One of the first things that Josephine and I discussed was Pat Robertson. According to Robertson, Haitians had “made a pact with the devil” in order to defeat French colonizers in a 1791 slave rebellion. Robertson has claimed that all of Haiti’s subsequent problems can be blamed on this pact. It is his belief that the 2010 earthquake was simply another manifestation of the consequences brought upon the Haitian people due to this pact.
I asked Josephine about Robertson’s claims. What did other Haitians believe was the cause of the earthquake? She told me a fascinating tale of Haitian folklore. According to Josephine, the tale of the earthquake is as follows:
Satan said to God: “God, you left the country [Haiti] a long time ago and the Haiti is now mine!”
God said: “Okay. I’m going to shake the ground and we’re going to see whose name the people call upon.” After God shook the ground, the people yelled out “Bon Dieu!”
God said to Satan “So it’s still my country.”
Josephine separates folklore from science. She attributes the earthquake strictly to natural causes.
Josephine described the exact moments when the earthquake first hit. She was sitting in her home in Port-au-Prince. Suddenly, objects in her house began to shake. Scared and confused, she called out to her brothers. Unsure of what was going on, she left the house in search of her brothers. She found them huddled outside. According to Josephine, the first thought that went through her mind upon realizing that what what she was experiencing was, in fact, an earthquake, was “Good thing I grabbed my iPod!” She thought that the earthquake was no bigger than the one that had hit Haiti 6 years earlier in 2004.
“There was nothing that you could do” she told me in frustration. Her entire neighborhood was destroyed. She could hear children yelling in the street and calling out for their parents. Chaos was everywhere.I asked Josephine if she felt safe walking around Port-au-Prince with 6,000 prisoners on the loose. Her reply: “You don’t think about that.”
Although Josephine did not want to leave Haiti and come to the U.S. she said: “I know that with education the country (of Haiti) will be better.” This incredible declaration from a 15 year old girl was mind-blowing. Josephine explained that Haitians had already survived natural disasters and devastation. She described the period of kidnapping from 1995-2008 as a very scary time in recent Haitian history. One never knew if a parent or sibling would return home. “Haitians will survive,” she said.
I expressed my desire to go to Haiti and help out on the ground. Josephine informed me that I might be a bigger help here in the U.S. She reminded me that 10,000 NGO’s are there and hence, organizing systematized efforts to help are difficult. Every NGO has it’s own agenda. Without a stable government in place to organize the NGO’s, it’s next to impossible to effectively complete anything. Josephine’s two older brothers are in Haiti helping out with NGO’s.
Her family has donated part of their garden to local hospitals to provide food and water for the people of Port-au-Prince. I asked Josephine about what her family members say about the state of Haiti. She described the unbearable smell of excrement because of the lack of services, and how that smell is becoming less of a problem.
Josephine conveyed an incredible love for her country. “Haiti is the best country in the world!”. But she told me that the systems need to be put in place for education. Children need extra-curricular activities to motivate them. For Josephine, Haiti can be rebuilt if attention and effort is concentrated on educating Haitians.
She and I discussed a prior interview that I held with the Cuello Camilo, Ambassador of the Dominican Republic. She said: “You can see the Dominican Republic helping in Haiti. They are very organized.” I discussed Ambassador Cuello Camilo’s thoughts on bringing educated professional Haitians back to Haiti to rebuild the country. Josephine said that many educated professionals are already in the country. Her mother, in the Ministry of Arts & Communication, is one of these educated elite. Josephine explained that there is not a lack of educated Haitians. Rather, it is an imperfect government that doesn’t allow these people to make changes to systems in place.
My conversation with Josephine was encouraging and eye-opening. It is rare to find such courage, intelligence, and poise in such a young girl. She has already seen things that many of her peers couldn’t fathom. Josephine’s resilience is remarkable.
Other articles by Eryn on Haiti & Relief:
Watch video on tent cities in Haiti affected by the rainy season: First rain batters homeless
You can help by donating: William J. Clinton Foundation Support Haiti Relief and Recovery Efforts