The Dirty Dozen, with Justin Podur
Justin Podur is the author of Haiti’s New Dictatorship: The Coup, The Earthquake and the UN Occupation (Between the Lines Books). The book explores the reality of what happened in Haiti from the 2004 coup against Aristide to the devastating 2010 earthquake, revealing a shocking story of abuse and neglect by international forces.
Justin speaks with Open Book today as part of our Dirty Dozen series, which invites authors to share twelve unexpected facts about themselves. Justin tells us about his new book as well as languages, impersonations and online gaming.
Don't miss a chance to hear more from Justin! Catch the podcast discussion on Rabble.ca where Justin chats with Between the Lines' Matt Adams about the book's key arguments.
- I started writing this book in 2005. The first draft was done in 2006, and sat on my hard drive until 2010, being continually updated: when new events would occur in Haiti, I would open up the draft and update the chronology, add footnotes and sources, and debates, but never thought about publishing it. When I started thinking about another book, a friend of mine said: “Excellent idea. Will your next book also sit uselessly on your hard drive, like the last three?” At that point, I started seriously thinking about getting it into shape for publishing.
- When I first went to Haiti in 2005, I had plans to do a news piece, hopefully for CBC, about the elections constantly being delayed at that time — elections that eventually took place in 2006. A group of three of us did some excellent interviews, including with people who are now deceased, like activist Samba Boukman and journalist Jean Ristil. We took 19 hours of footage on miniDV tapes, which I spent forty hours capturing, and then my system crashed along with my film ambitions. I eventually had the footage captured again, but I never made it into anything — though I still think it could make a pretty good 20-minute doc.
- I am a bit obsessed with languages and have a very hard time when I have to rely on translators, though I have a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-none approach to them. I had a very difficult time finding resources to learn Kreyol: I eventually found the Indiana University Creole Institute's Ann Pale Kreyol course. I didn't get very good at it, but it helped to familiarize my ear. I do speak (barely) passable French, which is good in some situations in Haiti, even though it's no substitute for Kreyol.
- I have a lot of food allergies, which makes the field work a bit tricky. Last time I was in Haiti, in October 2011, I was traveling with the intrepid journalist Ansel Herz, who speaks Kreyol and eats on the street. The food is great, but you never know when a chick pea or a bit of fish might show up.
- I study martial arts here in Toronto (specifically, Jeet Kune Do at the Zirger Academy and kalaripayatu at Gita Kolanad's studio). When I heard about the insecurity in some of the camps in Port au Prince where people were living after the earthquake, I had an idea that maybe my martial arts teacher, Shawn Zirger, could do some seminars on self-defense for folks living in the camps, but it didn't pan out.
- One of the three people I regret most never having gotten the chance to meet is Haitian: Jean Dominique, the journalist featured in the documentary The Agronomist. The other two are Eqbal Ahmed and Bruce Lee. I am pretty happy that I've gotten to meet Noam Chomsky and Dan Inosanto.
- I can impersonate Norman Finkelstein, George Galloway and Tariq Ali in a way that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Works in progress: Slavoj Zizek, Eqbal Ahmed, Michael Albert and Tom Hardy's version of Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.
- In Haiti, I learned that, despite my rather dark skin colour and Indian origin, I am white. Haitians basically have two colours: Ayisien and Blan, and on that spectrum I am unquestionably blan. In fact, one of our Haitian friends there asked me and another journalist — of English origin — whether we were brothers, and commented on how similar we looked! The same goes for the eastern Congo: my Congolese students claimed that they could distinguish between Bashi, Balunda and Banyamulenge, but me and a blonde Swede are both muzungu.
- Despite having a secular approach to life, I seem to end up visiting and guest-teaching at religious universities: the International Islamic University-Islamabad (IIU-I), the Université Evangélique en Afrique (UEA) in Bukavu, and this coming winter, the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) in New Delhi.
- I have managed to avoid being on Facebook, despite virtually everyone I know being in it for the past seven years. I'm on twitter though.
- I avoid online games because I am afraid I will like them too much. I live vicariously through friends who play World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic — and know much more than I should about these games.
- I hate shopping and thinking about what to eat, so much so that I now have vegetables come to me — courtesy of the urban farmers at Fresh City Farms. Between Fresh City, my mom's Indian recipes and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, I've been getting pretty good at cooking.