published Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Upton: Haiti suffers even during good times

He admits he's not your ordinary Haitian. Christian Craan, founder and bass player for the local reggae group Milele Roots since 1998, is a son of privilege -- to a degree.

His family owned a business and a commercial school back home, but even this edge didn't stop them from suffering in the West's poorest country.

"Even in the best of times, things were hard for Haiti," Mr. Crann said. "Even the middle class had a difficult time. You lack the conveniences of the U.S. Electricity may be completely shut off for hours during the night. We had to use kerosene lanterns even in the school our family ran."

Most Americans can't conceive of paying their power bill, then turning on the lights in their homes to find that the there's no electricity because the entire country is in a blackout. We'd be shocked to arrive at a hospital and be told they'd run out of supplies. These were common occurrences in the island nation before the earthquake.

Mr. Craan remembers, "The government didn't provide certain things, but (people such as) my parents could afford a generator when the electricity was out. If you had money, you could go and buy your own supplies and bring them with you to the hospital."

Born and raised in Port au Prince, Mr. Craan is a resident alien of the United States who came to Chattanooga in 1984 for college. When asked why he doesn't become a citizen, he states, "I never wanted to relinquish my citizenship in Haiti, I'm proud of it."

Led by the armies of the educated freedman Toussaint Louverture, (translated all souls rising) this rich colony was the first to gain its triumphant freedom through slave revolt.

Since then, however, its problems and setbacks have been too numerous to count. Mr. Craan, who says he's been trying to turn people's attention to Haiti for awhile, remarks solemnly, "Haiti's been suffering for a long time, whether by nature, the military, gangsters or corrupt dictatorships."

His band, which means "eternal roots," gives tribute to Louverture's vision for the country, whose famous words to the French were, "In overthrowing me you have cut down ... only the trunk of the tree of liberty, it will spring up again from the roots, for they are many and they are deep."

Mr. Craan loves music, and believes that "Reggae is the music of our hearts -- through it we identify with the struggle of others. It's about one love, unity. Its not about an ethnicity or color; we're all brothers and sisters and we all come from one source. We advocate against injustice. Reggae is a very socially conscious music, a freedom music that encourages people to come together."

Mr. Craan said that the mentality of Haitians is that they are "overcomers, resilient."

"They're hard working, positive people," he said. "They do a lot with what they have, and most people have nothing. Yet they're friendly, smiling and helpful."

Grateful that most of his family is safe, Mr. Craan hopes the earthquake will propel the people of the world to keep their attention on Haiti.

"How can a country like Haiti happen in the backyard of the United States?," he said. "Most people don't even have the hope to make things better for their families. Half the population is illiterate. The world could help Haiti if they stay interested long enough, pay attention long enough."

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a therapist at CBI/Richmont Counseling Center. E-mail her at

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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