I can’t stop dreaming about Haiti.
Like everyone else, the news has infused my mind with soul-shaking images of death, ruin, and grief. With hardly two pennies to rub together, money is not the way that I will be helping Haiti—at least not on a large scale. Without medical skills, I don’t have the kind of saving knowledge they really need right now. And with 2 ½ years of graduate school left, I probably won’t be going down there any time soon.
I feel pretty helpless in this whole thing, which I am sure is about 1/1,000,000 as helpless as the Haitians feel looking over the destruction in their capital city and wondering how they will ever go back to normal life again.
As is the privilege of people who are not directly affected by disaster, I have been able to carry on with my life in somewhat normal fashion. I have the luxury of forgetting for a few hours a day. But almost every night since it’s happened, I dream about Haiti. And every time I sit down to a meal, I think about Haitians passing their days on little or no food, what little they have coming in the form of dehydrated emergency meals, high-energy biscuits, and canned goods.
This morning I woke up from a particularly gruesome dream about Haiti, and felt the need to fast, to remember all day, through the hunger pangs, some small part of what the people of Haiti are experiencing every minute. I don’t want to forget today—as I go to class, talk to my classmates, read, or watch TV—that there are people in deep, paralyzing pain.
But, I am a realist. I can’t fast everyday, and even if I could, what good does that do the people of the world? And yes, Haiti is in heart-clenching pain—but people are starving, grieving, and living in squalor all over the world every single day. So, what to do?
How we cook and eat after a disaster like this has become the focus of a heated debate at my school. Yale Divinity School hosts an annual Wooden Spoon Competition, where each of the three classes raises money and prepares a meal. The seniors cook on the first week, the middlers on the second, and the first-years on the third. After each class has served their meal, the judges meet and the winner is declared. The trophy: a wooden spoon that is entrusted to the winning class until the next year when it will be passed to the new victor.
As we have been talking about our prize-worthy menu, there has been much discussion over whether we should take the money we would have spent on food and send it to Haiti, and then encourage the people present on our competition night to fast. Others have suggested we prepare a simple meal of rice and beans and serve no alcohol. From the other camp, some insist that this competition is meant to be a fun, community-building activity and is not the proper forum for statement-making. To be perfectly honest, I am split. The cook in me longs to be part of a fun night of cooking a wonderful meal we can all share and be proud of—win or not (though I think we’ve got a pretty good shot). But another part of me feels that a simple meal, or no meal at all might be an appropriate way of remembering those who are suffering.
In the raging email debate, someone had a lovely observation. There are times, she said, for feast (Easter, for example), and times for famine (Lent, perhaps) and that both are necessary to our lives—but should not be interchanged. This competition is a time for fun and feasting, and that it should not be turned into a fast. She argued that we should cook our hearts out for this competition, and use one of our regular Wednesday night meals after the competition to share a simple dinner in honor of Haiti, or to declare a fast.
There is also the question: how do you judge a competition where one group has taken the “moral high ground” and others have actually tried to compete?
I don’t know what to think. I love the Divinity School, and it is truly one of the kindest, most generous, and most thoughtful places I have ever been. But sometimes it feels like we live in a bubble, here. It’d be nice to know where the rest of the world comes down on this issue….