Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Horror of Haiti

While surveying the catastrophe confronting the people of Haiti today, I can not but recall a line from Dr Hannibal Lecter, taken from Thomas Harris’s “Red Dragon”, when he talks to Detective Will Graham about the death of the sleazy journalist Freddy Lounds -

Photo Left (c) 2009 Ali Karim 'Better Days' at Bruce Springsteen in London's Hyde Park (Ali Karim, Nick Stone and Stav Sherez)

"Tell me, Will. Did you enjoy it? Your first murder? Of course you did. And why shouldn't it feel good? It does to God. Why only last week in Texas, he dropped a whole church roof on the heads of 34 of his worshippers, just as they were groveling for him. He wouldn't begrudge you one Journalist."

I’m not going to get all Richard Dawkins, despite having a great deal of respect for his work as a fellow scientist. But when a tragedy of the magnitude of the earthquake that struck one of the poorest countries in the World, Haiti; one does have to speculate about our existence and its meaning, if there is any?

I didn’t know anything about Haiti until I read Nick Stone’s blistering debut ‘Mr Clarinet’ several years ago. A friendship developed that lead me to discover more about this land, and what I found was not pleasant, in fact it made me realize how much dignity the people of this land have, considering how they are forced to live.

Nick Stone has taken down all the content on his website, and placed an international appeal to help the people who survived the earthquake, but who now are in dire need of help.

If you are human, and have any feelings I would urge you to do whatever you can HERE. I know money is tough all round, but in Haiti, it is sheer hell and anything, anything, anything you can do to will help.

I saw this picture at The Financial Times, and I am not ashamed to say I cried, looking at the childs face, I cried.

I donated here to UNICEF - it took 2 minutes online, and they emailed back -

"Your support will help to ensure that the rights of children in Haiti are not forgotton - including their right to be healthy.UNICEF has been present in Haiti since 1949.

We are working to provide clean water, shelter and medical help to children and families affected.

UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary contributions and receive no funding from the United Nations budget. "

Time is running out, I urge you to help in whatever way you can –
Nick Stone has links here

Thank you for reading – and if you have faith – Pray for the People of Haiti – if you don’t have faith – send money please.

As a Thank You – please find a short article set in Haiti by Nick Stone originally published in 2006 by Shots and in the US in Crimespree Magazine

I love Smith & Wesson by Nick Stone

The plot for my debut novel, Mr Clarinet didn’t come to me all at once. I got it in two installments. The first came to me in Haiti in December 1995, where I was visiting my family for the holidays. At the time, I hadn’t seen most of them nor set foot in the country for thirteen years.

I remember the moment lightning struck. It was midday – bright and baking. I was pacing around the courtyard with my late grandfather’s Model 10 Smith & Wesson revolver. I was having a nostalgic moment.

We went back, the gun, the courtyard and me. My first memory – age three - is of playing in the courtyard; my second is of the dog that approached me moments later. It was a stray black German Shepherd. It didn’t snarl or growl or even bark. It didn’t run up to me and pounce. It simply strolled into my life and – my third memory - clamped its jaws around my forearm and pulled me off my feet.

What happened next is a blank, although I’ve long since had the empty spaces filled in for me by people who weren’t there. My grandfather was sitting nearby in the shade, watching over me. This was something he liked to do while he still could. He was dying of cancer and knew he didn’t have long to go.

He shot the dog with the pistol he always kept at his side in case of thieves.
Two weeks later he died in his sleep.

My uncle Jean inherited the pistol. He mounted it in a glass case and used to pass it around at dinner parties, whenever the conversation went stale.
I found the gun quite by accident, still sitting in its display case, on top of a cupboard in the house I was staying in.

Jean told me the weapon’s history and then took it out of the case and handed it to me. It had a dull grey finish and a wooden grip which had turned almost black with time. It was heavier and sturdier than it looked.

The day I took the pistol for a walk in the courtyard – all the while mentally recreating the scene where my grandfather had saved my life - I noticed something about it I hadn’t initially seen, something only the intense sunlight revealed. On one side of the grip, close to the end, three thin straight lines, each about a centimetre long, had been crudely scored into the wood.

I guessed what they stood for.

I wondered how my grandfather had felt, being God three times over, for a split second each. I wondered how he’d lived with himself afterwards.

And that was how and when I got the first idea for my novel.
Simple, really:
I’d create a character who’d killed three people. I’d give him bad dreams and a mounting sense of remorse. I’d make him sorry.


Haiti, in case you don’t know, is a Caribbean island, situated roughly between Cuba and Jamaica. It shares a border with the Dominican Republic. You can’t miss it when you fly over it. It’s the colour of rust on rust. Its neighbours are all lush and green, healthy and abundant. Haiti looks like it doesn’t belong there, like it’s floated in from another, sorrier part of the world, a place where it barely rains and nothing ever grows or lasts.

Haiti is apart, unique and alone, as are its people. They’re also exceptionally funny: two hundred plus years of living with almost constant natural and man-made disasters means there’s gallows humour in the DNA.

I returned to live and work there in September 1996. I’d got a marketing job in a now defunct local bank, based in the capital, Port-Au-Prince. I stayed until December 1997.

The place was a disaster zone. Think of some war/famine/drought ravaged African landscape teeming with extreme poverty and disease and you’ll get a picture of what it was like.

You couldn’t – and still can’t - drink the tapwater in Haiti. It’s so filthy you’re urged to keep your mouth shut when you’re having a shower. The electricity supply is temperamental. Powercuts can last for days. Everyone who can afford one has a generator. Everyone else lives by candlelight or in complete darkness. There are precious few streetlights in Haiti. It’s not only the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, it’s also the darkest.

A little publicized consequence of the 1994 US military invasion of Haiti was the repatriation of most Haitian criminals from American prisons – hundreds of murderers, rapists, gang members, and drug dealers were flown back to the island and handed over to the country’s authorities. There was a slight problem with this – actually, make that a rather large problem: at that moment in time, Haiti was quite literally a lawless land. Not only was the country without a police force or army (both having been disbanded by order of the UN), all of its prisons had been emptied of convicts and turned into squats, the judiciary had been suspended and all laws annulled pending the drafting of a new constitution. The Haitian “authorities” who took possession of the homecoming convicts were actually nervous airport security staff. They escorted the criminals off the runway and released them. The criminals found their way to Port-Au-Prince and its neighbouring slum, a vast congealed cesspool and home to half a million people, called Cité Soleil. Within months they were running both.

The crime rate rocketed on the island: murders, home invasions, carjackings, rapes, drug trafficking and, very disturbingly, a whole new dark phenomenon - child kidnapping.

Children had always gone missing in Haiti. Most of them had disappeared for good, never to be seen nor heard from again. There were rumours of adoption rackets, black magic ceremonies, child labour and other things I won’t go into here, but kidnapping was a whole new ball game. And for once it wasn’t the poor who were suffering the worst, but the rich. After all, only they could afford to pay the ransoms.

When I heard about this I got the rest of the idea for my book. I’d send my triple murderer to Haiti to look for a missing child. I’d make him a private detective. He’d be haunted by his past - the life he’d lived, the lives he’d taken and the consequences he’d reaped. His name would be Max Mingus, after an old school friend who’d got me reading Kafka, and one of my heroes, the very great Charles Mingus: jazz bassist extraordinaire, band leader, composer, bully, brawler, genius and author of Under the Underdog – the quintessential jazz autobiography, written as lopsided noir.

Now you know.

© 2006 Nick Stone


  1. Haiti has had a very sad story .. went from being an extremely poor country become a country destroyed by a deadly earthquake