Unit 2 Destination Discussion - Haiti

Advance Reading: Members of the group should read Chapters Three, Four, and the interlude section titled “In Louisville” of The Big Truck That Went By. Please skip over Chapter Two for now—we will return to it in the next session.


Katz uses the Haitian term “blan” to describe American aid workers, journalists, and other Westerners in Haiti. He writes:

“The irony was that blan in Haiti had for the most part come to help […] The problem often was that these individuals were merely the vanguard of distant, massive organizations whose managers seemed less interested in nuances or painful lessons on the ground. And their – our – ability to report back those nuances was inhibited by the fact that we were viewing life through a bubble [….] We could have fun, enjoy the beaches and mountains, and spend our weekend nights in the clubs. Then on Monday, everyone went back to work, reporting to headquarters and foreign capitals about the irredeemable other that was Haiti.”

Katz refers to himself as a “blan” in many places, even as he criticizes the outlook that often results from their privileged and isolated status in Haiti. On our UUCSJ trip to Haiti, we may be referred to as “blan” – and will likely feel our “otherness” as North Americans, whether or not we are White.

  • Do you identify with anything in Katz’s description of the “blan?”
  • How might we relate this to the themes of our unit on “Who We Are Together”?

A major theme of these chapters has to do with the way in which inequalities of class and race in Haiti partly determined who was most affected by the earthquake and who was most likely to be left out of the international relief efforts.

  • In what ways does Katz draw out this theme in his description of the international response in Chapter Four?

Think back to the three “clichés” of disaster reporting Katz identifies in the introduction.

  • In what way does he continue to challenge these clichés in Chapter Four?
  • What if anything most surprised you in the description of the international relief effort in this chapter?
  • Does Katz’s description align with your own understanding of this effort, or does it challenge what you previously thought had gone on in Haiti after the earthquake? Did you have a more favorable impression of the international effort before reading this book?


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