Two Years Ago Today: Haiti in Johanne’s Words

Two years today, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the country of Haiti – killing an estimate 220,000 men, women and children, and leaving more than 1.5 million survivors homeless.

My best friend since high school is a native of Haiti. As the crisis communications manager for Sprint, I had to balance the critical role as the spokesperson for the company’s response and aid to the relief efforts, and the role I had lovingly served as Johanne’s friend and always welcomed guest among her mother, brother and other family members.

As news reports and reflections of Haiti’s recovery continue streaming into our culture of 24-hour information, I’m turning over today’s post to Johanne.

Johanne has resided in the U.S. since the age of eight, but has returned to Haiti on a number of occasions. A number of her family members still live in their homeland and the purveyance of Haiti and its rich culture is ever present  in her daily life – from the ease as which she speaks Creole to the way she proudly recounts Haiti’s honor as the first independent nation in Latin America and the first black-led republic in the world.

These are Johanne’s words:

Most people watching the devastating aftermath of the earthquake saw a humanitarian issue. Most Haitians watching it saw their past, present and future staring back at them.

The schools we attended as children before our parents sent for us… gone. The churches we gathered at every Sunday to hear the chorus sing beautiful hymns in Latin… gone. The little stand at the corner where people gathered nightly to buy fried plantain and fish… gone. The brightly painted houses, along with the porches that were cooled down with a splash of water every morning, and served as a meeting place for nightly storytelling… all gone. The hope that maybe someday we would have made it in America enough to return and help our country reach its full potential… gone.

What I saw on TV was what a lot of non Haitians associate with the chaos in Haiti – poverty and hunger beyond comprehension, corruption, and just plain helplessness and hopelessness. What I knew is behind all that chaos, poverty, hunger, corruption, helplessness and hopelessness was an unshakable faith, an amazing resolve to survive, and an extraordinary  level of pride and dignity.

Pride and dignity at the scene of people digging their family and neighbors out of rubble with their bare hands. Pride and dignity at the thought that somehow after 200 years of surviving hurricanes, storms, coups, occupations and not being acknowledged by neighboring and foreign countries, we still existed.

We were wounded, traumatized, and a bit overwhelmed, but hopeful. Hopeful that we can rebuild our nation, make it through this unspeakable tragedy, and that maybe one day I will get to take my friends to visit the green house that I grew up in and sit on the cooled porch and enjoy some fried plantain and fish while listening to my uncle play his guitar while other tell tales of people and places gone by.

And that maybe we can visit the schools, churches, food stands, roads, and houses that have been rebuilt and will help shape a new generation of resilient, faithful, and  proud Haitian boys and girls.

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