From Disaster, Emerging Life

At 8 o’clock on Easter morning, the preacher at the Reformed Baptist church near my house was back to exhorting the young people not to have sex before marriage. He no longer brandishes the earthquake as proof that some malevolent God is angry with Haiti for its sins.

On Monday morning, school was supposed to have started again. But it was a very timid reopening. After all, most schools are still covered with debris. And most parents are afraid to let their children go inside.

Three months after the earthquake, some of the customary cadence of life has returned. People still argue and laugh, they still fight and kiss under the trees. Babies still cry in the middle of the night. But the neighborhood has changed. We fervently wish that the precarious tents and other reminders of the catastrophe would disappear, yet we remain aware that to go forward we must rebuild with that infamous Tuesday in mind.

Since Jan. 12, I have had the opportunity to go to the seashore. Standing barefoot on the sand, I let the gentle waves remind me of life’s magnificence, trying not to visualize the destroyed places and lives behind me. I hold on to the sheer majesty of the sea. I hold on to my hopes.

Sometimes, it is not easy.

The international donors’ conference for Haiti has just ended; the sponsors have pledged billions of dollars. But some basic facts remind us to be cautious. Not all pledges will materialize into donations, some of the money will be paid to the firms and personnel in the donor countries, and the money that does make it here may not reach the people who need it. We stand at the beginning of a very long road.

We are already looking ahead. A principal whose private school has collapsed is working two days a week with some youngsters from the neighborhood, and I sometimes hear their little voices chatting and repeating children’s songs in Creole.

A friend is finally well enough to return to her house. She can now say her brother’s name without tears. He did not come out alive from the rubble.

The teenage girl who was sent to Florida for surgery on her badly injured face has had the last of her operations, and her jaw is back in place. “She looks like herself again now,” says her mother. The woman, so young to have a 15-year-old child, holds her 4-month-old on her hip. Her emaciated features shift beautifully as she speaks, and I smile with her.

We welcome tidbits of good news one day at a time, one life at a time. They are flashes of light in a landscape that reminds us of life’s brevity. They help us realize that this is not a nightmare, and we have no choice but to wake up and face the day.

Évelyne Trouillot, a novelist whose short stories have appeared in the collection Words Without Borders.