Nine years after the earthquake in Haiti

Today, January 12, 2019, marks exactly 9 years since a devastating earthquake hit my homeland, my beloved Haiti. About 300,000 lives were lost on that day, and the following ones. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was all the way in Eastern Africa, more particularly in Burundi providing health care services to my fellow Africans. It was around 7:00 AM and one of my co-workers, who was reading her email on her laptop while we were drinking some coffee before heading to the clinic, told me: “Bazile, did you hear what happened in Haiti”. I said “no”, “what happened”. She then said “I am reading an article on yahoo here and they said that there was an earthquake in Haiti. Your family is still in Haiti? Right?” I said ” yes, of course, my family is in Haiti”. There is a 7 hour time difference between Burundi and Haiti. The earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, the Capital of Haiti, at 4:53 PM and it was 11:53 PM in Burundi. At that time I was already sleeping and probably snoring in my bed. It is very unlikely that I would have known that my country was hit by an earthquake the following morning at 7:00 AM considering the fact that at the residence where we were living the internet connection was so weak that I never get connected there .

Once I got the news, I automatically switched gear and grabbed my laptop to connect to skype ( the main way that I stayed in touch with my family during my tenure in Burundi) to try to reach out to my family. I called everybody in my immediate family and I couldn’t reach anyone. Nevertheless, I kept trying. I started sending emails hoping that someone would reply to let me know that everyone is ok. Since the internet connection was way stronger at the clinic than at the residence where we were living, I then rushed to the clinic and explained to the staff that I had to take a couple of minutes or hours to try to find out where is my family in Haiti because I was informed that my country was hit by an earthquake.

Immediately after I went to one of the consultation rooms where the internet connection is very good and reliable and I kept trying all means to find some news from Haiti. I tried calling former classmates, friends of my family, people from my extended family, basically everyone that I know of and for whom I had a contact information. There was no way for me to get news from Haiti on that January 12, 2010. All communication was shut down in my country.

I spent almost two weeks without any news from my family. Towards the end of the first week after the earthquake, I started losing hope that my family could have survived this monstrous earthquake. On the eighth day after the earthquake, I reached out to a cousin in Canada to ask him if he heard anything about my family. He told me that two days before he had a conversation with a friend who lives in New York who told him the region where my family lives in Haiti was completed devastated. My cousin, then, told me: ” Junior I don’t think that there is any hope to find someone alive there”. I couldn’t help it. I, then, started to cry. I finally told him that I will have to call him back because I couldn’t continue with the conversation. I hang up, left the clinic where I was working and went home. Once home, I kept crying and couldn’t accept the idea that I was not going to see my family anymore. It was a very dreadful situation. There was a plethora of ideas running in all different directions in my mind. I was not ready to start grieving. I could not grieve. I couldn’t accept to grieve.

During this whole period of waiting for some good news, I barely ate. Some nights I would sleep in one consultation room in the clinic where the internet connection is strong so that I can stay online, using skype, Facebook, Call2, in order to get news from my family. The time difference made it very hard for me. I would spend several sleepless nights and the following day I would be unproductive and sleepy at the clinic. However I kept my head high, and kept working while I was constantly praying. I was praying for my family but also for everyone else in the country. I couldn’t believe that what I was watching online was actually happening in my beloved Haiti.

Since we were only two physicians in the clinic, I had already discussed with the other physician that I’ll have to travel to Haiti and find out where my family is. I used music a lot to help me stay calm and control my energy. I was playing music a lot during that period and I even wrote a song about the earthquake in my country that is featured on my first album, Sansibilizazyon, published toward the end of 2014.

Exactly three days after the disturbing phone call with my cousin, my phone rang at around 8:30 AM. It was a Saturday and I was still lying in bed. I picked up the call and said “hello”, and then I heard a voice that sounds familiar. I quickly jumped off the bed and found myself stuttering to ask “who is this”, while my mind was telling me that the person on the other side of the line sounds like my Dad. Then I said “Dad, is that you?” There were some glitches on the line and the communication was not that clear ( while in Burundi, usually I would call my family on skype for better communication. For some reasons whenever they called me there would always be problems with the communication). I continued by insisting, “Dad, is that you?”. And I heard, “yes, yes, yes my son it’s me your Dad”. ” I know that by now, you are extremely anxious and worried, I am calling to let you know that we are all fine. God has spared us his grace, love and compassion and thanks to Him we have survived ‘goudougoudou’ “. (goudougoudou is the funny name that my fellow country men had given to the earthquake. It is an expression of the noise made by something that is shaking or something that is being shaken. After the earthquake, people started saying that wowww!!! this is crazy, the earth was shaking, making a noise like goudougoudou. That’s how the earthquake got named goudougoudou). My Dad then, continued ” God is the master of the universe. He does whatever He wants, whenever He wants and however He wants. That His will be done. My son, as I told you we are all fine, the house is fine, please, please don’t worry too much about us. Where you are now, miles away, there is nothing that you can do for us, and we don’t want you to be worrying. We are fine and we will remain fine”. I said ” Dad, are you sure that everyone is fine? Dad how can everyone be fine when I was told that our neighborhood was completed devastated by the earthquake? Dad, please don’t lie to me. You can tell me everything. I am ready to accept any kind of news that you have for me this morning”. He quickly interjected ” no son, I told you and you must believe me: we are all fine. I would not lie to you regarding this”. I told him “ok”. He told me ” I have to go, because I don’t have anymore minutes left on the phone card that I purchased to call you”. I said ok and asked him to say hi to everyone for me.

Until that point in my life, that day was the best day ever. After the phone conversation with my Dad I bursted out of my room and went to share the good news with my co-workers who were living in the same residence as me. They were so happy for me and my family. They were very supportive during the whole period. They were praying for me and my family. I really appreciated the support that I received from my Burundian brothers and sisters. One week after the phone conversation with my dad, I went to Haiti to see for myself what the situation was. I was blatantly shocked by what I saw. The Capital, Port-au-Prince, was completely destroyed by the earthquake. So many families were dismantled. The government was so weak, powerless, inefficient, blindsided and clueless that the whole situation became laughable. People were saying that the, then, President, late President Rene Preval suddenly became mute and dumb. People were saying this because in the midst of the whole chaotic situation that the country was facing the President never made a speech to try at least to comfort people and show them that there were still government officials in the country who cared about them and who were planning to bring them the help that they desperately needed.

However, I was extremely happy to see that my Dad was not lying to me when he said that everyone in the family was ok and the house was ok. Even if we were living and sleeping in the streets, because we were so afraid of the aftershocks, thinking that the house might fall upon us, it was great to be surrounded by my loved ones after this ghastly, grim and hideous life experience.

Nine years after the earthquake, the socio-economic situation in Haiti is still extremely fragile. Not much has changed. We have had several outbreaks and epidemics of cholera since then. More than $13 Billions of aid were given to my country, but I frankly cannot see what was done with that money. I am asking myself what was done with that money? Who was managing it? Who were involved in the “projects” that were supposed to be implemented with that money? For a very long time politicians, government officials have always taken advantage of the naivete of my fellow country men and women. For a very long time the “International Community” has played Haiti, has played us and has thought that Haitians are stupid because what the “International Community” gives to Haiti in the right hand they get it back in the left hand. When they say aid, they also say consultants, they also say international consultants, they also say expatriates, they also say it has to be their own agendas. So the money apparently is given to us in form of aid but it goes back to them somehow because they are the ones who are responsible to manage the projects on the ground in the country, since they are the consultants. Wait!!! Really!!! I would like to know where specifically has all that money gone. Can someone tell me? I need this question answered.

Today, January 12, 2019 reminds me a lot of the feelings that I was experiencing on January 12, 2010. Today also reminds me of this magnificent day when for the first time after the earthquake I heard someone telling me that my family was ok. That someone was my Dad. Unfortunately my Dad is no longer with me on this earth. I suddenly lost him on November 4th, 2018. It has been and it still is a very difficult pill to swallow for me, but I guess that I have to accept that he’s no longer here physically with me, with us. If I could talk to him now, I would tell him, one more time, ( I told him that several times in the past) how excited, happy and joyful I was when I heard his voice when he called me few days after the earthquake. I would, one more time, thank him for that phone call.