Some Thoughts on the Haiti Earthquake, 1 Year Later

I can’t tell you where I was or how I heard about the earthquake which occurred in Haiti on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 4:53pm. But I do remember listening to 1010 WINS in disbelief. I remember wondering if my many relatives in Haiti were alive. I remember telling my mom when she came home from work and the hearing the worry in her voice. I remember crying in bed that night while reading the news on my phone. I remember talking to one of my cousins in Paris, who was worried sick about her father, whom she had been unable to reach because almost all telephone communication had been cut off. I told her that I would try to gather as much information as I could on my end, and she vowed the same.

The next morning, I received phone calls from my friends Trezure Empire and Cynthia. Our conversations led to the organization of a benefit show at Southpaw on Jan. 24. I spent the days and weeks after the earthquake glued to my computer and sharing whatever information I could find with my friends on Twitter and Facebook. I saw images of the destroyed National Palace and people walking around in a daze or crying out that the world had come to an end. The images of people covered in white dust were reminiscent of the images I had seen after 9/11.

I left numerous messages for my cousins, hoping that they would somehow find an internet connection and be able to contact me. I remember speaking to my cousin over several nights, hoping that my uncle was alright. I remember telling my aunt and my cousin that my heart was at peace when I thought of my uncle, which led me to believe that he was alive. I remember talking to my aunt 3 or 4 days after the earthquake, when her ability to remain optimistic had begun to fail her. Although I hadn’t seen my Haitian relatives since the one and only time I ever visited the island in 1995, my uncle was someone that I had actually lived with while I was in college in Paris and saw regularly during his travels between France, New York and Haiti. I think he was finally able to contact his family in Paris about a week after the earthquake. His house in Leogane was slightly damaged and a concrete block fell on the back of his head, but he was otherwise OK.

I remember my cousin calling me in the middle of the night because she had seen one of our aunts in a news report on French television. She was being carried on a stretcher, but all that mattered to us was that she was alive. Her twin sons, whom I had met in Haiti, live in Chicago, and I was able to locate them on Facebook to tell them that their mother was alive. It felt good…my aunt lived in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and I stayed with her for 5 days. She had a small store on the side of the house, and we would go into the fridge and drink up all the cold sodas and juices. We went to a party at a soccer stadium one night and had a wonderful time. We hung out with the kids in the neighborhood who were part of the local soccer team, and even went to a game with them, where we passed out drinks and cheered them on. I remember helping them pin paper numbers onto their shirts. I remember this guy Jean, who had a crush on me…I wonder if he survived the earthquake…

I remember the phone calls from Haiti that began to come in on my cell phone. I don’t know how all of my relatives had my number, but each time they would call was a sigh of relief. One of my cousins sent me messages on Facebook telling me how they were sleeping on the street because they were afraid that structures were still standing would collapse. My mother told me about how another relative happened to be walking out of her house right before the earthquake struck. Before she had reached the front gate, the house had collapsed. I had stayed in this house when I visited Haiti. It was in Carrefour, high up on a hill. I remember being embarrassed to bathe because the shower was outside. I remember sleeping on the porch because the house was so hot and getting bitten by mosquitoes. I remember one of my brothers and my cousin Peterson taking showers with soap in the summer rain one evening. It was in the yard of this house where I celebrated my sweet 16. And now that house is gone.

In the days and weeks after the earthquake, I shared stories with my fellow Haitian friends. We encouraged each other and prayed for each other’s families. I remember all the Facebook and Twitter messages from my friends, asking if I had heard from my relatives and if they were OK. I’m so grateful for them all, for they really helped keep me in good spirits. By the grace of God, none of my relatives were killed in the earthquake, but many of my friends were not as lucky. One of my friends who is like a brother to me, told me how his grandmother had been found after the earthquake, but she died a few days later from a heart attack.

I remember how Wyclef really stepped it up and became the face of humanitarian efforts in Haiti. Having already been heavily involved for many, many years, he was one of the first people on the ground in the days after the earthquake. He appealed to the world for aid. And the world listened. Billions of dollars were pledged by dozens of countries, and his organization, Yele Haiti was the first place I thought to donate funds. Part of the proceeds from our benefit show went to Yele Haiti, and I had the opportunity to tell Wyclef how proud I was of his hard work when I ran into him months later outside of SOBs.

I went to many fundraising events, some small, some large. I covered one attended by Mayor Bloomberg and another attended by Governor Patterson and other prominent politicians. At the former, the basement space was turned into a Haitian dance party. At the latter, after the speeches and performances, the DJ played Haitian music. At one point he played a few CLASSIC Haitian songs that drove the crowd into a frenzy. I remember dancing on couches with Techie, Mack, Gardy and Jeff Dess, waving our flags with pride. I felt like the room truly came together at that moment, and it is a moment that I will never forget.

I remember when the eldest of my cousins in Paris went to Haiti with the French military. She spent a few weeks there and when she went home, she spoke of all the devastation. I envied her a bit because I wanted to go and help, but I didn’t know how to contribute. I wanted to document what was happening there. Many people I know from church and on the scene went to Haiti to lend a hand to the relief efforts and to personally deliver money and supplies collected from various fundraisers. We all talked about how it was important to continue these efforts after the media left and the cameras focused on the next big story. Haiti was in bad shape before the earthquake; it was in a much worse situation afterwards. We hoped that this would be viewed as an opportunity to start over, to build anew, to build better.

A year after the earthquake, not much has changed. Only about 5% of the rubble has been removed. People are still living outdoors in tent cities. Very little of the money pledged by foreign countries to help Haiti has actually been given. Supplies donated from all over the world are sitting in stockpiles, while people go hungry or die from lack of medicine that is readily available but difficult to access due to red tape. Thousands of people still don’t have homes, jobs, or even access to clean water. After the rainy season, the hurricane season, the cholera outbreak, the Haitian people are still living a day at a time.

It is my hope that the corruption, politics and red tape end so Haiti can get back on its feet. Better yet, I hope that Haiti can rebuild to be even better than it was before the earthquake. On this first anniversary, I pray for those who survived and grateful for those who went above and beyond the call of duty to help. I hope to visit Haiti one day and see it as the beautiful country I once knew.

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