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Posts Tagged ‘Anniversary’

Woman-grieving-on-the-bars

Where were you on 9/11?  Or when you got your first kiss?  These are defining moments in a person’s life, moments where you cross over from one state of being to another.  On 9/11, we went from a state of peace to a country at war.  When you got your first kiss you went from being an awkward youth to someone who had broken the seal to maturity (or so you thought at the time).

On January 12, 2010, Haiti went from a struggling country with a shaky foundation to one that lost almost everything.  A day that no one will ever forget, Haitians lost an estimated 300,000 sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers and children.  To put this in perspective, imagine going to Arlington National Cemetery, and instead of having soldiers buried there, you had the victims of the earthquake.  More people died in one day on January 12th in Haiti, than all the people buried in the 624 acres of Arlington Cemetery over the past 150 years.  Imagine 624 acres, filled with 300,000 headstones, all with the same date on them.  It’s staggering.

Greiving-on-the-Grave

But what many Haitians are left with is no such ability to honor their loved ones.  Throughout the city you saw piles of rubble that a year before were houses or business, but are now donned with flower arrangements and pictures in an effort to honor those who are still entombed inside.  These are their final resting places, these are the tombs of the unknown victims.

MTPTC-RED

For most of the international community, the one year anniversary was used as a barometer for what has, or has not, been accomplished by the government and aid agencies to help the victims of the quake.  Only 30,000 transitional shelters have been completed, only 10 percent of the rubble has been removed, over 800,000 people are still living in tents.  These are all outrageous, and worth discussing, but when the day came, Haitians could care less about where they were getting their water, or where they were going to sleep, they just wanted their loved ones back.

Man-Crying

Woman-kneeling-on-the-ground

Man-Praying-CU

So on the day of the anniversary, most people weren’t screaming about their situation.  You didn’t see them taking to the streets to complain about how the recovery here can only be described as stagnant, you saw them flooding the churches and praying, you saw them taking the day to reflect.

But for many, and me included, while the actual day of the earthquake marked a life-changing moment, the days following the earthquake are at times worse.  For the past 72 hours, I have been looking at my watch and thinking about where Jillian and I were at that exact moment one year ago.  And while 4:53pm was when the earthquake hit, the hours following it were so much more poignant than the actual event itself.  At 8:53pm I looked at my watch, Jillian was still buried in the rubble of our house, I was on my way to PAP.  The next day, 6:15pm, we were boarding an evacuation flight on our way to spend the night in a hospital in Santo Domingo.  At the moment that I’m writing this we were on a plane flying to Miami, eventually on our way to DC.

For us the earthquake was a defining moment in many ways.  In the past year it seems that the quake has somehow added 10 years onto our marriage, and will eventually subtract 10 years from our lives.  We have had to tackle so many issues that made it seem like we were taking AP Calculus while in the 3rd grade.  I don’t know how to work out these problems, and by the time you eek out the answer to question number 1, questions 2-15 are already waiting to be answered.  Maybe no one knows the answers right away, and no matter how wise you are they are always going to be hard, but in the midst of a recovery it just seems so overwhelming to think that you are on the verge of failure.

But most of all, this year has left me with an anger that I want to shake off sooo badly.  I get angry at the NGOs for not doing enough, I get angry at the government for being so inept, I get angry at the people for not picking themselves up by their bootstraps and fighting for themselves.  But most of all, I get angry with myself for not being able to control the anger.   I used to have compassion, I used to have patience, and it all has seemed to melt away since the quake.  I want to be back to normal, I want to not be on edge, I want to be confident, I want to feel good about myself.

At 4:53pm on January 12th, I was in a church to cover the minute of silence that was scheduled to be observed throughout the country.  The minute came, and the church erupted with cries and wails, tears streaming down almost everyone’s faces.  I held my breath, just waiting for the ground to start shaking again, let out a sign of relief, and then looked around me.  A woman was crying, holding the passport of her sister who had passed away a year before.  Another woman held a picture of three people who had died in the earthquake, another collapsed on the ground, wailing uncontrollably.  The priest asked that everyone stay silent, but it was no use, Haitians don’t mourn in silence.

Moment-of-Silence

And while we were walking out I suddenly became overcome with a sense of complete and utter compassion.  All of these people were mourning their loved ones, at this moment last year every single one of these people’s lives had been torn to shreds.  No one was to blame, there was no one to be angry with, it was just a situation where everyone here was an innocent victim, and they needed that moment to mourn.   In my new angry, cynical mind I searched for a reason not to care, for a way to step back and not have compassion, but found myself overcome with grief, and I began to cry.  The last time I cried was when I was home after the earthquake, it’s been that long, and it was an amazing feeling.

We left the church and met up with Jillian, who was at a memorial service at the Hotel Montana.  It was just so wonderful to be able to hug her and have her there, and not have that day be the anniversary of her death as well.  We are the lucky ones.  January 12th at 4:53pm will forever be one of those moments where we look back and think about how our lives changed, how we entered a new phase, and how we became who we are today.

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Haiti-Pap-Peri-2

The vanishing of a scar is what most would consider a positive end result from a healed wound. The complete disappearance of an unappealing mark that most often represents a negative experience is what people use Neosporin and other ointments to accomplish. As the 1 year commemoration of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti dawns, I have been reflecting on the status of my scars.

The external scars on my back, right foot, and lower right leg are still there, but are much lighter. They no longer properly represent the experience that put them there, and while I thought this would bring me comfort, having no outer blemish, I find myself anxious over their decreasing presence. How do I tell the story to new people without being able to point to something? This ultimately leaves me exactly where I do not want to be. No longer able to deflect questions of my experience with a quick flash of my shin, all that is left is the way more harrowing emotional scars that I rarely discuss.

In a country so full of undesired blotches, tent camps, piles of rubble, and collapsed buildings that seem to serve more as catalyst for the blame game than a continued call to action, I have taken solace in the constant reminders of the disaster. I am in no way suggesting that I want these things to remain, but rather acknowledging that dealing with the tangible is more straightforward. While these feelings might/are odd, when discussing the earthquake with Haitians I find them responding similarly. In talking with World Concern beneficiaries over the last week in preparation for the 1-year-later update, the answers to questions like “how did you feel?”, “describe your greatest frustration”, “what are your greatest needs?”, were physical. Beneficiaries, regardless of their earthquake experience, pointed to cracks in the walls, rubble piles, or items stored in tents, but no lingering sadness, grief, or anger were mentioned.

During an interview with a Quartier (neighborhood) Committee member, Pascal Jeune, who helps World Concern implement our projects in Nazon, the avoidance of anything below the surface was obvious. The 27 year-old father of one who brought his son home the afternoon of the earthquake to friends and family, of whom 13 of would die when his house would collapse hours later, is still clearly as uncomfortable as I am when asked about his feelings. Naturally, when I interviewed him, the death of 13 of his relatives was discussed and the only response I could get from him is that “their absence makes me the head of my household and that makes things very difficult for me.” I tried to continue the conversation after the formal interview was over, but his serious face and welling eyes proved to me that his emotions about the 12th are just as raw as mine.

Now, I realize that having 6 foreigners standing around with video equipment does not create a relaxing environment where one might feel secure enough to open up, but I believe it is more than that. I have been asked about my experience by strangers, friends, and family members and my reaction is always the same. Look at the ground, take a deep breath, think of something light-hearted to say…and then point to the scar.

In rare moments of complete security, usually shared with Frank, I might reveal more. The helplessness, fear, and pain of facing losing everything I loved remains. The constant inundation of images from the earthquake, while I reminder I am not alone, makes my increasing sensitivity to those suffering painfully acute. And in the deepest of places, where I rarely want to go myself, I face the fleeting moments of horrific doubt that I am still under that house and that I never made it out, that this is all a dream. So much for scars fading…

The certainty of life is things move forward whether you are ready or not. While I can so easily transport myself back to that potential coffin of rubble and the emotions that go along with that reality, a year has passed and my exterior marks are fading. I know that my scars on the outside do not have to mirror those on the inside, but their slow departure feels like pressure to move on and I am not ready. So what to do?

I guess the first thing is to be thankful for the support and love I have received and continue to receive. For all of you, who stopped your lives for my and Frank’s recovery, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would not be where I am today without you. Another thing is to realize how lucky I am that my scars are healed and fading while the physical destruction as a result of the earthquake is still the most prominent thing you see as you travel throughout Port-au-Prince. Lastly, is to accept that one year has past and that my recovery and reconstruction has the same status as the Haitian people’s, incomplete.

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