Hi everyone and Happy New Year. I am so pleased to be invited to participate in Hannah Howell’s blog. I had the pleasure of staying with Hannah for a few days last spring and she is as wonderful and down-to-earth in real life as she comes across here.
Last week, I, along with the rest of the world, watched in shocked horror as images of the deadly earthquake in Haiti were relayed around the world. It is impossible not to be affected by the losses of life and livelihood wreaked on the Haitian people. But the disaster struck me in a way I hadn’t expected—it felt personal and in many ways it was.
Beljou is a fictional place but based very much on Haiti.
Like Haiti’s Port-au-Prince, my capital city in Beljou, Port-au-Paix, is a sprawling metropolis near the ocean with a population of more than two million people and growing as more and more people from the rural areas try to find employment in the capital. Most, however, are relegated to eking out an existence in the slums littering the hillside surrounding the city.
There is a huge discrepancy in the distribution of wealth in the city—indeed in the whole country—something Julie doesn’t fail to notice as she travels through the poverty-stricken streets to the Presidential Palace where her troops are initially housed. Accompanied by her mulatto assistant, Julie explores Port-au-Paix and learns about the country’s rich cultural heritage. But despite the outward appearance of calm, Port-au-Paix and its inhabitants sizzle with an undercurrent of tension that is ready to erupt at any moment.
This tension is exacerbated outside the capital where Lieutenant Matthew Wolf, one of Julie’s troops and a reconnaissance expert, discovers an agitator, a voodoo priest known as The Hougan, bent on stirring up the people of Beljou.
Julie is kidnapped and taken to Cap-Verte, The Hougan’s centre of power. As Matt explains during a briefing, Cap-Verte is cut off from the rest of the country, not only physically by the mountains, but economically, socially and culturally. Similar conditions in Cap-Haïtien, the part of Haiti on which Cap-Verte is based, have often made that part of the country an incubator for revolutionary or anti-government figures. Risking his career, Matt sets off alone to rescue Julie without igniting a political powder keg, and he does so with the help of islanders he has befriended.
I had thought originally to set SOLDIER FOR LOVE in Haiti but worried that the preconceptions many readers had about the country would overshadow the plot. Basing my fictional Beljou on Haiti allowed me to creatively tap into a wealth of information and bring the story to life in a realistic way. I was rewarded when one reviewer suggested Beljou was really Haiti in disguise and, again, when several others admitted to looking for the Beljou on a map of the Caribbean Sea.
While geography is important in helping to define a population, it is the rich history and multi-ethnic culture of Haiti that I came to appreciate most. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion. For the last few decades, this poorest country in the western hemisphere has been struggling to undo the damage caused by unscrupulous dictators and corrupt politicians. And yet, the Haitian people have continued to show resilience and nobility in the face of adversity.
But how much can people endure?
The scope of the destruction of the January 12th earthquake is unimaginable. Striking just 16 miles from Port-au-Prince, it has destroyed or significantly damaged most of the city’s major landmarks, including the Presidential Palace (the President survived), and seriously impacted government operations and civil aid agencies. What little infrastructure there had been is gone and the repercussions are being felt far beyond the capital.
And the human cost! The International Red Cross has said that as many as three million people have been affected by the earthquake, with as many as 50,000 deaths likely. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti and the families and friends around the world. The road to recovery will be long.
I know many of you have already stepped up to help and I hope many more of you will do so in the coming weeks and months. I will be donating 25% of my book and eBook royalties from SOLDIER FOR LOVE to the Haitian relief and reconstruction effort; it is my way to give something back to the men and women who allowed me to share their world.
Brenda’s first book, SOLDIER FOR LOVE, is a Joyfully Reviewed Recommended Read. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series entitled HEART’S DESIRE, which chronicles the difficult road to finding love and family acceptance for three Graham cousins. For more about Brenda, visit her website at www.BrendaGayle.com or follow her on Facebook (Brenda Gayle) and Twitter (Brenda_Gayle).