The Big Truck That Went By

I just finished The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster by Jonathan Katz, the only full-time American news correspondent who was in Haiti during the earthquake. 

Yes, this book was a much-awaited almost-perfect summary of the post-quake aid debacle, giving me just the explanations, data, and stories I needed to back up many of my Haiti claims and appeals. It shows how so much of the aid was never delivered, regrettably benefitted the donors rather than the intended donees, funded the wrong NGOs or unsolicited projects, was tied up in government bureaucracy in the donor countries themselves etc etc -- basically that the Haitian government can take very little blame for mismanaging money that it never even had a whiff of, and that much of the responsibility for the lack of progress lies with those who made the world believe in their generosity. 

Yes, this book walked me through the complicated presidential elections, the cause and UN response to the cholera outbreak, and the land disputes and tent camp relocation complications while weaving in personal stories and anecdotes that would make any reader connect to the subject.

But those positive qualities do little to explain why I was constantly torn between voraciously reading and - alternately - being unsure whether I was strong enough to turn the next page.  

Because something about finally reading the story of someone who lived through the exact same experience - literally a few hundred meters from where my building collapsed - made me realize, for probably only the second time since the earthquake, that someone out there knew exactly what it was like. And that someone could put it into words so much better than I ever could.

It doesn't hurt that our building was mentioned on page 19 and that Katz lived directly next to a hotel Molly and I visited on my first day in Haiti, just a few minutes' walk down the side alley outside our gate. It also doesn't hurt that he actually corresponded with me on Twitter (once I figured out what that whole tweeting thing is about!) after I told him where I was during the quake.  But the following quotes, selected from hundreds that I underlined to in the book, best capture why I felt such a strong, and sometimes painful, connection to this book. Both could easily have come directly from my mouth (if I were more eloquent); the first about what it is to love Haiti, and the second is literally exactly what the earthquake felt like: a perfect snapshot of the most horrifying 30 seconds of my life.


" can truly understand only when you realize that to love Haiti is to come away bruised; that loving Haiti is to love something that may not even love itself, but that it's still love, after all..."


"Then everything shoved. I lowered myself, or maybe I fell. Then a shove came the other way. Then another, and another. Suddenly the house was an airplane in a storm. Everything was falling... Everything was flowing now, blasts coming through the walls, waves through the floor. There was a contest between the up and down and the side to side. Who was going to shove harder, the up and down or the side to side? They were both winning. There was a mechanical roar.

I answered: "No no no no no no no no no....."

The world turned gray and everything blurred, things falling long after there should have been nothing left to fall... With every heartbeat, the floor disappeared from under me and reappeared and was gone.

It was going to fall. I was going to fall."