The family has set up camp in my brother’s house. I live just next door, but it makes us feel better to be all in the same house. My brother, a novelist, is writing his articles; I am writing mine. From time to time a tremor will make us pause and run back outside, just in case, to be safe. I wonder how long we will have to be so cautious, and I long for normalcy.
We sleep. We listen to the radio. We exchange information. Mostly, we have been trying to stay alive and sane since that Tuesday afternoon a week ago when the earthquake changed our lives forever. It doesn’t help that the earth continues to convulse. Just this morning, we felt another tremor, the most violent since the earthquake itself. Let us hope it did not cause more deaths and damage.
I do not recognize the streets of Port-au-Prince. In front of what used to be a school, three corpses are covered demurely by a blue sheet. Feet and eyes carefully avoid the small cadavers. A few miles down, the Sacré-Coeur church, where the upper-middle class used to be baptized, married, and buried, is a big pile of rubbish.
Under the broken glass and bricks of the five-story Caribbean Supermarket—which carried the most varied imported products and where foreigners were most likely to meet one another—women, men, and children lie trapped, given up for dead. On Monday, rescuers managed to free from the site a young woman who was still alive. That same day, a grief-stricken family identified the body of a 27-year-old mother of a 6-month-old girl who was not so lucky.
In the evening, the digging for bodies ceases, as does the search for drinking water and food, for news about missing parents and friends. Tired, terrified of the dark and its dreams of tremors, of the morning and its bad news, secretly—or not—relieved to be alive, we try to sleep.
In the background, the few radio stations that can still broadcast convey the messages of agonized families and friends. A father comes all the way from a little village in the south of Haiti looking for his two daughters. Although his voice is breaking, he manages to enunciate their names and please could somebody, anybody tell him if they are alive? The newscaster quickly repeats the message and introduces someone else. There are so many of them, a litany of desperate voices.
Night settles. The stars provide the only light; the electricity has not been restored. We save the energy from our Inverter generator system to run the Internet, so we can stay in contact with friends and family. The telephone lines are unreliable.
But we Haitians are nevertheless connected, regardless of our social conditions, our economic status, our religious beliefs, if only because we share the same uncertainties, the same fears about the monstrous size of the task at hand.
Although the earthquake does remind us of our common and fragile destiny, the fact that the earth trembles and destroys with equal brutality luxurious and shabby houses, small and huge enterprises does not obscure the inequalities that divide Haiti. Social and economic disparities, the unjust distribution of our resources, and the dire poverty of the majority of the population cannot magically evaporate with the dust. But maybe this disaster will constitute a new beginning. Maybe the reconstruction effort that is now so urgent will also work to narrow the gaps between us.
It is with a sense of warmth that I think of all the messages of solidarity I have received from around the world. Like most Haitians, I marvel at the signs of humanity—fund-raisers, simple letters of sympathy, offers of help: “Just tell me what you need!” But it is our government’s responsibility to help those most in need.
I am focusing now on what is essential in life: love and friendship. Like most people here, I am not watching the news. We have limited power. And anyway, it seems futile and even absurd to be a spectator of my own life, especially when the TV images highlight only the misery of our country. Many of us Haitians are offended by the coverage of the earthquake. Once more, a natural disaster serves as an occasion to showcase the impoverishment, to exaggerate the scenes of violence that are common to any catastrophe of this type.
No, I am not watching the news. I am too busy trying to find a way to keep my hope alive because the work in front of us is humongous. I am busy rejoicing in the laughter of the children in the camp near our house, smiling at the comical reactions of a passer-by after a recent aftershock. I am busy shedding tears at the news of a miraculous rescue of six students from the wreckage of a university building. I am busy collecting the fragments of life that reflect the enormous courage and resilience among us.
I am busy loving life and my country.