Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

February 26th, 2010 9:16 AM

The Grasses of Ginen

The downtown, around Grand Rue in the old part of the city, looks like a modern-day variant of Pompei. Nothing but ruins. Here the tall buildings didn’t even pancake; they just crumbled.

It’s ghostly, with no electricity or cars and few people. Those who are out move quietly and slowly. Hollow-eyed, they step from high point to high point through the grey sewer-filled muck that the streets have become. No one smiles when I greet them.

A man sits alone, silent, on a broken chair. When I offer condolences, he shakes his head and says, “It’s not sweet.”

Fourteen-year-old Donal, dressed in clean slacks and a neat polo shirt, takes it upon himself to narrate the scene. “You see these piles?” He points to what used to be sidewalks, where women called timachann, little vendors, once squatted over sheets and baskets displaying second-hand underwear and scouring pads made of shredded coconut husks, and stirred fried dough in oil-filled black vats over handmade charcoal stoves. The sidewalks have been replaced by cement rubble and rebar bent like bread twist-ties. “All under these piles: timachann. They’re everywhere in there. You could hear people screaming all over the day after the earthquake. But no help came; people just had to dig with their fingernails. Then there were piles of bodies in the streets. They were stacked high, here, here, everywhere. And the smell, oh, it was terrible.”

Donal pauses, then asks, “Do you think that if you lost your three children you could go crazy?”

“Yes, you could. Do you know someone who lost three children?”

“Yeah. All her children. I have another friend who came home to find every member of his family dead.”

The dead, the dead. Roseanne Auguste says, “We’ve lost so many people, we don’t want to talk about the dead anymore.”

Most, though, do want to talk. Most everyone has a story they are burning to share. Like this one: The elderly Madame Saintilus was founder and director of a school in Port-au-Prince. In the earthquake her school was crushed and 200 of her students died. She, her sister, and her husband sat under the sun and the moon, day after day, broken with grief. Margo went and strung a sheet of plastic over their heads to protect them as they sat.

A bright-eyed young woman in a baseball cap says, “We don’t have enough water to make tears anymore. We’ve lost everyone.”

Passing by Thomas’ cooler where I sometimes buy a Prestige beer for the night or a can of milk for the morning, I overhear a woman say, “He lost everyone. Everyone, I tell you. His wife. Every one of his kids.”

A man who crams six people into his little Toyota taxi responds to the standard question of “Did you lose people?” this way: “My cousin and my wife. She left our four children behind.”

A well-groomed man pulls his car up on the sidewalk on Delmas Street. The car is wreckage. Its top and sides have been sheared off as with a jagged-edged saw. All the seats but the driver’s are crushed. I go over to look at this post-earthquake innovation. “We have to take courage,” he says.

Did you lose your house, too?

“My house, yes. And my two children.” He exits the car, stepping straight out from the seat as there is no door. He reaches into his wallet and pulls out the laminated school ID of his daughter, 10-year-old Christianne Pierre-Louis. In the picture, her shy smile pushes up her chubby cheeks. Her braided hair is festooned with red ribbons. “Her and the 16-year-old.”

As he gets back in his car, he says, “We’ll tell God thanks.” He rolls the car back onto the street, saying “Have a good day.”

Marjorie Dupervil recounts: “I had just come home from work and was getting my toenails painted. You know when you get off work, you clean yourself up a little. Someone said, ‘Hey, Marjorie, come here. I have a T-shirt for sale.’ I ran out to get the T-shirt and all of a sudden the earthquake happened. When I came back inside, the woman doing my feet was sitting right there, dead. Everyone was dead.”

A taxi driver says, “My father’s leg was broken in two places. I spent two days trying to get some kind of medical help for him, but I couldn’t find any. I think he must have hemorrhaged, and he died.”

Helia Lajeunesse wants to show me the photo of her twenty-year-old son who was in the neighborhood of Martissant the day of the earthquake. “He used to come see me every few days,” she said. “No one has heard from him.” She sifts through the pages of a notebook and finds the only photo she has of Junior, his face half the width of a pencil and indecipherable in a photo no larger than a thumbprint. Her eyes are already perpetually red from crying, and now she starts again._ The number of the dead most often cited is 250,000, but that is utterly meaningless. No tally was taken of the corpses buried in people’s yards or dumped in mass graves. Countless people are still missing. And multi-storied buildings everywhere contain flattened bodies – tens, hundreds each, who knows? You drive down the street and someone points. “You see that building? There are still 200 people inside there; they never got them out.” City blocks are cemeteries.

You get stories of survivors, too. A woman in a refugee camp tells me, “When the earthquake struck, I bent over my baby like this” – she crouches, arms in mother-protection position. “I said, ‘Even if I die, this little baby is going to live.’”

Three-year-old Ali with the enormous eyes volunteers: “I was singing. I flew in the air. There was dirt everywhere. I slept in the street.”

A man tells of a woman now taking refuge in his village after the quake. She is a single mother with eight children, from age 19 to age 1, and is the sole earner in the family. She is 47 years old. Both of her legs have just been cut off at the thighs. Now what?

Many are the stories of heroism. My reigning hero is Gethro Nelio, a straw-thin man of 23. “What hurt me most was that my father died in front of me and there was nothing I could do for him. His head was crushed and I said, ‘There’s no way he can live.’ Meanwhile, there were people under the cement screaming, ‘Gethro, I’m here!’ I had to abandon my father to save those people.

“I couldn’t forget my father who was dying, but all that was in my head was to save people who might live, who were injured, especially women. In my father’s house, 37 total died. It was a three-story building, and all the stories fell and made a sandwich. For those underneath, we didn’t have any way to get them out. We took 28 out alive.

“I ran to call Eramithe. She said ‘The school has collapsed.’ I went to the school and started walking all around, pulling out people who were wounded, pulling doors off the jambs and putting the injured on them to take to the hospital. We took eight people. Even though there weren’t any doctors available, we had to.

“Foreigners always think badly of Haiti; they think it’s full of thieves and insecurity. But Haiti is a beautiful country. Don’t underestimate Haitians.”

He tells me, “Each day when I think of the earthquake, I feel like crying, I want to scream. I don’t know if I’m going to get psychologically sick later on. But don’t forget, I’m a man. I’m not a coward. I do what I do with all my courage and my heart.”

How many people escaped from the wreckage and returned inside to save others, only to die themselves?

Not all are heroes. There are other stories. Like the man who knew that a woman was alive inside a collapsed house and left with the keys to her car which was parked outside. Like the driver of the bulldozer which passed by buildings where people were trapped to go instead to a damaged store and get the safe. Like the man who pulled the twelve-year-old girl from a crushed building and then raped her.

The stories, they come all day – on the streets, in the taptaps, in the camps, at the dinner table. Jacques Bartoli says, “They’ve become almost banal.” Me, they fill with despair and indignation and, occasionally, hopelessness.

But Haitians have been through all kinds of things. Olga Benoit says, “If it’s not a natural catastrophe, it’s a political catastrophe.” A wire story quotes the minister of tourism as saying, “This is bad today, but one must remember that we have the historical memory of slavery here. What can be worse than that?”

Tanya Felix tells me to remember the Haitian expression, “We are the grasses of Ginen.* Even if you burn us, as soon as the rains come, we will grow again.”

* Haiti’s cultural and vodou roots, based in the symbolic ancestral home of African slaves.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

If you have a moment today, I hope you can read the obituary for my father Francis (Frank) Moore, who died this past Saturday at the age of 92: Francis...

Apr 22nd
6:33 PM
Read More

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles