Here and there, I've made references towards the Haitian heritage that shaped my world-views. Today, I was looking at the Currents between Shores blog by a fellow Haitian blogger living in Germany. In her posts, I could see that yearning for Haiti that so many of us in the diaspora feel. Since the quake, it has only increased. My mother, who'd held her pregnant stomach while she fled the military regime out to kill her, now speaks of returning home. After 20+ years in exile and 3 children, the Earth moved before my mother realized how much she longed for her piece of Haiti. Thus, I was more than happy to oblige and contribute and op-ed about the Haiti quake for American University's School of International Service's newsletter. Here is a copy of it:
As the news coverage of Haiti wanes, Haiti should not ever again be reduced to a talking point: “The poorest nation in the Western hemisphere”. The millions of members of the Haitian Diaspora here in the U.S. only know it by one catch phrase: home. Thus, there are no words that I know of that can vividly capture the emotion I felt when word of the earthquake in Haiti reached me. Even the Creole word shagren which is used to describe a sorrow so deep that it causes one to wither away, cannot properly capture the feeling I felt at that moment. Stunned, I pulled the car over to the side of the road to digest what I’d just been told. Suddenly, I felt like the weight of more than 200 years of freedom, triumph, and tribulation pressing down on my chest. I felt inexplicably endangered; as if, by the stroke of a pen or the stirring of a strong wind, all my people were dying.
I collected myself, wiped away the tears and drove home as quickly as I could. As I watched the CNN broadcast of the devastation, I sobbed for every body I saw, every forlorn gaze the camera caught, and every Creole exclamation I overheard in the background. In the first few days, I called my father’s Haitian cell phone repeatedly only to hear a busy signal. With no word from my family on the island, I soon found myself unable to watch the gritty coverage for fear of seeing a familiar face amongst the dead bodies lining the streets.
As the death tolls rose, I felt frustrated and helpless. I, along with thousands of other Haitian-Americans, threw myself into the relief efforts to fill the void of not knowing, or being unwilling to face the truth. We had to keep busy to keep sane. Idle hands led to idle thoughts, which were too much to bear alone. Each time we gathered, we’d detail the news we’d heard thus far. This person didn’t make it. This person had lost all their family. That building from my childhood is now gone. This family had lost its home, its livelihood. The sense of collective loss was overwhelming. We mourned each loss as if it was our own and celebrated each person found as if they were our final remaining descendants.
That weekend, the relief efforts culminated into a large Earthquake Survival Kit Drive at the Haitian Embassy. After being stuck in traffic for an hour in Dupont Circle, I finally parked my car, lifted my relief supplies out of the trunk, and walked over to see what was preventing me from getting my supplies to the Haitian Embassy. As I approached the embassy, I was truly touched to see people from every background, every class and creed, getting out of their cars and walking alongside me to donate supplies. In the faces of all those people and in the mountains of supplies the Haitian Embassy and the Haitian people received that day and continue to receive, I was reminded of a Haitian proverb: "Men anpil, chay pa lou." Many hands [make] the load lighter. Now, as the news of the quake fades from our sight, lets us not let the 200,000 lives lost fade in vain from our memory as well. I encourage the IPCR community and all others to tirelessly work alongside the Haitian people towards Relief, Renewing, and Rebuilding Haiti.