On Jan 12, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti. With the epicenter right outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, many homes, buildings, and neighborhoods were leveled. A country already hurting from a previous hurricane, a rebellion in 2004 that left President Jean-Betrand Aristide in exile, and widespread poverty, the severity of the situation is underscored. Although many Haitians are feared injured or killed in building collapses, the true effects of the earthquake will be felt long after the aftershocks die down. The Haitian government is unable to adequately provide food, shelter, water, and aid in this time of need. Foreign rescue crews from the United States, Britain, Venezuela, and other nations have rushed in to support the relief efforts. And there is still much searching through the rubble to be done.
I have a personal connection to Haiti. Growing up, I became familiar with the Haitian culture and people. My elementary school housed a Haitian bilingual program that helped students learn English. We had rooms with Haitian flags on doors - right next to American flags. One classroom was called Okap, another Okay - a nod to two cities in Haiti. In the schoolyard I learned a few Creole phrases; I think ‘pe-té’ meant fart. Many of my closest friends were Haitian. I played soccer with them. The good ones played with this cool fluidity on the field that I could only dream of having.
Although I have lost touch with some, I am still in contact with others. Recently, a girl (now a young woman) from a Haitian family that lived a few streets away from me contacted my sister on Facebook. Paula François used to be best friends with my sister. She was afraid of squirrels. Sam François was friends with me and my brother. We looked at each other’s Pokémon cards and would exchange gifts at Christmas. Now I hear he has a daughter, and if she looks anything like Sam, she’ll have a great smile.
I know many of my friends have family back in Haiti. Uncles, brothers, and grandmothers living back on the island. They would visit them during summers. May they all be okay.
A flight from Minneapolis to Haiti’s much-better-off neighbor Dominican Republic can be had for less than $500. That’s less than that stupid class you took freshman year. From there, it’s a drive over the mountains into Haiti. You’ll be able to notice the clear border line - on Haiti’s side much of the forests have been burnt for charcoal, the only source of income for many poor Haitians.
Once, my mom rented a Haiti travel videotape from the library. It was grainy and shaky, with no subtitles, and old. But from it I could clearly see what a paradise Haiti is—people bathing in waterfalls in the mountains, everyone smiling and laughing. Although I cannot speak for any Haitian, I would love to rewind what just happened and go back to the time of the videotape.
Haiti can seem worlds away from our cold, snowy Minnesota college campus. In a way it is. We’ll do our homework (or not), take our tests, and party until Security comes. But it also is very close to our shores; so close that any problem that affects them should morally affect us. They are our neighbors. Although the Chapel frequently has candlelight vigils, this was the first time I actually lit one. At very least it made me feel closer to them.
Perhaps this earthquake is what was needed for our world to truly recognize the problems that face Haiti. Maybe, from the rubble, Haiti will rebuild its great nation that has seen better times: A fresh start. But they cannot do it alone, and Haiti should never recede from our consciousness, even when other issues are on our minds.