Jonathan Katz has written a well-regarded book on the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the relief efforts that followed. It's titled, "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." Katz was then an Associated Press reporter and was the only full-time American correspondent in Haiti. Katz now lives in Durham. He will sign copies of his book Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Via email, I recently asked him a few questions.
Q: Why did you write "The Big Truck That Went By"?
A: In may ways it was an extension of the work I was doing as a correspondent in Haiti. There was a much more profound story going on than the one we were able to tell in news stories, from the day of the quake itself, through the misbegotten relief effort, and the political turmoil and massive cholera epidemic that ended the year. What happened over the course of about twelve months in Haiti was simply extraordinary, and a story that has implications for people all over the world. A complete work of narrative nonfiction seemed like the best way to give the necessary context, blast through our pre-conceived notions, and bring that story to bear.
Q: For those who want to help (individuals, countries or groups, including those that are faith-based), what does it take to make a difference in Haiti?
A: Making a difference is easy. Improving lives over the long term is what's hard. In some ways it comes down to humility: knowing the limits (and costs) of our power, the ill effects of so many efforts in the past, and being willing to step back and listen to people about what they want and need in their own lives. That requires a lot of direct engagement, a lot of patience, and a lot of creativity. Any aid effort must begin with the principle of "first do no harm," and have as its ultimate goal its own irrelevance. Haiti, as anywhere, needs strong, durable institutions that are accountable to its own people. If your work is helping to build, and not undermine, those institutions, and is leaving behind something durable that will last long after your organization is gone, you're probably on the right track.
Q: How did you come to live in Durham?
A: As I mention at the end of The Big Truck, I ended up leaving Haiti to move in with my girlfriend, Claire Payton, in Brooklyn. Well, after the book was written, Claire, now my fiancée, transferred to Duke to complete her history PhD at the university's terrific Haiti Lab. I came with her. So here I am!