Thursday, February 11, 2010

Haitian Mountains

It seems there is an old Haitian proverb that goes, “Deye mon, gen mon” — ”Beyond the mountains, more mountains.” While it's not new in English, I only learned it from my TV set a week or two ago during a break in a football game I was watching. Its purpose there, no doubt, was to communicate to U.S. viewers some well-established dignity on the part of the Haitian people, now suffering anew in the aftermath of the recent earthquake, and thereby sustain sympathy for the ongoing relief effort. I have no doubt that to some degree at least it achieved its intended purpose. But as the adage was new to me, I chewed on it a bit. And the more I chewed, the more I wondered.

"Beyond the mountains, more mountains." It's undeniable that this has the ring of wisdom about it, a mature conclusion drawn by a mature culture. A culture that has endured countless years of trial and error and become as a result acutely aware of the hubris that tempts younger people and younger nations and far too often attends their singular and collective enterprises as well. Our phrase, "a bridge too far", might serve as a reasonable corollary.

But then it could mean something else altogether. Rather than stemming from maturity, it might instead be the product of national fatigue and represent the fatalistic conclusion of a tired and hopeless culture. Our saying, "What's the point?" might sufficiently capture the same idea.

If it's the latter, then the relief effort in Haiti has far more before it than simply rescuing the wounded and repairing the infrastructure, such as it is. Even if those immediate goals are achieved with unimaginable success, then, well, more mountains.

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