It is a rare moment. The leader of the government, a Prime Minister, blatantly at street level, squeezing between concrete hovels in the labyrinthian “city without streets,” the “ghetto,” the “slum,” in an effort to keep himself and his government close to their purpose–“if not the poor, then who are we helping with our theories and programs?”
The moment… one woman, perhaps hopeless in her poverty, sees a man who can lead a way out of this, or at least offer some ray of hope for the tiniest relief. She sees him. He is in a doorway, coming out of a filthy shoppe, and when she looks at him he looks at her. His hand rests on her shoulder. The literal hands of the Prime Minister literally ministering. His hand on her shoulder, her eyes in his eyes. In a moment a photograph comes to represent the reality of a hope we do not know if we can believe.
He goes to the shoppe keeper. He visits her in her smoke smudged kitchen. She tells him about her business. She tells him about life in her neighborhood.
A woman grabs him in the street. He does not push her away. When she holds him he returns the embrace. He is not only listening, he is attuning his very body to the movements of the poor. He is standing with his head lowered ever slightly, the posture of one honoring whom he is listening to.
These are his feet and he is leading others with him, ones who did not expect they were going.
He walks into places people do not even want to call home. The surprise of faces as the Prime Minister enters their dungeon dark caves of bedrooms unannounced is almost humorous. If not for where the surprise takes place.
Yes, he has brought the national press with him. But it is not for power. This is risky stuff, forcing these people in nice pants to crawl with him where most people live and die. He is forcing them to see what he himself desires to see.
And what everyone sees, once past the smell and heat and misplaced steps that send not a few of us to our backs and knees as we fall in the slop of the narrow slum passages trying to keep pace with the Prime Minister, are people.
We leave the urban concrete prisons and visit a village in the high mountains. As the government enacts new social programs, some of which critics say are only superficial, the programs do not generically help “people.” They help people with names. Here is Mica. She waited all morning for her opportunity to register for the new programs that will help her family. This is Haiti’s New Deal and I can almost hear Roosevelt’s ghost… “Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth…”
Here is Elimise stealing a kiss from the Prime Minister for what this new program will do for her and her family.
Back in the city slums we visit a neighborhood undergoing a transformation. New paint and badly needed roof repairs. Some criticize the work as merely cosmetic. It is cosmetic. But like a lovely lady with rouge, is it so bad to give a beautiful woman a worthy dress and rouge to help her feel better and to help the world see her as she really is–a person. These are the colors of people, and the Prime Minister is leading leaders into a new way of seeing people and acting on their behalf. He is giving dignity by the efforts of what matters most, not theories but the work of his own two hands.