Milca Merçon Eating Supper and reading Rousseau. Cange, Haiti
Recognizing her as one of the medical staff in the Zanmi Lasante hospital, I interrupted Milca on her lunch break. She was precariously ledged outside her simple breeze-block home, eating out of a metal pot and reading a book. Shy. But she was welcoming, despite my tripod and camera, and my fumbled, clumsy mix of Creole and French conversation. She was reading Rousseau’s ‘The Social Contract”, (in French). When she told me that, I felt something give way… it was a good feeling, but I also ached. Words, that were penned around the time when this island was swarming with plantation commerce and slavery, with greed and enterprise and suffering, still waited to be fulfilled.
Sure, Haiti’s slaves fought for and won their emancipation, but the leap for freedom has fallen short. The blame for this rests, I believe, largely on its neighbors and the colonial powers. Even a cursory study of Haiti’s 200-odd year history quickly reveals a sustained collusion of external forces trying to manipulate its political and economic development for reasons ranging from personal greed to a profound moral discomfort.
Haiti’s independence threatened big business (read this piece by Noam Chomsky), and even now, challenges the morality and ethics of the democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere, who purport to have distinguished themselves by embracing words such as these from Rousseau’s “The Social Contract”:
Even if each man could alienate himself, he couldn’t alienate his children: they are born men, and born free; their liberty belongs to them, and no-one else has the right to dispose of it. While they are too young to decide for themselves, their father can, in their name, lay down conditions for their preservation and well-being; but he can’t make an irrevocable and unconditional gift of them; such a gift is contrary to the ends of nature, and exceeds the rights of paternity. So an arbitrary government couldn’t be legitimate unless in every generation the populace was the master who was in a position to accept or reject it; but then the government would no longer be arbitrary!
- Milca Merçon. Cange, Haiti, January, 2008
Hasselblad 500C/M, 80mm Planar lens, Fuji P400 film