I have found and exhausted every reason not to write this post, which has been in orbit for at least four months. After a marvelous send-off, I left Papaye and returned to California on the 10th of May. Now, almost 3 months later, I find myself still reeling a little in trying to make sense of that transition. I continue to work through what I suppose is a pretty standard ethnographic crisis, which provokes this more-or-less methodological reflection. Now – in the writing present – I am finding my way through the web of obligations that ties me to “the field.”
One of the central explorations of my dissertation research is how plants and animals do political work in rural Haiti. Stories of failure, killing, and expropriation brought my attention to the political life of Haiti’s agrarian ecosystems, but not in the way that I had expected. The replication of the kinds of stories — of suffering, violence, and insecurity — that so often focus public attention on this tiny crescent of mountainous land troubled me, and clashed with what I know of rural Haiti’s anti-colonial agrarian history. Although most Northerners know little of what Haiti’s peasants grow, they know that their fields are pitifully small, the soil degraded, and the crops prone to failure when buffeted by the latest hurricane or gummed with mud sliding down the treeless mountainsides. While ‘we’ in the global North hear of Haitians’ hunger, their poverty, and their dogged survival within a massively unequal global political economy, this litany of lack offers little towards understanding how rural Haitians — long termed the moun andeyo or ‘people outside’ — have nonetheless made and unmade political worlds on local and global scales.