I woke up to the sound of rain pounding the cobblestone terrace outside my bedroom. My grandmother’s orchids, so delicate in the wind, try to resist its strength. Her groves of bamboo, standing as tall and strong as they possibly can, seem to surrender to the inclement weather. How bad is it? I thought to myself.
The night before I couldn’t shut an eye. I pictured the natural disaster that would hit our beloved island in the next couple of hours: flooding, landslides, entire homes and families ripped apart. Not Haiti, please. Not us. Not anyone.
If it got as bad as they said it would - the politicians, the journalists, the meteorologists - I knew we would still be okay. Late Sunday afternoon, I received a thoughtful call from my uncle. “I’m in New York,” he said. "The storm is approaching you. Go to your grandmother’s, you’ll be safer there.” Our house, located in the mountains of Kenscoff, is surrounded by dense forest. The glass walls in our living room make us feel as if we live in the trees, welcoming hummingbirds under our roof whenever they confuse our wooden window sills for branches. A beautiful and serene atmosphere, but one that could quickly become a nightmare when taken under the siege of a powerful storm.
How fortunate are we to have not one but two roofs under which to take cover? My thoughts go out to the courageous souls who are gathering inside churches and schools, protecting one another with prayers and an irreplaceable faith.
Quietly, mindfully, I begin to go through a list of names - the names of people I care about deeply, people who have welcomed me into their lives and shared with me their darkest moments. - Venel’s family. It has only been a few months since the passing of their dearest one - Venel, a timid and loving boy who had become a close friend during my last semester of college. Moments were spent beside his hospital bed, hoping his weak heart wouldn’t fail him. But it did. - Stephanie, her five-year-old son, and her mother. During my last visit to her home she explained to me the horrors they face when it rains. “Water begins to fill up our home. We have to get buckets and work quickly to get the water outside. We don’t sleep. We do this all night long.” - Joseph. His composure and tranquil demeanor had made our recent, ten-day road trip across Haiti a smooth and memorable adventure. I imagine his wife and children huddled together, seeking safety under his arms.
I think of them and all the unfamiliar faces encountered during my sixteen-month journey of making this place home - faces that become familiar through immediate smiles and acts of kindness.
We are all one, I remind myself.
My phone rings. First it’s my father, then my grandmother, then my aunt and cousins, and finally my family in El Salvador - all checking in to make sure I’m okay. As I write this, I sit in my grandmother’s room, missing her while she’s away. The flame of a recently lit candle catches my attention and flickers as quickly as Matthew’s downpour. I look outside. Each gust of wind, each collapsing branch, transports me to the small and imperiled towns on the southern peninsula. I have not yet checked the morning news as I wanted to empty my heart before doing so. But grandma was ahead of me:
“You know, there is a little village in the South where the river is so flooded you can’t tell it apart from the ocean.”
I sit in silence, taking in her words. Not knowing how to respond, I hang up the phone and continue to write.
Hang in there, Haïti Chérie - we all believe in your strength to overcome this plight.