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A Dear Friend: Before and After the Earthquake

January 24, 2010

A friend of mine named Pierre Junior came to see me today.  He works with Marie Lawrence, the Minister of Culture and Information in Haiti.  We met last summer as friends and I hiked up from Milot’s San Souci palace to the Citadel.  It is the steepest two-hour hike you might ever experience, and I wanted to walk and try and begin to understand the work it took for my ancestors to build this phenomenon. Pierre Junior was in his truck with several other government officials and they asked if we wanted a ride.  I kindly declined.  We made it to the top at the same time (wink), and struck up a conversation, which led to Pierre offering us a ride to Gonaives while on his way to the city.  He never knew me or my friends, yet this is how we became friends- through his generosity.

Today he came by the Olofsson and we embraced.  I was quite worried about him because I knew that he worked in one of the government buildings and only a week before the earth-shattering quake, he wrote me an email saying how urgent it was that we speak.  Today, I saw a man who is distraught, in shock, and confused because of the structure of his lifestyle, which was abruptly taken away by Mother Nature.

He lives in Croix de Bouquet, which wasn’t the biggest disaster site, yet for Pierre Junior life has become a disaster.  He told me how he was at work at the minister of culture building when the earthquake hit.  He stepped outside and said that the earth was going from side-to-side and trees and everything around him was shaking.  He described how the palace and all the government buildings collapsed and how confused he was.  Still his witnessing the earthquake and the destruction afterward is something that is unbelievable.  When it was over he couldn’t see anything and there was just dust and screams from people in every direction.  He described people running in every which way, in no order and just running and wailing.  He told me that he can’t shake what happened out of his mind.

Pierre Junior like many other Haitians want out.  He cannot take the chaos, he cannot deal with the unstructured aid, and said even when others offer him food, or something to drink he cannot take it.  See, Pierre Junior is the kind of person who is always giving.  He is the kind of guy who would give what he had to everyone because he knew that he could go to the bank later and cash was always available to him.  Now he lives outside under a tent made of sheets in his town.  He works for several days at a time trying to pick up the pieces of a government that is now rubble.  He had today off, after working a few days straight, and took the time to see a familiar face.  Someone different who perhaps wouldn’t give him news about this one being dead, and that one being dead.  He looked like he might explode when he described how many of his friends and co-workers and countless others perished in this earthquake.  He was emotional and visibly freaked out when talking about the smell of death and how that haunts him.  He just can’t believe that all of this is real, and instead of sticking around to help rebuild he believes he needs to get out, or else he will go mad.

I have no judgments on how any of the victims at home and abroad choose to feel.  I just wanted to give you a glimpse into the life of Pierre Junior.  There will be many like him to come.

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