I finally reached her today. Since Tuesday, I had been praying and pressing the redial button on the phone. Redial had not worked, so I was hoping the prayers would. Amidst the desolation and news of relatives who had died and loved ones still unaccounted for, friends had sent a few messages saying they had seen her, she was fine… but she’s 89 you know, and suffered a stroke, so I needed to hear her voice, I needed to hear the “Oh, oh, oh” she says when she means something is too much to comment on, when she has no words to speak, none suited for what is happening. I worried about her medication. Would she be able to get some and where. Pharmacies were closed. And what about water and what about this and what about that and I kept my finger on redial and had private conversations with all the gods and the saints I remembered, and today I reached her, I reached her today; today I spoke to my mother. And she said “Oh,oh,oh” and I choked.
But I knew she was fine. I knew she was fine when she told me that I should not worry about her, that even though the country was in shambles, she had everything under control. She kept on telling me about the entire country, about those who had died, about the destruction of all the landmarks we knew and lived with. She told me about everything I had already known from the endless stream of visuals about Haiti. I kept trying to interrupt “Maman, I know about this, I want to know about you!” She waved all my questions away : “Woy pitit, ou poze twòp kesyon! Nou byen.” (Child, you ask too many questions! We’re fine.) “In any case,” she added, “I don’t think you could do anything from where you are.” (A vote of non-confidence for the diaspora!) “Maman, please!” I begged for answers. She repeated again how she was fine; how she had arranged things for herself and the “lakou” (the communal yard) : “Nou solidè’ (We depend on each other.)
The earth was still shaking, so she slept in a car with a neighbor while others slept on the ground. Whatever she cooked was shared like it always had been, only now the portions were reduced to essential frugality. Water was still available and “Pitit,(child), na degaje nou (we’ll manage)”. And I asked about the house, what damage it sustained and the walls, and the street: was it obstructed? I asked about the trees that witnessed my growing up, the trees my beloved Manzèlore had planted. And my mother admonished me “Child, we do not talk about property. We have lost no lives”, and my mother and I discussed and argued over the phone as I if it had been prior to Tuesday, as if it had been a normal day, as if this had never happened and I knew my mother was fine and I also understood that in her reticence to talk about herself , in her refusal to complain , she was trying to tell me what had happened was so much bigger than her that I should not worry about her, that I should worry about my country. I understood that what she described was going on in every neighborhood. Things were going to get more difficult and their generosity would be put to the test, but meanwhile, huddled like bees in a hive, Haitians were sharing what they had with each other: the rough and sweet skin of things, space if they had it, or food, or water and definitely the prayer the country would survive, even if they did not.
Michèle Voltaire Marcelin
Memento Mori: Cousins Georges and Mireille were buried under the rubble. Ti Charles lost 2 sons, and if you know that Ti Charles is a Kenscoff peasant and his sons had become teachers at the University where they were also trapped under the rubble, you will understand his despair. Cousin Valerie and her 10 year old daughter also died under their collapsed home. And for all lives lost, we offer our prayers.