Saturday, January 12, 2013

Three Years

Today is the third anniversary of the earthquake that shook Haiti, killed who knows how many people, and changed the lives of everyone who survived.

Yesterday we had protests in our neighborhood. While I've witnessed many protests in our time in Haiti, this was the nearest they have ever come to my own home. I took this picture after the protesters had left:

The cream color to the left of the photo is our gate; I was standing right in front of our house. So you can see that this protest was very close to us, and yes, that thick black smoke got all over everything inside. Everything smells like burning rubber. There's a film of grey (probably carcinogenic) dust everywhere.

The protesters were angry because the road was supposed to be fixed and it hasn't been. A Dominican firm, they said, had been paid, but yo manje kob la, they ate the money. Corruption and frustration and life as usual, and no alternative but to go out in the streets and set fire to things. When it was gently suggested to them that they might want to be careful about burning up the electrical wires, they said that we don't get that much electricity anyway.

This morning, as I made tea and scrambled eggs, I smelled that smell and wiped that grime off of various objects, and thought, again and again, "I am alive," so that today and that day three years ago coexisted in my mind. I felt thankful to be in my home, which stood and did not fall, and thankful to cook food, as I remembered how we calculated how much we had left in those days after the quake and wondered when we'd be able to resupply.  I sat in our courtyard and remembered sitting there after the earthquake because I didn't want to be inside, in case an aftershock sent the concrete roof down on my head.  And I asked my daughter to pass the jam.

It's like that with any grief, isn't it? You mourn and you feel sad about the past, and yet the present goes inexorably on, and there are new things to mourn and even new things to be happy about. But it's all mixed up together, the remembering and the going on, the grief and the joy. Here's what the street looks like today:

There's a particular pattern to the leftovers of burnt tires, one I've seen many times on Haitian streets but never on my own street:

There's plenty of evidence of the earthquake left, too. Three hundred and sixty thousand people, more or less, continue to live in tents. While the tents are not everywhere as they were, there are still large tent cities, and those who have been resettled are not necessarily in good conditions. The Miami Herald published a photo essay about one family whose excitement about moving on from a tent city has given way to disappointment and deeper poverty than they were in before the quake; you can look at that here.

It's as though we're all covered with a film of black smoke, still wiping off the remains of the earthquake, off of Haiti, and off of our lives and our souls.

This morning the roadworking equipment is out there, in response to the protesters.  (Oh, look!  They got what they wanted!  How about that?  It works to go out in the street and burn things!)  I can feel the house shaking as they roll the road.  I don't like feeling the house shaking.  In fact, it makes me feel slightly sick.  But I don't run outside; I stay here and keep typing away.

As I type I'm listening to an album that I listened to many times after the earthquake, Steven Curtis Chapman's "Beauty Will Rise."

Beauty has already risen, and it will continue to, I know, even as new ashes continue to accumulate.  I read my blog posts from those first days, from the 14th when I got back online for the first time and reported that we were alive, from the days after when I agonized over my guilt for leaving the country, being evacuated with my children while others stayed behind and did something about the situation.  And yet I see, too, the way God took care of us, provided everything we needed, including wonderful people who may never understand how much their help and support meant to us.  Beauty, in the middle of the worst time of my life.

But we're still rising from those ashes, too, the ones from three years ago, as we wipe up yesterday's ashes.

Of course today I am remembering the details of that day, and if you want to read our story, you can go back and read my posts from January of 2010.   Today, I am thinking of that moment, 4:53 PM.  I am thinking of friends who died, and of other friends who were injured.  I am thinking of how everyone's lives changed.  I am wiping ashes off of my soul.  I am waiting for beauty. 


Linda at teacherdance said...

Because I do not know anyone else there, I want just to send you a hug, Ruth. It doesn't seem like much, I imagine, but I just read through all that you wrote today, & in January of that year, & in my warm home that I don't think will fall in, & I am sad that everyone cannot have a good shelter to feel safe in. My class worked hard, as did others in my school, when the earthquake happened, but as you've said, other tragedies have happened & people move on, forgetting that it isn't 'fixed' yet. Even here in the US, people in the east whose homes & neighborhoods were so damaged by hurricane Sandy seem unable to get the help they need.
I am most happy that you & your family are okay, & not hurt from the protests. Thank you for sharing.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Ruth. Thank you for sharing this update. There were no articles on the anniversary of the earthquake in today's Baltimore Sun. Sad that the media is so fickle, moving from news story to news story without giving thorough ongoing coverage. I am also glad that you are okay.

Shannon said...

"It's like that with any grief, isn't it? You mourn and you feel sad about the past, and yet the present goes inexorably on, and there are new things to mourn and even new things to be happy about. But it's all mixed up together, the remembering and the going on, the grief and the joy."

Yes. Exactly. Remembering Haiti with you my friend.