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a117: In today's Haiti, `normal' life has been lost (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
In today's Haiti, `normal' life has been lost
GRANDE-RIVIERE-DU-NORD, Haiti -- As a child visiting Haiti, I loved to play
in the river. I would secretly empty my grandmother's clay pitchers and
declare there was no more water. Then, just as I had carefully planned, I
would be asked to go and get some from the river.
As far back as I can remember, this is the image I've always associated with
Haiti. It represents a simpler, safer time.
While the world listened Monday to news about an attempted coup at the
National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, I was hidden away inside
a house along with my mother, an aunt and six cousins. We were ducking for
cover as our house was bombarded with rocks.
Ours was one of about a dozen homes in this northern rural village attacked
throughout the day by a machete-wielding, gun-toting mob. They were
supporters of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas
Family party. Throughout the country, Aristide backers took to the streets
on a revenge rampage, attacking and torching homes, after the government
fought off an apparent coup attempt during the wee hours of the morning.
My mother and I, in town for her sister's funeral, learned about the attempt
about 5 a.m. Monday. We were preparing to make the hourlong trip into
Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, to catch a flight to
Port-au-Prince to head back to Miami.
But we were turned back by residents who reported there was no way out. A
roadblock had been erected. Old cars sandwiched between boulders had been
set on fire to prevent vehicles from entering and exiting the town. We were
The next few hours would be turbulent. School officials -- acting on orders
from the town's mayor and his assistants -- canceled classes for the day,
turning the streets into a chaotic scene. Hundreds of uniformed school
children raced into the streets, looks of confusion on their faces, as older
siblings and parents grabbed their hands and raced home for cover.
Down the road, the town's market emptied out as poor merchants scrambled to
pack their belongings and run to the river for refuge.
My cousins and I watched in disbelief, not realizing that we too would soon
be running for safety as the mob attacked our home with rocks. ``This is
democracy,'' my aunt said repeatedly, in despair. ``This is democracy.''
I am not sure why my cousin's house was attacked. She is not a member of the
opposition. She is just someone who struggles to survive on the equivalent
of $100 a month.
My mother, who has spent more than half her 65 years in this rural province,
would later try to put it into perspective. ``In all my years of living
under the Duvalier dictatorship,'' she would say, ``I never experienced
anything like this.''
The violence that has marred cities like Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien has
finally found its way into the interior -- into the countryside, the place
that is supposed to be the safest.
As I listened to rocks hit the walls and smack the wooden windows, I
thought, ``Thank God for the wood.''
Then I thought about how vulnerable we all were. There were no working
phones in the province. Cell phones didn't work, either. No electricity. Not
even radio news after a
while. Threatened by supporters, radio broadcasters ceased their broadcasts
early in the day, leaving us ignorant of what was happening.
When the rock throwing finally stopped and the gang moved on, we cautiously
stepped outside. A cousin and I snuck off to survey the damage around us. A
makeshift bureau of the Convergence opposition alliance located a few yards
from our home had been ransacked, its glass windows shattered, its doors
torn off; everything inside -- desks, chairs, a car battery, phone -- had
been removed and set on fire outside.
Fortunately no one was hurt.
Another couple wasn't as lucky, an opposition alliance member would later
tell me. They were at home when the mob arrived and were beaten down in
The opposition member, who did not want to be identified for fear of his
family's safety, was returning home when the mob arrived at his house and
bombarded it with rocks. He sprinted into town, praying his 87-year-old
mother would be all right. She found cover on the floor.
Still confused about why our house -- my cousin's house -- was attacked, I
thought about what the opposition member said. This wasn't just about going
after known members of the 15-party opposition alliance. It was about the
zero tolerance that has been plaguing Haiti recently, resulting in several
deaths -- including that of Haitian journalist Brignol Lindor.
``They went after people who don't have the same ideology,'' he said. In
other words: If you are not with us, then you are against us.
By Monday night, the mob eventually grew tired of firing guns, wielding
batons and singing about how it would visit misery upon anyone in
opposition. As my cousins and I sat in the dark living room -- still
grieving for my aunt -- we grieved for the untold numbers who would also
die. ``If there is no light again tonight, a lot of people are going to
die,'' my 10-year-old cousin said.
I don't know how many, if any, died Monday night. On Tuesday morning, when
the first bus came into town, signaling that routine had returned, I
realized just how bad things were.
Along the 18-mile stretch between Grand-Rivire and Cap-Haitien -- a trip
that takes an hour because the roads are so bad --I counted 21 roadblocks.
They caused motorists to zig-zag around huge boulders, old cars and car
tires -- some of which were still ablaze.
Otherwise, life seemed to have returned to normal -- with merchants
balancing their wares on their heads, heading into town to see what little
they could make for the day, and with children going to school.
But I knew, my mother knew, that ``normal'' no longer exists. This was a new
Haiti. A place where the river was no longer safe enough for a 5-year-old to
venture on her own to play in the sand, digging for a water hole.
Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles spent her early childhood years between
the Turks & Caicos, where she was born, and Haiti.
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