By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald
January 12, 2012
PORT-AU-PRINCE — They prayed in the streets Thursday, in church pews and in the ruins of a once-majestic cathedral.
For Haiti’s 10 million surviving souls, the second anniversary of its devastating 7.0 earthquake, the hemisphere’s worst natural disaster, was a day Nou pap janm bliye — never to be forgotten. It also was a day of reflection and prayer.
“I don’t know when I will stop crying,” said Jean Ose Abellard, who lost his wife and 9- and 7-year-old sons when a school wall fell on them. “I am crying for my wife and children, the priests, the monsignor.”
Monsignor Serge Miot was Haiti’s top Roman Catholic Bishop. He was among the 316,000 killed on Jan. 12, 2010, including leading personalities, United Nations diplomats, aid workers and everyday Haitians. All were remembered Thursday — in Haiti and South Florida.
“If you are here today, you have to say ‘Thank you,’ to God,” said Enid Pierre, 42, dressed in white and standing in what was once the National Cathedral, a hollow shadow of its former grandeur. “Today is a day of sadness, of problems. When you look at the situation your heart is heavy. It’s a day of reflection, a day of pain for mothers and fathers for the state of the country.”
In Miami, where the emotional aftershocks of the quake continue to stir, Haitians marked the day with a vigil, discussions about the future and a march to honor those who have died.
“I came because I am Haitian and I think it’s important that we remember all of the victims of the earthquake,” Hulya Miclisse, 18, of Homestead, said during a vigil in Little Haiti.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Haitian Women of Miami, said the world should not forget the tragedy.
“We want to honor those 250,000-plus who died in the earthquake,” Bastien said. “Also to remember those who are still living in tents.”
Homeless Haitians said Thursday that they have grown frustrated with the slow pace of recovery and reconstruction. In a country where rich and poor were united in death, and the community notables joined the unknown in unmarked graves, Pierre is among the lucky few. She did not lose any close relatives, and lived under a tent for only four months. Family members in the province sent money to help her rent a place in the capital and rebuild her life.
“It’s not much, but it’s a place to live,” she said about her $375 a year dwelling.
But there are some moments of hope.
Some 32,000 objects — art works, documents, paintings — have been saved and even restored with the help of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Art experts even managed to salvage three murals of a destroyed Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. The work of the Haitian masters, they are now in 142 pieces, ready for the new building that is in the planning and fundraising stages.
“When you save people’s lives, it is one thing,” said Olsen Jean Julian, project manager for the arts project. “But when you are living, the most important things is your reason for living. Culture is our reason for living. When we are trying to save our culture, we are trying to give more reason to survive.’’
Officially, Thursday was declared a national holiday by President Michel Martelly, who began the morning by traveling north to the rural town of Limonade, where he and Dominican President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated a new university. The modern building, a gift from the Dominican people to their long suffering neighbor, can educate up to 10,000 students.
Back in the capital, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson joined Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille in unveiling the first government building that will be constructed post-quake: the building will house the state-run University of Haiti’s faculty of science. Local businesses funded half the costs. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund chipped in $2 million.
“Haiti needs more engineers,” Clinton told the small crowd. “The means for you to build your own future, a broader, better future.”
Titanyen, the vast mountain area outside of the capital where most of those who died in the quake and the later cholera epidemic rests in unmarked graves nearby, has become home to a few new residents. The black crosses on the barren hillside constructed in memory of the dead are nearly all gone, and shacks have been built nearby.
A round monument decorated in black tile now sits at the bottom of the hill, a rock on the top. On Thursday, Martelly and other government dignitaries commemorated the anniversary at the site. Guests included Clinton, various religious leaders and two former presidents, Prosper Avril and dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Duvalier and Clinton shared an awkward moment when Duvalier walked on the stage and greeted Martelly. The entire stage stood, with Clinton being one of the last.
The moment was soon overshadowed as a school orchestra played classical Haitian arrangements on a stage draped in red and blue, colors of the Haitian flag. Written near the musicians: “Let’s remember so we can move forward.”
The solemn mood was later joined by spiritual hymns — Haitian and old Negro spirituals — and uplifting songs as speakers urged Haitians to rebuild Haiti with a new sense of responsibility, and a change in mentality.
“If we are alive today, it’s not because we are better off. We still have work to do,” said Monsignor Alexandre Dumas of the Roman Catholic Church. “We owe to reconstruct otherwise, to build a new nation-state in unity and peace with stronger institutions, public buildings, places of worship and hospitals, schools and houses that are not graves.’’
Martelly echoed the sentiments saying that in 35 seconds “everything tumbled down, taking with it lots of human lives, leaving destroyed cities transformed into huge fields of rubble.”
At 4:56 p.m., three minutes after the quake struck two years ago, the crowd stood silent. Martelly and his wife, Sophia, then planted 10 trees, each representing the country’s 10 departments, to symbolize a rebirth.
Staff writer Paradise Afshar in Miami contributed to this report.
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