Americas

Haiti: Thoughts of One Year

My friend Robert's daughter, Choudlie, with the Haitian flag (upside-down). Photo by Bill Stelzer.

A school in ruin. Photo by Bill Stelzer

This morning I have been watching Haiti’s one year anniversary stories flood the newswires. They are nearly as numerous as they were last January, and in many ways they still talk about the same thing as before– constant streams of information cry for roads uncleaned, families unaided, entire lives still so vulnerable that they wait for the next strike (flooding, cholera, political unrest and rioting…you really only want to ask, “what next?”).

In preparing for my second trip to Haiti at the end of this month, that question is on my mind as well. Is it over? Or is there more to come?

I think we all remember how we felt last January 12th, to some degree. I remember preparing myself for how I was going to tell Marvin, who was in Afghanistan at the time and who is Haitian-American. I remember him cursing himself when he finally found out, and also learned that Marines were being deployed there immediately. “I should be there,” my Haitian Creole-speaking boyfriend angrily stammered. “I should BE there.”

Students and teachers in our computer class refused to go under cement roofs, so we had class outside. Photo by Bill Stelzer.

Two months after the earthquake, I still remember the look on my friend Nahomie’s face while we ate lunch in Joseph’s cement-roofed house, one of the only buildings that was still standing in Léogâne, where the quake hit hardest. It was early April and, between mouthfuls of spaghetti with cut-up hot dogs, the small room shuddered. My friend Bill and I looked up (why do you look up?), watching the ceiling as the house moved.

Nahomie did not look up. In fact, she didn’t flinch. I thought I would see fear in her eyes, even set back, deep behind her face somewhere. Hadn’t she just been through the most tragic event of her life? Yet her lack of reaction was terrifying, the eyes of someone who has been destroyed and violated too many times before. She just calmly waited for it to be over.

When the shudder stopped, we all took another bite of spaghetti.

Part of the walk to Nahomie's house. The part of the fault line where we walked is up in the hills. Photo by Bill Stelzer

A few days later, we walked two hours through the hills to Nahomie’s house, a giant lean-to with a cloth ceiling where she lives with her aging parents. To get there, you must cross the earthquake’s original fault line. We stood at that line for some time, only five or six inches in width, yet coursing through the hills and fields of Haiti’s body for as far you could see. It was quiet there, so peaceful. In the hills, nothing had happened.

But in the city it was quite different. It’s truly amazing, sometimes, what six inches can do.

I think about how, even today, Nahomie has to walk across that fault line in order to get into town. Everyday she is given the harshest reminder of what happened before, of what was lost to her.

Let us all remember what has been lost, but let us not forget what has been created, what has been strengthened and what has been renewed in its shadow. Those of us who are Haiti’s neighbors and allies are given the opportunity today to come together again as one world, and we should not dismiss it.

If you’re still looking for somewhere to give, consider donating to Haiti Partners, a local NGO that helps Haitians support each other and develop their own communities.

Also consider my shameless plug to support my own place of employment, Waveplace Foundation, which provides Haitian schools with computers and training to boost an already-hurting education system.

My friend Robert's daughter, Choudlie, with the Haitian flag (upside-down). Photo by Bill Stelzer.

Beth Santos
Founder and CEO of Wanderful, creator of the Women in Travel Summit, enthusiastic lover of ice cream, picnics and art.

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