This is the last part of my interview with Travesty in Haiti: A true account of Christian missions, orphanages, fraud, food aid and drug trafficking author, Dr. Tim Schwartz. (You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)
I am extremely grateful to Dr. Schwartz for his time and his thorough responses. If you have not yet ordered Travesty I encourage you to do so through either of the links in the article.
MD: Elaborate on the trouble that you had getting your book published; what were some of the excuses, if any, given to you?
Schwartz: You’ve read published authors giving advice to aspiring writers, “Don’t give up, when I was getting started I tried twenty publishers before I finally got accepted.”
Well none of them have anything on me.
The process started off well enough. After about 20 queries to agents I got one, a good one, and she said it was a terrific book. She subsequently queried every major US publisher–I think there were thirty. Not a single one would even look at the manuscript.
So I took over and began approaching academic presses. I went through every one I could find. More than twenty. I think that two read it. The senior editor at one of them, Zed Books in England, he liked the book, wrote me a letter of congratulations and said that they were sure to publish it, but that it had to go out for review. Presses move slowly. It was one year later when it went out. In the meantime the first editor retired. The new editor never read the book but sent it out for review. The reviewer sent it back saying something to the effect, “He keeps saying that aid is ineffective but he never gives us any evidence.” I think that anyone who has read the book would be as befuddled as me by that comment. The one thing I know that I did was hammer away at the evidence. I think the editor misspoke. I think that for Zed the point was that it was not academic enough and at the time it wasn’t. I had taken out the more academic parts because I was trying to reach as wide an audience as possible. So I put them back in, but Zed wouldn’t give me another chance.
Also, there was another problem with the book, one identified by the first Zed editor: it doesn’t fit into any genre.
So anyway, I kept trying, for years. I don’t think there is any publisher or agent out there that I did not approach. No one ever read it again. In the meantime I actually added stuff. I couldn’t leave it alone.
When I was back to Haiti in 2007 on a rural marketing analysis, I updated all that had happened to the people who were in the book. And what had happened was so unsettling–like the orphanage owner who we had all known for decades and he had been lording over the orphans, beating them, having sex them…with no one holding him accountable. It gave me new inspiration.
In the end what I did was publish it on Booksurge. This is a company owned by Amazon, it’s inexpensive (I think I paid $190). That way I could get the book off my desk, didn’t have to think about it anymore. If anyone ever was interested they would be able to find it. It would be out there.
But I also did something else. I bought 50 of the books myself and mailed them to every big shot development player I could think of. Sacks, Easterly… I doubt many of them read it. But an exception was Paul Farmer. And that began to change things for both me and the book.
Paul bought multiple copies and passed them out to people in the US State Department, including Cheryl Mills–Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff. They actually contacted me, told me that it was terrific book and that they were trying to change US policies toward Haiti. That was a great moment for me. To have experienced so much rejection and then have the people who were most in a position to determine Haiti’s fate contact me. It made it all worthwhile. Farmer himself later wrote me and I went and met him. And that was another great moment because Paul Farmer is one of my heroes. I had always kind of feared his opinion of the book; what he would say if he read it? Would he be offended, see it as an attack on charity? And now, for him to have read it and for him to write and say, “I am your biggest fan,” well, I felt like one of those schmucks on a game show, like I wanted to jump up and down. It was a big thing for me.
MD: Did you suffer any repercussions from publishing Travesty?
Schwartz: Not yet. At least not from the NGOs or USAID. Guys at USAID generally enjoyed it. Some of them are a little defensive. It does not take much effort for them to imagine me writing about them. It is kind of funny at times. Since the change in political climate I have been getting back involved in Haiti and on more than one occasion otherwise friends have turned to me and said, “Don’t you dare write about me.”
But again, I want to emphasize, it is not the people in USAID or the NGOs. These guys are ultimately on the side of the people who need the aid. These guys are former activists and ex-peace corps workers. A heck of a lot of them have a spouse from underdeveloped countries and not from the elite in these countries. If you sit down with these folks almost every single one of them will tell you the same things that I am saying. They just don’t want to do on the record because they have salaries, pension plans, wives and husbands and children.
The problem lies in the system.
I don’t know if it was/is intentional or not, but it reminds me of what happened next door to Haiti in the Dominican Republic. Back in the 60s and 70s the Dominicans—with probable guidance from the CIA—dealt with their domestic communists by giving them scholarships, research grants, and jobs in NGOs and Universities. This worked better than killing them and making others upset. Once they were on the payroll they had to quiet down or they would lose their means of subsistence. And as they got married and had children, well they had to conform. What are you going to do?
It is the system we need to change. The way it is now, the system is shutting up the very people who would change it.
On another level, yes, I have suffered repercussions, on a personal level. And I continue to suffer them.
MD: Are you still in contact with people from the Hamlet? Has anything changed for them since the book was published?
Schwartz: One of the girls I talk about in the book, one I semi-adopted, she is from the Hamlet originally and now she is going to college in the Dominican Republic. She came and stayed with me for a while.
I have another guy, he is in the book. He sometimes works for me when I do surveys in the private sector.
And every now and then someone from the Hamlet calls me and I get word of how things are going.
I also visited in 2007. Nothing had changed. It was exactly the same. Except a lot of the adults had died. The new adults, those in positions of economic power, the mothers and fathers who lorded over their lakou, they were teenagers and even children when I was living there. The men had been my diving buddies and the girls that I would buy dolls and scarves for when I was away, now they were running the show. It was an interesting feeling. We spent a lot of time reminiscing.
I should add that it’s an incredibly dynamic place. Despite what I just said, only a small nucleus of people remain there. It doesn’t seem to change because children are being born all the time the population growth is high. So the number of people seems to stay the same. But most children, 50% or more, by the time they are 8 years old, they are gone, either dead or shipped off to family in Port-au-Prince. Adults get to Miami, Bahamas or the Dominican Republic, or they marry and go live in the Village or in Baie-de-Sol. When you go there, it’s the same place, but many different faces and new children.
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