This time last week, my whole world changed. Today, I am living in a different country from the one I lived in then. My family is separated, my house is a place where relief workers and refugees camp out, my children are enrolled in another school and dressed in clothes that I did not buy. I am not going to work, even though a week ago I was in the early stages of new units with my seventh graders and my eighth graders, and they seemed to be going well. All my lesson plans still sit on my desk, but I am not there.
On Tuesday I read articles about tourism in Haiti with my eighth graders. We talked about the plans the Haitian government had to encourage tourism and how this would bring in revenue. The kids were working on feature articles and I had encouraged them to find positive things about Haiti that they wanted others to know about, since we've talked before about how the focus is often on what is negative about their country and "The Phrase": "the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere."
After school I read some emails, chatted with my mom online, encouraged my daughter to finish her homework, and then the two of us headed home. My son and husband were still at school. When we got into our courtyard, there was something out of place, and before going inside I fixed it. As I was opening the door (or getting out my key - my daughter and I remember this differently), the quake started. There was a loud noise like a very large truck, and the house shook, not just back and forth, but like a bucking horse. I saw the ground move like the waves of the ocean. My daughter was crying and yelling, "What is it? What is it?" and I was answering inanely, "It's all right! It's all right!"
When everything stopped, we ran inside and looked around briefly, noticing that a couple of our large bookcases had come down, including a huge one in the living room. If we had been in that room we could have been severely hurt or even killed by falling books. My daughter was crying and the woman who works for us held her and said, in English, "You're in the arms of Jesus."
I immediately started trying to call my husband on my cellphone but nothing went through. I grabbed my daughter and said, "We have to go find them." We ran back to school and when we neared the gate we saw my husband coming out. I asked breathlessly about our son and he told me he was all right. At this point I felt everything was over - we were all together, the damage in our neighborhood didn't seem huge, and everyone was safe.
I had no idea.
We gathered the students who were still on campus all together and prayed and talked about what would happen - how they should wait for their parents and not leave without checking their names off the list that was being made. We were all shaken, literally and figuratively, but there was some joking around and we were in pretty good spirits. One student asked if there would be school tomorrow and I said, "I don't see why not!"
People started to arrive on campus to pick up their kids or just because they had turned back since the quake had caught them in the road. Then we started hearing more details - the palace was down, Caribbean Market was down, other large buildings...I dismissed most of it, saying they were just rumors, unless the people had seen it with their own eyes, but gradually I was forced to accept that this was a very serious event. It seemed that our neighborhood was unusual in having little damage.
We spent that night on the soccer field, lying on a blanket and trying to keep warm. More people arrived: my son's teacher, workers from the Snack Shop, maintenance workers. Some gathered in a group and sang songs. Then injured people started to be brought - a little girl with terrible scraping on her face and a head wound, and a pair of underwear on her head for lack of a bandage; a young boy who had been hit on the head; a woman who seemed not to have serious injuries but moaned in pain so must have had something internal.
Towards morning, the moaning woman stopped moaning, and when the sun came up her family found that she was dead. They began to cry and scream, saying again and again in Kreyol, The Lord gives, the Lord takes, blessed be the name of the Lord. The words sound more tragic in Kreyol, more final and less churchy. I stood with the family for a long time but finally could not bear it any more.
That night I had hardly slept - perhaps half an hour total. It was cold. The aftershocks, some very large, were constant. Although I still didn't know the full extent of what had happened, I knew that life was not going to be the same for a very long time, if ever.
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