Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

Andre and I were in Mexico on vacation when the earthquake hit. We were driving with Daniel's brother Mario and his family in the town of Itzlan, Nayarit. Andre heard Haiti mentioned on the car radio and the word "terremoto" which means earthquake. I said, "That can't be good news. If an earthquake hit Haiti and we're hearing about it in a Mexican village, it must be huge."

We went to an internet cafe to see the news online. One of the first images we saw was the National Palace in ruins. I couldn't believe it. That's like the White House in DC. I can't imagine ever seeing the White House in ruins. At that point they were still trying to locate President Rene Preval. The first reports said "hundreds" feared dead under the rubble. I knew it had to be way worse than that.

We tried to call his family on Skype, but couldn't get through. For three days we couldn't get through. It was horrible not to know if they were still alive or not. We called all our Haitians friends and relatives in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, and Dominican Republic. No one was able to get through.

We still had a few days left in Mexico before our Guadalajara-Tijuana flight on Jan. 15. It was really stressful, not knowing anything for sure about Andre's family, even though some Haitian friends in other countries were saying that they'd heard they were okay. We were afraid to get our hopes up.

We spent two days in Compostela with Maya's dad Daniel. Throughout all this, I was grieving heavily for Maya as we were approaching Jan. 16, the 3rd anniversary of her death. It was nice to be with Daniel and his family. We all went out to dinner together on our last night in Compostela. Then we had a nice memorial for Maya in their home.

Originally, we'd planned to spend another day in Tijuana with my friend Cecilia. I had hoped to go to the medical clinic where Maya was born on June 17, 1997. But because of the earthquake in Haiti we crossed the border straight from the Tijuana airport.

When we got to my dad's house in Chula Vista we connected on Skype and made some calls. A Haitian friend in Canada said that he'd been able to get through to his brother. They're neighbors of Andre's family. He said Andre's family was okay. Still, we wanted to speak directly with Andre's family.

We called the brother in Port-au-Prince and miraculously he answered his cell phone. He told us to call back in a half hour and he would try to find Andre's family in Delmas. It took us over an hour to get through to Billy again, but this time he passed the phone to everyone in Andre's family: mother, stepfather, grandma, two brothers, two sisters, and his brother-in-law.

Andre spoke for 40 minutes or so. I could tell that a heavy burden had been lifted. We found out that their house was badly damaged, so they were camping out on the streets with everyone else. Over a million Haitians are homeless because of the earthquake. There were 40 aftershocks in the first week, one measuring 6.1. A neighbor called us in the wee hours of the morning that time to tell us that Andre's grandma wasn't doing so well. She's 82.

We were glad to hear that the family was planning to move back to Duval, the mountain village where Andre grew up. Andre and I visited Duval in June 2009. I really liked it. It's very remote and rural, yet you can walk there in two hours from Port-au-Prince. They still have some family members living there. Some of the village houses have been destroyed by the quake, but overall it doesn't seem as badly affected.

Through a mutual friend from Cabrillo College, a reporter from the Santa Cruz Sentinel got in touch with Andre. So far she's written two articles about his family's situation. As far as we know, Andre is the only Haitian in Santa Cruz, so our local community has been very interested in his story.

Josh Brown, founder of Action Santa Cruz, read the first article in the Sentinel and contacted us to help. He has been organizing fundraisers to help Andre's family rebuild their house in the countryside. Minorsan, where Andre practices martial arts, has also organized a fundraiser
for Feb. 21 at their studio at 1320 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 458-0900.

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