of conditions in Haiti will elicit expressions of concern, perhaps outrage, from readers, is certain. More heartening is the prospect, even if slender, of material change that a future visitor, retracing Curnutte's steps fifty years from now, may be able to detect."
"Beautifully written, and very moving"
"Despite Haiti's history of natural disasters and ongoing economic and political problems, Curnutte highlights the strength and resiliency of these families, paying particular attention to their faith and religion. ... The author's reflections on his internal struggles as a privileged American journalist in Haiti are honest, sincere, and refreshing."
"Mark Curnutte is the conscience of Cincinnati. As a newspaper reporter, he can be found in prisons with immigrants facing deportation, among the homeless in shelters and the hungry in food pantries, and in the houses of mothers with sons on death row or those of still others who've lost sons to street violence. He doesn't let readers forget the forgotten. A Promise in Haiti finds Curnutte in the city of Gonaives, where he has lived among three poor families in this hemisphere's poorest country. What emerges is a tender written and photographic portrait of daily life, absent of material trappings but rich in faith. Curnutte documents in gritty detail the resilience that allows people to move forward -- dignity intact -- in the face of crippling poverty that's complicated further by natural disasters and epidemics. And like his literary hero James Agee, Curnutte reveals the great commonalities of human life despite surface differences of race, nationality and social class."
--Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ
At a GlanceUnderstanding Haiti, up close and personal
"I don't know what will happen in Haiti. I'm not an expert on food distribution, water, building codes, health care, sanitation, or any other item on the long list of challenges facing the hemisphere's most impoverished nation. Somehow, and somewhat negatively, I suspect that the status quo will re-emerge, and that 1 percent of the Haitian population, the French-speaking and lighter-skinned elite, will regain--if not expand and tighten--its death grip on half of the country's wealth. More than half of Haiti's people live on less than one dollar a day.
"What I do know well are the minute details of the daily lives of three families in Gonaives, families existing precariously--like the houses I saw on the ledges of Carrefour. These people are fragile yet strong, truly sustained by their belief in God, from morning to morning, season to season. The arm's-length distance reporters preserve to keep at bay the pain and tragedy of other people's lives has been breached. People with nothing on the world's scale--just a handful of beans and a cup of rice, maybe a few chunks of bread and a pitcher of clean water, a single banana to cut into six or seven pieces--have nonetheless shared all with me at their dinner hour. I'd known for a long time that Haiti was no longer just a passing professional interest. What I learned on January 12, 2010, was how personal it had become."
--from the Introduction