Update on Book & Profile of Anne Hastings (Part One of Four)
Below is an update on my book project and then the first of four blogs about Anne Hastings. The other three will be posted over the next week.
It has been a long time since I posted on my blog. Fear not: progress is being made on the book on Fonkoze. I spent the last week of December and the first couple of weeks of January working on my “long form article” that my agent suggested would be a good way to whet the reading public’s appetite for the book. This would ideally be published in something like the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker or the New York Times magazine. The length of these articles can be 10,000 words or in some cases up to 15,000. I wrote a draft that weighs in at 22,000 (!) words, showed it to a friend who I trusted would tell me if I was on to something (she said I was), and now have sent it to my agent.
Anne Hastings’ slight build and elegant though modest dress can be deceiving. She is a hard-driving woman prone to occasional outbursts, though laughter comes easily at times to this extrovert. Her intense stare softens somewhat after a few glasses of wine.
Common words used to describe her are courageous, diligent and tough. She would need all of those qualities in the days and weeks following the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Frequently, her accomplishments and stamina would leave her colleagues and those in supporting organizations astonished. Many would report that her leadership by example, especially in the hours and weeks after the temblor, spurred them to maximum effort.
It is not clear how Hastings built up these capabilities and vast reserves of energy. The suddenness of an earthquake does not leave time to prepare. One only reacts. Those of us who have never been thrust into such a life-and-death situation can only wonder how we would cope, whether we would be a leader or a coward.
Haiti is not for the timid, especially if one hopes to accomplish anything tangible much less long-lasting. After being recruited by a charismatic priest to run Fonkoze, which has become the leading microfinance institution of Haiti, Hastings rapidly taught herself Creole and threw herself into building the organization so it could one day serve tens of thousands of this nation’s most marginalized women. Ideas that appealed to her as promising were pursued relentlessly. Obstacles and threats were confronted directly, without hesitation and at times with an abrasiveness that Haiti infuses and requires.
Amos Jeannot, a beloved colleague, was abducted in the Hastings’ fourth year in Haiti. She was on a short trip abroad at the time, but on hearing the news rushed back to mobilize a massive and highly public campaign to search for Amos and his captors. The kidnappers’ called only once with a single demand: that Hastings close Fonkoze and leave the country.
Six days after the abduction, Amos’ corpse that bore obvious signs of torture and mutilation was discovered at the Port au Prince morgue. (Colleagues were able to identify him conclusively through his t-shirt, which they recognized.) Hastings went back to the morgue with a photographer to make sure they had photos of his corpse. She then organized the funeral and signaled her commitment to remain in Haiti, where she has been based ever since. Even after that episode, she travels without a bodyguard (though a pleasant and hapless formerly unemployed man from her neighborhood runs errands for her and accompanies her at night lest her aggressive driving require a flat tire to be changed).
On another occasion, an armed man burst into the head office – prompting Fonkoze’s overmatched security guard to lock himself in the bathroom. The robber escaped with $50,000. Hours later, Hastings figured out who the thief was and marched, unarmed, to his home in one of the capital’s worst slums. Finding only his wife and two children, she convinced them to leave their home and stay with her as leverage to convince the robber to give the money back (which Hastings convinced them would benefit everyone involved). They stayed at a hastily identified safe house for four days before leaving. She arranged that they be fed better than they had been in years. The robber never called for them. When they asked to go home, Hastings deliverered them back with money in their pockets.