When I got back from Haiti last week, people who had seen the news coverage on television in the States greeted me with sympathy and the greedy eyes of performers anxious to deliver what they had been rehearsing. They rubbed my shoulder and scanned my eyes for signs of distress. I smiled and sometimes even laughed. I am not mad. Not yet, anyway.
The question "How do you feel, I mean, you are from there?" -- especially when posed in the even tone of matter-fact talk -- rattles me. I am from there but please don't talk about it as if it is the end of the world. It is only 1,400 miles from here, the capital of international politics, the seat of the U.S. government, that beacon of hope to which many cry out for rescue from injustice, poverty and war.
Haiti has been crying loud and long but it finally seems like it is being heard.
Many people had some information they wanted to share with me -- this USAID report snippet he had read, this comment she had heard from Secretary Clinton. It seemed like all of America had suddenly awakened to the irrepressible stench of Haiti's poverty.
Although many have died and still more may die during the upcoming hurricane season, one good thing has flourished from this olid heap of broken bones. The outpouring of aid and support for Haitians and Haiti has been amazing.
Rescue workers from Iran to Venezuela to the States flooded Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince. In the States, the Hope for Haiti telethon raised more than $58 million for the Red Cross, Clinton-Bush Haiti Foundation and Wyclef Jean's Yele Foundation.
"One of the images that drew my attention as I left the city 12 days later was workers putting up brick walls," said Andrea Rua, freelance TV producer and camerawoman from Buenos Aires. "That gives me hope." Rua is of the many people who told me they planned to return to Haiti to help in reconstruction efforts.
One cameraman who was with me in Haiti told me, "I have to distance myself. If you have any semblance of compassion you can't help but be affected by it. But at the same time, you could see where people are just like this is not my deal, not my country, not my people, almost like a tourist."
While it is heartbreaking to see the images from Haiti, I hope they burn into our minds so that we will not forget. I hope that those men and women of influence in the media will not decide that it is too blunt a reality for the American people.
I hope this outpouring of aid and kindness Haitians long waited for will continue until the country is standing again.
As Gilles Bouleau, correspondent of TF1 in Washington, said: "The worst thing would be to forget these people, to say the big disaster is behind us and start talking instead about Toyota. Nothing is as important as Haiti, I think."
Bouleau arrived in Haiti days after the quake on a chartered flight from the Dominican Republic when the streets were still covered with mangled bodies.
"All these Haitians had a kind of white stuff under their noses," Bouleau said. "Then, a few days later, I learned that people were running out of toothpaste because they were putting it on their upper lip. They had no masks."
"What I remember the most was the smell of dead bodies while we were driving," Eva Artesona, TV3 Catalunya, Spain said. "What really hit me was that people just walked by and looked at the dead indifferently." Other journalists also seemed puzzled when they saw people gathered in the squares at dusk singing and clapping.
And, it might seem strange to hear my family make jokes related to the tragedy. But, that is Haitian resilience -- resilience through humor. If you have resigned yourself to living, then you must do everything to move forward.
What if reconstruction costs Haiti its sovereignty? What if we are left with a class of amputees who will forever stand at the end of the already immeasurable unemployment line? What if the rainy season is too long, what if we wash away into the sea? E si pa menm ret peyi, what if there is no more Haiti?
As a Haitian I cannot entertain these gloomy thoughts and I don't know others who would. After the quake, my family stayed up all night calling friends and family in Haiti. No answer. But, they kept trying.
I was getting ready for my trip from the Dominican Republic to Haiti and relatives from the States called every 10 minutes with a new number. "If you can, call this person for Kesler, it's his aunt and we haven't heard from her." Since I had to volley cell phone, luggage, equipment... I forwent the notebook and wrote the numbers on my palm. Soon I had to move on to my wrist because my hands were full. Every new number fell like a rock pulling me down. Every number was a charge that I knew I would not be able to carry out, another disappointment I'd have to deliver.
"The phone lines are down," I kept repeating. "I will probably not be able to reach this person." "I know," my friend would say. "But here's another number if you can't get through with the first one."
No one called crying. No one panicked. Everyone was full of hope. Everyone was concocting scenarios that would have spared their loved ones from falling roofs and cracked floors.
Because I am a writer, I started to wonder about the fate our educational system, our stories, our cultural traditions. Where will those of us abroad go to replenish ourselves when we forget? But then, I remember that 60-year-old illiterate woman who raised me and taught me history and mathematics. She was my tutor, my friend, my mother until I was 12 years old and moved to New York City. She remembered everything she could not write down.
When we spoke with her five days after the quake, she was laughing and hushing our frantic questions. She was lucky and celebrated it. She has suffered three strokes in recent years and was in a wheel chair at home when the earthquake struck. Her home care assistant rushed her out of the house. She then carried her uptown before the aftershocks struck filling the lower quarters of the city with dust and the suffocating silence of muffled screams. To me, she, my grandmother, is proof that Haiti will survive. As a country, we may be in the hole decades to come, but the people will survive -- in Haiti and abroad.