Haiti: Before and After – A year later

I recently finished my second reading of “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work”
[Excellent Review here] I consider Danticat to be a courageous writer. She is not afraid to expose her vulnerability, her self-doubt, her longing to be included whilst recognising that she is outside of Haiti – the place she knows so intimately and so desires to be and is part of.

On the anniversary of the 12th January earthquake she once again commits her “one thousand words or less” [Create Dangerously] to Haiti. In one of her essays from Create Dangerously, “Our Guernica” she writes about her first visit after the earthquake and her cousin, Maxo who was killed in the earthquake along with his ten-year old daughter, Nozial in the rubble of their family home in Bel Air. At one point she suddenly realises that the Haiti she is witnessing is like a “historical novel”…

Suddenly, this stunning chronicle of a homecoming to a very recent Haiti feels like a historical novel. Then it hits me. From now on, there will always be the Haiti before the earthquake and the Haiti after the earthquake. And after the earthquake, the way we read and the way we write, both inside and outside Haiti, will never be the same”

Danticat’s essay in yesterdays New Yorker ” A Year and a Day” is mostly about death and there is much death in Haiti both before and after but after is a different kind of story. Even the national anthem declares “Mourir est beau” – to die is beautiful. Haiti is also about ancestors who are now gone but remain very much alive through their spirtis.

“In Haiti, people never really die,” my grandmothers said when I was a child, which seemed strange, because in Haiti people were always dying. They died in disasters both natural and man-made. They died from political violence. They died of infections that would have been easily treated elsewhere. They even died of chagrin, of broken hearts. But what I didn’t fully understand was that in Haiti people’s spirits never really die. This has been proved true in the stories we have seen and read during the past year, of boundless suffering endured with grace and dignity: mothers have spent nights standing knee-deep in mud, cradling their babies in their arms, while rain pounded the tarpaulin above their heads; amputees have learned to walk, and even dance, on their new prostheses within hours of getting them; rape victims have created organizations to protect other rape victims; people have tried, in any way they could, to reclaim a shadow of their past lives.

The statues of the Black revolutionaries remain standing amongst the rubble of Champ Mars, rising above the tented camps and fallen palace. For me there were a number of possible reasons for their refusal to die…

Rising above the devastation of Port-au-Prince in twisted irony, the heros of the revolution remain standing — Toussaint L’Overture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. Do they speak of a fallen people or to a people on the verge of rising once again? The weirdest structure also still standing is the “2004” cone tower soaring above the whole city and built by President Aristide. No one seems to know what exactly it represents but I take it to be a symbol of the “2nd Haitian revolution” — the flood of Lavalas. It speaks, you are trying to kill us but we are not dead yet, there is a 3rd revolution to come…….