Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jan. 12 - One Year After the Heartquake

There is unutterable sadness and weariness to life lived in absolute poverty. This was true before  the tranbleman te (earthquake) of Jan. 12, 2010.  How, I ask myself,  can something already so profound be deepened? There is also inspiring joy, delight and humour in the simple things those with privilege miss.

We are the privileged - I am - and perhaps you are as well. We've been to school - we can read . We have access to a computer, running water, a toilet which can be flushed, electricity for the dark times, and socks to wear to church and zip lock bags.

I have lived with these privileges and never thought to stop and thank the universe or wonder "Why me?"

That was before my Haitian transfusion, figuratively and literally after life saving surgery, strengthening me, reminding me of the sense of wonder and gratitude I once had but lost for a time.

Joy and pain are tangible here and so closely related.  Carmene, our cook/housekeeper, arrives for work every day with a smile on her face and a greeting for everyone.  Haitians do that - acknowledge every day and the people who pass through it. Her smile is gentle and genuine - concealing a sadness we can never enter. She is the face of Haiti: courage, wisdom, patience, and in her smile, teeth, blackened with cavities, which will never see the inside of a dentists' office.

Traditionally, the New Year is a time to remember those lost in the past year. There were many lost in Haiti last Jan.12 who will never be remembered publicly. The only newspaper we receive, Le Nouvelliste,  carries personal ads every printing, of those looking for loved ones not seen since Jan. 12th.  A year later the search continues. In recognition of those who still search and those unaccounted for,  I'm sharing our loss -  a young man who was the face of Haiti's present and future and now belongs to her past and the legacy of January 12, 2010.

This is Carmene's son Frandzy, killed January 12, 2010.
Frandzy V.  26.01.86 - 12.01.2010
I found some pictures of him in my computer a couple of weeks ago and asked Carmene if she wanted to see them or have me print them. She paused for a painfully long time, slowly turned to me with a look of  profound sadness and vehemently shook her head. "No" was all she said.

Too painful to remember, the second son she's lost in the service of  Haiti's terrible poverty. Frandzy was in Port-au-Prince in first year medical technology. He wanted to be a doctor because his younger brother Ernst died at age 13 of a simple ear infection, easily treated if you're privileged, fatal if you're poor. He wanted to help  improve the odds currently stacked against the poor.

He was intelligent, funny, thoughtful, studious and committed to being part of the change Haiti needs from her young people. His dream would have been realized thanks to Starthrowers like you. Others will do it in his stead and in his name.

I'm not a writer - Karen and Jeff are blessed with that gift. I don't have an eye for photography - that's Pete. And I certainly have no gift for drawing a story with pen and line - that's Daniel and my son Ken.

I can be present and I can tell you the stories - the minutiae and the mountains climbed by the young people who pass through Starthrower in Haiti. I think their stories are worth telling. I think we - the privileged with our computers and zip lock bags - need to know. Knowing their stories makes me a better person. 

Marrion F.
The New Year is also a time to look ahead. Last August 14,  Marrion F. (Sen Rafayel) wrote a letter to me. It was one of 73 letters received that day. That night, while tucked under my mosquito net, flashlight in hand, I made my way through all 73, saving his for last as it was written in English - a painstaking chore to be sure, probably written with  dictionary in hand. Saved for last because no translation was required. In it he wrote "My father died in the heart quake 12 January 2010. My mother is living but she is sickly. She can't help me continue with my classical education, I'm obliged to address you."  What a profound mistake - our hearts did quake, sometimes it feels as though our hearts broke.  While  reflecting on Marrion's letter, I recalled a line from a video I had seen last year.  According to the character of Jake ('Must Love Dogs ' 2005 Warner Bros.) after an experience which breaks your heart, the universe lets it grow back bigger, stronger, more capable of love. Words of comfort are often found in surprising places. The world needs bigger, stronger hearts.

Marrion is on our waiting list - one of the 300 plus. He is waiting to finish the final year of high school and go on to university.   He is also the face of Haiti - the present, the future, the 'possibilite'.

One year later we are coping, moving on - Martha has started sleeping inside again, Piterson and Guilene have recovered as much as possible from their physical wounds. Guilene, blind from birth, is back at school in Port-au-Prince. She still has pain from six days of confinement beneath the rubble of her former school. Piterson also has residual pain, but is writing entrance exams at the State university hoping to study medicine. Another survivor with guilt. He was at school with Frandzy. It was Piterson who somehow in all the terror and disorientation,  found a telephone and called us with the terrible news.  He has always wanted to be a doctor - more so after his experiences last Jan. 12th.

Gaby, Brunie, Wisly and Alland still don't sleep well when in Leogane, Plenito has found a new university  in Port-au-Prince but has to repeat last year. His survivor guilt continues,  he wonders why favourite teachers and classmates died but he didn't. Dieugrand and others still have difficulty entering large buildings.  Vaudre, Elines, Fabiola, Constance and many others continue to live in quake damaged homes. Repairing would be futile. They need to be torn down and rebuilt. And the list goes on.  We have repaired the structural damage to our centre  in Cap-Haitien although large cracks remain.  The 'structural damages' sustained by many of our young people are not visible.

 One year later we are coping, moving on - but always remembering - n'ap degaje, n'ap kontinye ,n'ap sonje.


PS An official announcement yesterday stated that three more bodies had been found  (on the exact anniversary) and that less than 5% of the rubble has been moved. One year later - still a heartquake.

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