I am writing this on Sunday afternoon to post tomorrow morning, April 12th, which will mark three months since the earthquake which destroyed Port-au-Prince and killed one tenth of its people, leaving hundreds of thousands of others maimed, displaced, homeless, bereft. Three months since the day which changed the life of every Haitian and everyone who loves Haiti, those who were in Haiti that afternoon and those who weren't. Three months of grief, pain, questioning, and, for me at least, some steps towards healing.
Tomorrow morning I imagine there will be many articles in the press about Haiti's progress since the earthquake. I am sure that many of them will say that there hasn't been much progress or that it has been too slow, and I won't argue with that, particularly since I am not even in Haiti now and am relying entirely on the observations of others. I am glad for the mention of Haiti at all, since for the most part the world appears to have moved on, as we all knew would happen.
Most articles these days about Haiti include the words "earthquake-ravaged" or "earthquake-devastated." These words seem to have replaced The Phrase - "the poorest nation in the western hemisphere" - which used to appear in every article (although some now include both The Phrase and the new favorite words). I always read an essay by Joel Dreyfuss with my eighth graders about The Phrase. It is available in the collection edited by Edwidge Danticat, The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States. There is also a version of it here. This essay always gets a lot of discussion from my kids, who as Haitians (most of them), are frustrated by the international perceptions of their country. As Dreyfuss remarks, there is so much more to Haiti than this shorthand reveals. And now, the words ravaged and devastated: nothing but simple truth, in some ways, and yet so much less than the whole story.
Haiti is a place of courage, a place of endurance. Haiti is a place where people keep going, no matter what. Haitians are strong, beautiful, resilient. Haitians are inspiring. To be fair, this truth has been in articles about the post-earthquake situation. Many writers have commented on the remarkable strength of the Haitian people. To me, this is one of the good things coming out of this time in Haiti's history, that so many are seeing what those of us who love Haiti have known for a long time: Haitians just flat out survive. They put up with whatever comes along, and then they get up and keep going, usually with a smile, and always looking well-pressed and with their hair in perfect order. Haitians refuse to renounce dignity.
Things are still bad in Haiti, and they will be for a long time. I talked to my dear friend O. on Skype yesterday and she told me that her sister and her family are still sleeping outside. They have built a little shelter where they can be during the day but there's not room for everyone to sleep under it, so when it rains - as it is almost every night now - they stand up until it stops. Her sister had a fever last week, but now she's doing much better. Their house fell down, and they pulled their daughter (who walks with a limp as a result of some terrible seizures she had a few years ago) out from under the concrete blocks. They are all glad to be alive. This is one family, one among millions, and better off than most.
Someone said to me after church this morning that she admired me because I always keep going. I appreciated her saying it. It's what I'm trying to do - to go on, like Haitians do, to Haitian up. I'll never do it as well as Haitians do, but I'm trying. After three months I'm getting better at it. But I am also sleeping indoors, and not under bedsheets held up by sticks. I am getting plenty to eat and drink. I am displaced, yes, but my displacement is luxurious compared to the vast majority of those who have left their homes due to the earthquake. I am also uninjured physically; I have all my limbs. I've received professional counseling, something most people in Port-au-Prince won't get. And while I suffered losses, my whole family is still alive and uninjured. There's really no comparison between my circumstances and those of most people in Haiti right now and it would be frivolous to claim that there is.
And yet, though their suffering is worse, I suffer too. We all do. I read an email sent out by a friend who was seriously injured when her apartment building collapsed. She was thanking everyone who had helped her, and she sounded wonderful, and overwhelmed with gratitude, but also terrible, and with many miles to go before she recovers. Another friend who was injured told me that the physical injuries were the easy ones, and that the emotional and spiritual damage was much worse. There is a huge mixture of emotions in every survivor I talk to: we are happy to be alive, unspeakably grateful for all that has been done for us, and also totally heartbroken.
We keep going, day by day, and we do what we can to keep Haiti in the minds of those around us. We mourn and honor those who died, even though many of them did not get a funeral or a decent burial, and even though we still don't know what happened to everyone. We thank God for those who are still alive. And we pray, work, and hope for the future, for the new Haiti, for a day when every mention of Haiti in the news will be followed by, perhaps, "the modern miracle" or "the success story of the region." But right now, even in the midst of all Haiti is going through, ravaged doesn't tell the whole story.
Haiti is strong.
Haiti is brave.
Haiti is beautiful.
Ayiti p'ap peri! Haiti will not die.
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