Haiti found its way into reporter’s heart

Eddy survived the quake and dodged cholera. He’s 10 years old -and he’s my guardian, writes Sue Montgomery for the Montreal Gazette.

Six years ago, Haiti found its way into my heart. This year, it dominated my life, kept me awake nights, triggered my tears, gave me joy, baffled, infuriated and exhausted me.

During my latest trip, I was being swept along with a chanting crowd caught up in the postelection chaos, negotiating piles of burning tires and wood, and trying not to inhale the black, acrid fumes, when I felt his arm across my lower back and his hand on my hip.

It rested there ever so lightly, guiding me to the side of the street and out of the path of a line of huge UN tanks bearing down on us, its helmeted occupants aiming their guns our way.

I looked to my left, then down, into the soft eyes and dimpled smile of Eddy, my self-appointed bodyguard, age 10.

“M grangou,” he said quietly, a shy smile crossing his sweet face. “I’m hungry” -words as common here as “bonjour.”

For the next several hours, he stuck to my side, gently pushing and pulling me through the obstacles in our path: broken glass, burning barricades, surging crowds, excrement.

This year alone, Eddy survived the earthquake that claimed at least a quarter of a million people, has so far dodged the cholera epidemic tearing through his country, and is living the aftermath of a farcical election that has plunged Haiti into a political crisis that’s preventing recovery from the year’s first two disasters. On top of that, he’s starving.

And yet here he was concerned for my safety.

This was my third trip to Haiti this year -the first was immediately after the earthquake -and I would have made many more if I could have. When I’m there, I experience life in such an intense way that the smallest of gestures, such as Eddy’s, make my heartswell. After the earthquake, the Nicolas family, already sheltering 30 of their own in their yard, made room for me, fed me and watched my back. Carl-Henry Jean Baptiste has become my right-hand man when I’m there, negotiating prices, teaching me Creole, enthusing about his latest entrepreneurial endeavour.

Over many visits to this country, I’ve had guns to my head, felt the earth tremor, waded through flood waters and felt the sting of tear gas -all reminders of just how ephemeral life is. But I’ve also danced, laughed and had countless children slip their tiny hands into mine -precious moments that I too often take for granted in my hectic Canadian life.

I asked people on this last trip whether any Haitians ever commit suicide. No, they said, wondering why anyone would do that, especially in countries where there’s no lack of food, clean running water and good health care. Looking around at the miserable conditions and crushing boredom in Haiti, I can see plenty of reasons to off yourself there.

Yet no matter how bad things get -and they are bad now -Haitians value life and the inter-connectedness of community, which is so evident in how they’ve organized their tent camps so that the most vulnerable among them are cared for.

They laugh, joke and debate for hours, passionately expressing their views and disgust for a government that’s never cared for them. In the aftermath of the election, they traded jokes via cellphone about despised presidential candidate Jude Celestin and radio stations broadcasted spoofs of the situation.

As I walked along with those crowds with Eddy at my side, I told one man who volunteered his take on that week’s crisis that I loved Haiti. He said, “OK, tell you what, you stay here, give me your passport and I’ll go to Canada!” Then he broke into one of those hearty laughs and held out his hand to me.

For sure, there are days of despair when I think surely things have to get better, only to hear about yet another crisis. But I maintain hope for this country because I have faith in its people, witnessing first-hand their tenacity. To give up hope would be giving up on people like Eddy, the Nicolas family, Carl-Henry and all the other fine people I’ve met in the country over the years. They’re not helpless or lazy or stupid, as some like to generalize. They’re creative (artists have already started using the rubble as canvasses for stunning depictions of the earthquake), sensitive and simply want what every human being wants and has a right to: work, shelter, food, education.

One of my friends, Mackendy Jeune, gave me a T-shirt on my last visit that reads “Haiti can tremble, but it will never fall.” For the sake of him and all Haitians, I have to believe that. There is no other choice.

For the original report go to http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Haiti+found+into+reporter+heart/4026092/story.html#ixzz19I7V18t2

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