Immigrant Stories, Immigrant Lives

Chapter One: The Event

The earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2010. I was in Target in the South Bay Mall (Roxbury, MA). I received a call on my cell phone from my friend. He asked me, “Did you hear about the earthquake?” Jean Vilson, my friend, said he was in his bed sleeping when a phone call woke him up. Two seconds after he answered his phone, the entire house began to shake. I called Haiti to speak with my family, but I could not reach anyone. My niece, Mary, says to me: “Uncle Chavannes, there has been a catastrophe in Haiti. An earthquake has destroyed Port-au Prince. It was horrible. Many people died. Many houses collapsed. The White House Palace was destroyed.”

I heard on the news about the earthquake in Haiti. I was living in Dorchester at the time. I spoke with my Haitian friend, Jean Sylvester, and I asked him, “How is your family?” He was very sad. He called to speak with his family, but nobody answered the phone.

Testimony of Louis Moise: “Haiti is my country. This catastrophe happened in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti. The capital is in the West of the Island. Most of my people live in the south and were not affected. Even my nieces and nephews in Port au Prince were fine.”

Chapter Two: “My First-Born Child” — the Story of Jean Vilson

January 12, 2010 was a Tuesday. I was going to the doctor to check my eyes, but I could not drive, so I went home to get some sleep. During my sleep, someone called me — his name was Sadrae Alfred. Sadrae took his time as he told me the news: “Did you know that the house started to shake?” I saw the house move back and forth in that moment. The phone remained on, so I said to Sadrae, “Hello!, Hello!,” and asked him what was happening. I thought that whatever was happening, was happening only to my house or to my neighborhood. I did not know it was taking place all over Port au Prince.

I think many people thought the same as I did — they thought that it was a very local situation. Some seconds after that I heard a loud cry everywhere, and my house collapsed, the walls fell down.

After some minutes, a girl called me outside: “Mr. Vilson, your son…”

“My son, what happened to my son!!!??”

The girl told me, “A wall fell on your son.”

I found myself running in the street. I did not stop to put on shoes. When I arrived at his home he was already dead. I saw the blood pouring out of his mouth, his nose; his leg was broken into little parts. The wall had fallen on him.

I screamed, “Someone help me please! Help me; my son needs to go to the hospital!” Nobody stepped forward to help me. While I was yelling, “Help me please, help me please,” I tried to gather up his body on my own. I lost my force and I fell down crying. “What am I going to tell my wife, his mother?” I said to myself, and to anyone who would listen, “I can‘t go home, how am I going to live without him?”

Two people said to me, “You must go home, you must go home now!” And they each reached down and each took one arm, picked me up, and helped me to stand. They then escorted me arm-in-arm, one on the left and one on the right, and they took me back to my home.

When I got home I asked for everyone to tell me the news. It seems that everyone had the same problem as me — they were falling down crying in the street. “What are we going to do!!??” “Why us, God?” Someone made some tea, and we sat down drinking tea together when phone calls started coming in. Everyone wants to know who is alive and who is dead.

Now, there was no space at the hospital or the funeral home. Everyone was forced to carry their dead loved ones to a mass grave. The C.N.A. came around. We had to put our dead bodies in the street for “removal,” and the C.N.A. took the bodies and threw them in a big hole.

Chapter Three: Aftermath of a Catastrophe — Wifrid Delpe

“I lost everything because of the earthquake. I lost my job of 14 years. I was a technician for telecommunications. They gave me nothing [as severance pay]. I lost my house. Thank God, my family was in Canada. My entire family was crying. There was no communication. No one knew where I was. My children were at school crying and weeping — they did not know if I was dead or alive.

“There were four telephone companies in Haiti. My company was the main company. The main telephone company in Haiti was destroyed. The building imploded. Everyone on the first floor was crushed, smashed, compressed into chopped meat. I had just left the building 20 minutes earlier. Only for this reason am I alive today. I have never spoken of this earthquake, because it was too sad.

“I lost my house. I slept in the street. I used one pair of pants and one shirt for 9 days. No one could stay near buildings, because the buildings were shaking for days after. When it was raining, we placed cinder blocks next to each other on the ground so that the water would flow under us. There was no cemetery, there was no funeral home; there was no [electrical] power. There was no street. Even if we had international help (we only had a little), there was no street to go down to help anyone. This is why my Brother, Jean Vilson, says, ‘No one can help no one’.

“Some of the nurses and other personnel from the CNA died trying to save people. People died in collapsed hospitals, in collapsed hotels. Men and women who slept in hotels together came outside with no clothes. Husbands lost wives, wives lost husbands. This is why I am here, in the United States. Back in Haiti, I had my steady job; I had a lot of money. After the earthquake I have nothing — just my life. Only one friend gave me a small job to make enough money to come to the U.S.

Louis Moise: “They call people like you [who came to the U.S. after the catastrophe] ‘Earthquake People’,”

Wilfrid: “No, I’m no ‘Earthquake People’. I had a VISA. I regularly traveled back and forth from Haiti to the U.S., and back to Haiti, all my life. I’m not an ‘Earthquake People’.”

Louis: “That is no denigration to be called ‘Earthquake People’. That just means that the earthquake forced us to move.”

Wilfrid: “Immediately, after the earthquake, rich people slept in the street with poor people — because rich people have money, but there is nothing they can do with their money in this situation. Before the earthquake, people try to kidnap people as a regular part of daily life in Haiti, but after the earthquake there is no place to hide the kidnapped.”

Louis: “[In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake] everybody was Brother and Sister, no religious divisions — everyone prayed together.”