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Sunday, March 26, 2023

Christmas in Hurricane-Ravaged Land: A Postcard From Florida

By Ardain IsmaNote:This article was first published on Haiti-Tribune, a Haitian newspaper based in Paris, France.Behind all the bliss and the media frenzy surrounding the holiday season, there is an untold story that most of us already know, but few of us seem to develop an interest to tell it. It is the story of Santa Claus and his biased attitude toward the Haves and against the Have-nots. Every year, he comes early to town; and long before the arrival of Black Friday, the famous Friday after Thanksgiving where blue chip retailers like Wal-Mart are poised to make another soaring profit, Santa had already been spotted in several exotic shopping malls scattered around in Suburbia.Year after year, he promises to make an important stop by all disenfranchised neighborhoods to deliver the much-needed gift to children who would otherwise go gift-less without Santa’s “generous” presents. As always, the children wait in vain for the elusive Santa that never arrives while they sit sleeplessly as their little eyes blaze up and their little hearts leap up at each crack they hear, coming either from the old chimney, or the garage door, or the dilapidated windows.However, when midnight comes and goes, and Santa once again is nowhere in sight, hope immediately gives way to despair. So the children succumb to their parents’ arms, still not blaming Santa, but thinking they did not make the list for they have been naughty all year long. Once again, they go to sleep, vowing to be as nice as they could in the coming year so when Santa makes his next list and checks it multiple times, they would not be eliminated.It’s amazing to see how Santa Claus has been able to get away from his misdeeds all these years. But this year, like many other dismayed observers, I’m wondering if Santa will once again shun these children. And if he does, will he be able to get away with it? It’s hard to imagine that Santa Claus will one more time stay away from the deprived children of Haiti, from those who live in the swampy valley floor on the island of Abaco, in the Bahamas—where Haitian children were the victims of last year’s hurricane and are now being fed by the International Red Cross while living in makeshift tents near downtown Marsh Harbour with no hope of going to a place that they could someday call “Home Sweet Home.” At least, not any time soon.Will Santa also stay away from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and from South Florida? These two areas have just entered the hall of fame for being the latest famous victims of Natural disasters, as killer storms Katrina, Rita, and Wilma unleashed their fury on their embattle coastlines, leaving thousands dead, tens of thousands displaced and more than a million visibly bruised, both physically and psychologically.I was driving down Highway-10, three days after hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans when I noticed two children, appearing in their early teens, hitchhiking on the south side of the road. Their weather-beaten faces radiated under the glittering sun and the hazy ninety-degree heat. One was a typical black boy, wearing a white undershirt and kaki pants tucked inside his wrinkled and leathery boots. The other was an Indian girl with long straight hair braided into three pigtails with blue ribbons in the ends. They were sweaty, hungry, exhausted, but fearless for the heavy wind-speed that blew from the passing trucks appeared to have little effect on them, as they stood erect by the roadside, holding each other’s hands while waiting for a good Samaritan to give them a lift to safety. They looked so innocent, seeming to be more preoccupied by their immediate problem, rather than by all the nightmarish elements that surround life around them. “Pappy, where are these kids going?” inquired my eight-year old son, who sat in the backseat in total bewilderment. “ I don’t know, son. But we’ll find out in a second,” I replied, as the brakes squeaked at the abrupt stop while I pulled by the roadside to get to the children. “Where are you, kids, going?” I asked. “We came from New Orleans and our parents ran out of gas. So we’re trying to find a ride to the next service station,” said the Indian girl with a grin.I looked around and saw an old Chevy station wagon parked on the side of the road. I made a long back toward the old Chevy, where I met two women, one was Haitian and the other one was Indian. They told me that they both were neighbors who lived in New Orleans East, inside the Lower Ninth Ward, the famous, poorest section of New Orleans. They fled the hellish condition of the city to seek refuge in the town of Green Cove Springs, twenty miles southwest of Jacksonville. I called a towing company, stayed with them until the tow truck arrived and gave them some quick cash to pursue their journey. This story is a mirror reflection of tons of stories like this. And if this one seemed to have a happy ending, thousands more did not.Many Haitian parents and children are still without basic necessities, six weeks after hurricane Wilma swept South Florida. Who will bring salvation to many of their relatives in Haiti who depend on their assistance? Will Santa come to the rescue this year? I am pessimistically optimistic that he will not even notice that the margin between the nouveaux riches and nouveauxpauvres this year has been widen sharply, by a ratio of 1 to 1,000, according to latest statistics. As Mickey Mouse is ready to lead the dazzling Parade in Downtown Disney on Christmas Eve, preparations are already well underway for the dusk-to-dawn lavish parties in exclusive bars and restaurants in South Beach, in world-class resorts of Palm Beach and in the corridors of foreign embassies in Port-au-Prince.I am one hundred percent sure that Santa will, like every year, be the guest of honor in every single one of them, arriving with his open sleigh filled with expensive toys that He and Rudolph, his red nose reindeer, will hand out with glee to children who have already been swamped by fancy gifts that lie dormant under the glittering Christmas tree.And will Santa remember to make that quick stop by the poverty-stricken shantytowns of Haiti? Will he come to hurricane-ravaged South Florida and the Mississippi Gulf Coast? Will there be Christmas in Dixie? I am keeping my fingers across, but I already sense the outcome. Those who yearn for freedom and economic prosperity, longing for democracy and social justice, are not always fortunate enough to get a convalescent visit from Santa. But I will tell them to hold firm in their desire to pursue the faint hope of a less precarious and more secure existence. So if the children still do not make Santa’s list this year, they certainly will be chocked. But I will not, for I already know that He will not come by.Ardain Isma, Ph.D. teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova Southeastern University, near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He also heads the Center For Strategic and Multicultural Studies, and he is the chief editor of the multicultural, online magazine www.CSMSMagazine.org He may be reached at publisher@csmsmagazine.org or isma@nova.edu

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