The Coming of the Road
Lessons of Resistance
Lespwa fe’ viv
Hope makes one live
|Haitian woman walking the familiar paths of her community. How far would we walk? What would be willing to do without to resist the destruction of our earth by large corporations? How does resistance lead to liberation|
I grew up on a dirt road in rural Pennsylvania. I prided myself on my ability to cross that rocky, dirty road in my bare feet without slowing down or flinching. We went days without seeing a car that belonged to a stranger. It took us where we needed to go; the creek, the fields, the barn, the hill for sledding. You walked to the paved road to get the school bus or to go to Friends Meeting on Sunday but otherwise the dirt road, little more than an expanded tractor path was our domain.
Today I live on a dirt road within the city of Portland. More than the house or even the forest, living on a dirt road again endeared me to this
House. The road has flooded out, as it does every winter. There are huge ruts and ravines that I must maneuver as I make my way down the hill.
Dirt roads make me feel safe and protected.
But I know in the case of an emergency my little community is not in a good situation. We have bad, dirt roads and no one to get out. Fire engines struggle to make their way up here. We are barricaded from the forest roads by locked gates. We talk about building a bridge so a stretcher could at least be carried across a ravine.
In rural Haiti, we become familiar with the many footpaths that wind their way from village to village. The paths that have become roads are dirt and filled with large washed out ravines. A 60-mile drive takes 7 hours on treacherous mountain roads. Even the major highways connecting cities and regional capitols are not paved. There are rarely bridges to cross-streams. If you are driving, you drive through them and hope for the best.
But most people, in Haiti, do not have cars. Cars and trucks come from the outside- sometimes to do good and sometimes to take natural resources or disrupt their close-knit communities.
It is true, that in the event of a medical emergency, community members must carry women down miles of footpaths to get help. The paths wash out and are slippery and difficult.
What I did not see, at first, was that a path, was and is a form of resistance. If you live on a path, it is more difficult for the rich and powerful to steal your land, cut your trees and mine your mountains.
United Nations trucks and police and occupying armies will struggle to get to your hamlet. You are protected by bad terrain.
During the United States occupation, it became a badge of honor to live and work on your own land and never sell your land to large farming operations. Communities worked together to grow their own food; helping each other within local organizations. Land was sacred. It held within it the spirits of ancestors. Trees were sacred. The footpath was a symbol of resistance against the rich and powerful.
In a small community where I once lived in Haiti, an American brags about the road. I watched for many days. Exactly two people had a car; the birth center and the priest. Not one other person had any need for an improved road. The people still walked or used animals to get to market. The unimproved road was good enough for the occasional motto. How had the road changed their life?
Each day truckloads of food were taken from the land, while children suffered from sever malnutrition. Land was taken. On the flip side, the women have emergency transport in case of an emergency; more women and babies will survive childbirth. I consider the choice; death by starvation or childbirth.
The coming of the road. It also means brining in diseases the community had not known before such as HIV and cholera. They mean more deforestation and more erosion.
Roads mean climate change, even for a small rural farmer on a footpath in Haiti. An elder looks up at the sky and says, “ I use to be able to feed my family but it never rains. “ How do I say that we in the United States, paved our roads and made super highways and bigger faster cars that is changing your rainfall and your ability to grow your own food. That the coming of our roads is impacting every island community in the world. Your carbon footprint is so small and ours is so large.
On OPB, someone says the new congress wants to open up more roads in our public forestland. These roads were closed to stop logging and mining. There was a deep understanding that areas without roads are protected form devastating clear cutting.
I also understand that the paths in Haiti are extraordinarily social places. People sit in front yards, doing chores and welcome visitors and anyone passing by. It’s how news is shared and how neighbors help one another. They are a face- to- face network of community.
When I was a child, I feared the “coming of the road” more than anything else. I vowed to lie down and stop the bulldozers. I pulled up stakes and burned them in our wood stove. I and my little gang of mischief-makers resisted as long as we could but on the day they buried my road I was far away in college.
When the Taino Indians in Haiti could not beat the Spanish, the moved up into the mountains. They built a resistance before they joined the Africans who escaped from the plantations.
I tell you this story today to give you faith and inspiration. For hundreds of years now, the Haitians have lived a subsistence life style in small cooperative communities without roads and many other things rather than be made slaves again by the French or by imperialism.
I can see the paths as terrible poverty or I can see them for what they were – resistance and protection of their land and culture.
My country is in so much pain. I close my eyes and I am walking on a footpath in Haiti. Someone offers me a chair or digs a root vegetable for me to take with me. Each day, in my country, I work on community organizing. I try to recreate the paths between houses that make us strong and resilient. The highways are full of traffic jams. But in my heart, I try to create paths of resistance.
Rural Haitians go without a great deal to maintain independence and self-reliance. As we dig into our own resistance, we too will be called upon to