France and Haiti.
A tale of two countries — one rich, one poor — both connected by a French heritage and little else.
Earlier this month, International Living Magazine named France as the best place to live among 194 countries across the globe.
Countries were ranked based on cost of living, culture and leisure, economy, environment, freedom, health, infrastructure, safety and risk and climate.
“For the fifth year running, France takes first in our ‘Quality of Life Index,’” the magazine wrote. “No surprise. It’s tiresome bureaucracy and high taxes are outweighed by an unsurpassable quality of life, including the world’s best health care. France always nets high scores in most categories. But you don’t need number crunchers to tell you its ‘bon vivant’ lifestyle is special. Step off a plane and you’ll experience it first-hand.”
And then there’s Haiti — a country that has had misfortune piled upon misfortune for centuries. Last week’s devastating earthquake only re-exposed the state of poverty and despair that’s plagued the island nation for as long as I can remember.
A former colleague from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mike Williams, wrote an incredible column about Haiti on one of my favorite websites — Likethedew.com — headlined: “The saddest place just got sadder.”
The juxtaposition of France and Haiti was jarring.
How can there be such a schism in our world? How can there be a country with such a wonderful joie de vivre as France while other countries are barely habitable due to a lack of food, clean water, stable shelter or opportunity?
It all seems so unfair.
For all of us who were born and/or live in the countries with the greatest quality of life in the world, do we appreciate how random our good fortune has been? I fear not.
The 10 countries with the highest quality of life, according to International Living Magazine, were: France, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, Luxembourg, the United States, Belgium and Canada.
Not one country from Central or South America. Not one country in Africa. Not one country in Asia.
To see the complete list with all the scores, click this link.
Obviously, we may disagree with the list and the criteria considered.
But we all have a general understanding that life is more enjoyable when we live in places where every day is not a constant struggle. Unfortunately it takes a catastrophe, like the disastrous earthquake in Haiti for us to realize that not every one is as fortunate as we are.
What I’ve never understood is why we call such natural tragedies “acts of God.” Shouldn’t they be called “acts of the devil?” If there is an all-powerful God, why would God place such misery on those who already are so miserable?
While these disasters do shine a light on the tremendous needs that exist in the poorest corners of the world, we have not figured out a way to provide sustained support to improve the lives of the most destitute.
It brings me back to Haiti, a country that was a French colony until the slaves waged a rebellion and took control of the country. I have always wondered why France, one of the greatest civilizations in the history of the world, was not able to spread its good fortune and quality of life to its many colonies. Why are former French colonies usually among the poorest countries in the world?
Haiti has always been a mystery to me. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, a country that has prospered while its neighbor has languished.
International Living Magazine actually ranked the quality of life in Dominican Republic at No. 73 in its list of 194 countries while Haiti was 178. Why such disparity only a few miles apart?
As the world tries to respond to Haiti’s latest troubles, I wonder how long we will focus on its fundamental flaws and needs. Its deforested forests need to be replanted. All its infrastructure must be rebuilt better than before — water, sewer, telecommunications, transportation. And its health and educational systems must serve the needs of Haitians, not just as a way to survive day to day, but as a way to enable the country to prosper for years to come.
I return to International Living Magazine’s description of France and why it was ranked as the best place to live in the world.
“I always wish quality of life indicators could measure a country’s heart and soul,” the magazine writes. “But it’s impossible to enumerate the joy of lingering for hours over dinner and a bottle of red wine in a Parisian brasserie. Or strolling beside the Seine on a spring morning, poking through the book vendors’ wares. Or buying buttery croissants in bohemian Montmartre…hearing Notre Dame’s bells…walking antique streets paved with poetry.
“Romantic Paris offers the best of everything, but services don’t fall away in Alsace’s wine villages…in wild and lovely Corsica…in lavender-scented Provence. Or in the Languedoc of the troubadors, bathed in Mediterranean sunlight.”
Vive la France. But more than that. Vive Haiti.
Maria Saporta is a francophile who is vice president of the Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta, a school that her mother founded in 1963. The Alliance seeks to build bridges between the United States and all the French-speaking nations around the world.