On growing up in Haiti in the 1960s and 1970s; why GDP is a terrible measure of wealth and poverty

The following is excerpted from a beautiful article, “We lived sustainably, with color and panache” by Dady Chery.

As poor folk, my family could not afford an imported frigidaire (refrigerator). We had no use for one because our food was brought to us daily by the marchandes: women vendors who strolled through Port-au-Prince’s streets with baskets of provision on their heads. Their walk was living grace, their dresses and scarves a riot of color…

Mom would walk with me to Paula’s house, where we would pick a style from a fashion catalog, and Paula would measure and remeasure my shoulders, torso, arms, waist, hips, and legs. Mom and I would then walk to town to buy the fabric and deliver it to Paula. When Paula was finished with the dress, I would be summoned to her place for a fitting. Again, she would measure and remeasure… nip here, tuck there. A day or two later, I would collect a superbly tailored dress…

Water faucets were found outside or in small shower buildings built of cement. Our use of water was necessarily economical, since the water had to be collected from a faucet and carried to our quarters for our cooking and washing. Water was not wasted in indoor toilets. We used latrines, which were placed well away from the main house above a hole many feet deep. When the hole became more than half full, a new one was dug, and the dirt from the excavation was tossed into the old latrine…

The marchandes, shoemakers, teachers, and Paula, were poor, like us. To our great bemusement, Haiti was called “the poorest country in the western hemisphere” even back then, because the economic activities of this informal sector were not computed in the GDP.

In fact, Haiti was the richest country in the western hemisphere because it had the lightest footprint. Those who want to know about sustainable living would do well to learn about Haiti.

“We lived sustainably, with color and panache”, Haiti Chery

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