Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The First Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake

Another cheerless anniversary has arrived, this time in Port-au-Prince, destroyed by a massive earthquake one year ago today.  The media commemorated the first month and the sixth month after the earthquake, recounting the death and destruction and assessing the recovery.  Perhaps the most heartfelt approach to observing the grim event came from Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, writing in an opening comment in The New Yorker Magazine.

Danticat shared a Haitian voudou tradition about the souls of the dead slipping into the waters of rivers and streams.  They remain submerged there  for a year and a day until ritual prayer and songs lure them from their suspension and they are reborn.  Danticat tells us that the year-and-a-day tradition is seen among families who hold it as an obligation because it maintains a continuity that has kept Haitians linked to their ancestors for generations.

Because of the scandal of recent presidential elections that are believed in many quarters to be fraudulent, the slow recovery of Haiti from the earthquake has likewise been suspended.  If Haiti is to rise from the ruins, the deadlock must be addressed.  In many ways, the election symbolizes the continuing ritual of suffering experienced by Haitians for its entire existence, but it also offers the opportunity for the spirits of the nearly dead society to rise figuratively from the waters where they have floated for one year.

I bore witness last night to the earthquake anniversary from Port Sulphur, LA, where I've volunteering in a Katrina rebuild five years after the hurricane.  I reminded the other volunteers that today is the first anniversary of the horrible event.  In this way, I try to explain how important it is not to forget the the dead and survivors who struggle to restore and, with luck, improve Haiti.

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