On That Day, Everybody Ate: One Woman’s Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti by Margaret Trost.
Koa Books, Kihei, Hawai’i, 2008.
Non-fiction/memoir, 143 pages. n
The story of Margaret Trost’s experiences with Haiti which led to her developing a charity to feed and aid children in partnership with a parish there.
Although I’m trying to focus on Africa this year, I went down a rabbit hole because I got interested in Haiti after seeing Rebecca’s Caribbean reading goal. I’ve seen lots of books around about the earthquake and have even read a few, but I really wanted to read books written before 2010.
After some scrounging in various libraries, I came up with three titles and decided to read this one first. To be honest, I didn’t expect to like this at all. I’ve grown leery of “white person encounters foreign culture” stories because so many of them are astoundingly poorly done. However, this book grew on me and was even a passable read.
Trost divides the book up according to the various trips she took to Haiti. It instantly took a deeper turn than I’d expected, as her husband very suddenly died in his thirties and she was left to care for their son alone. Her deep grief and search for meaning in her life led her to volunteer in Haiti.
On that short-term mission, she found herself visiting a Catholic church (St. Clare) filled with hope and a warm community despite desperate poverty. The first section covers that first short trip and how she got involved with the meal ministry (which is not what she was there to do on her volunteer trip). This is a pretty typical privileged-person-wakes-up scenario, but Trost does describe several scenes in vivid detail.
The second trip, with her brother, has far more content. Father Gerry finds a way to make use of everyone’s gifts and talents, and Trost gets her first close look at the meal program she’s been collecting donations to support. Cultural learning is happening everywhere she goes, and her experiences start to feel a little more authentic to Haiti.
Trost’s third visit to Haiti is her son’s first, and it occurs only two months after her second visit. She’s starting to feel more comfortable navigating both the country and the culture. Both are new to her son, but he is also able to adjust to Haitian life much more easily.
Something that made me uncomfortable with this was how it touched on the savior/colonialist mentality. Trost brings her son to Haiti so he can benefit from seeing a different culture and learn to appreciate all he has. But what he is bringing to Haiti is mostly material goods. In other areas Trost was more able to critique her own current or past view, but she seemed blind in this aspect.
The fourth visit felt more equitable. Trost and her son Luke spend an entire summer in Haiti. She focuses more on learning Creole, and he fits in to the community. At this point she is also realistically overwhelmed with the scope of the problem and the amount of responsibility now on her shoulders, but with the community’s encouragement she is ready to press on.
This book ends with that visit. An epilogue tells about some of her many subsequent visits and the difficulties that Haiti and the community she works with faced between 2001 (the time of that last visit) and 2008 (when the book was published).
On That Day, Everybody Ate is a memoir. While there is a lot of information about Haiti and particular people Trost got to know or worked with, it’s ultimately her personal story of growth and transformation through visits to Haiti. That’s why my impression before reading it was so low. But this was better than I expected. If you’re interested in American non-profit work in Haiti, you might like to read this. There’s more information (and you can buy an updated post-earthquake book) at the foundation’s website.
Personally, I would like to read more about Fr. Gerry, as he was a compelling character!