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Additional Coverage Special Report—Haiti


This story is just one article in our special report on Haiti's women's movement.

We'll be adding more stories in the coming weeks—for now, take a look at other articles in this series.

• Read an assessment of the earthquake's impact on Haiti's women's movement in Honoring the Ancestors.

• View photographer Nadia Todres's powerful photo essay, Documenting the Lives of Girls in Haiti.

• Read Didi Bertrand's column, Bearing Witness: Girls and Women in Haiti's Camps.

• Take a look at SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti Elections—Why Vote for a Woman? to read interviews with Haiti's three female presidential candidates to learn more about their platforms.

• Read the first story in this series, SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti, Women, and the Elections, which takes an in-depth look at women on the ground and the upcoming elections.

• Read World Pulse and Anne-christine d'Adesky's previous coverage on the earthquake, Holding Up Haiti: Women Respond to Nightmare Earthquake, published shortly after news broke of the devastating earthquake.

Edwidge Danticat: Return to Haiti


© Barbara P. Fernandez | Redux

Internationally acclaimed author and memoirist on her homeland, post-disaster.

"Recovery efforts can learn a lot from the way women have been recovering for years—from droughts, from floods, from hurricanes."

You lived in Port-au-Prince until you were 12. Can you describe the Haiti of your childhood?

Everyone, including my parents, idealizes the Haiti of their childhood; and lately, we’ve all been idealizing the Haiti of before January’s earthquake.

I’ll try not to do that here. I grew up in a very poor hillside neighborhood called Bel Air in Port au- Prince. We woke up to the sounds of street peddlers singing about their wares and to the radio blasting the news from the neighbor’s house. School was strict, and we were made to speak French there even though we spoke Creole at home.

I saw my aunts and grandmothers as goddesses. One of my aunts sold notebooks, pencils, and books in downtown Port-au-Prince. She managed to put five kids through school and buy a house all on her own. My Aunt Denise helped raise me. If someone gave her $100, she would increase it five fold in a week, in a way that still seems magical to me.

I’m realizing now that I haven’t given due credit to their stories—the stories these women lived; their ingenuity; their entrepreneurial skills; their intelligence despite a lack of book learning.

How has your image of Haiti shifted over the years, especially in the aftermath of the earthquake?

There is a Haiti that lives in my imagination, the Haiti I write about. I think all writers, all artists have that. But Haiti is very complex. You can say that my image of Haiti is ever-changing, just as Haiti is ever-changing.

Since the earthquake, there is a constant ache in my heart. When I visit family members and they’re in tents in front of their houses, in the countryside, or when you get dozens of calls a week from people saying they are hungry, or they fear rape, or need to go to school, it’s not about image or nostalgia anymore. I ask myself every day when things will change, and what I can do about it.

What was it like to watch the earthquake unfold from the US?

The evening of the earthquake itself, when there was so little information, I had a sense that the whole country had been flattened, that everyone was lost. The weight of that possibility was overwhelming. My cousin and his 10-year-old son died that day. Many friends died.

I have two small children, and I was offered opportunities to go back right away, but I couldn’t get there. My youngest was not eating, so I had to stay with her. I’ve never had such a pressing question of loyalty in my life. It’s the eternal female dilemma, I think. But then there was also this feeling of helplessness. Like what could I do? I’m not a doctor. I’m not a rescue worker. People were saying that going back meant eating food that survivors could otherwise eat.

When I did go back 23 days later, you had the feeling that you just wanted to hug the ground, wrap your arms around everyone, every broken place. But in a situation like this, there is very little room for sentimentality. Everyone does what little he or she can. And looking at wounded people or the dead bodies that were still all coiled up and dried on the side of the road, you felt really helpless and guilty that you could leave.

Soon after the quake, I went to church in Miami, and there was a man there who survived. He was talking about what he saw and how he survived. There was a woman who was inconsolable listening to him. She had lost 25 family members, and she could not go back to find and bury her parents.

There are degrees of trauma, and sometimes, if people can hear you, or read you, your trauma seems more pressing. But there are people who suffered so much more; I render this space to them. . . .


jadefrank's picture

Thank you

Dear Edwidge,

Thank you for this story and for bringing us closer to understanding the current situation in Haiti. I have several colleagues who have spent time there, reporting on the re-building efforts and supporting relief on the ground, but it is your writing that brings me closer to the reality. Maybe it's because I just recently finished reading Brother, I'm Dying, which left a profound mark on me, and now you feel like a friend, or a sister who has poured open her soul into my heart. When I envision Haiti, I now often envision your uncle and aunt at their church in Bel Air. So now, to revisit with you, through your eyes, after the quake, to hear the loss of your cousin, to hear of the devastation to the communities, it now somehow feels more personal, and I mourn with you, as well as hold my candle towards your flame in lighting hope for the future of Haiti and her people.

Thank you. Thank you for writing and for telling the stories that need to be told. Thank you for taking us into your home, into your family, and into your Haiti.

Jade Frank

gritona's picture

Edwidge and Haiti

Thank you again Edwidge. You are a really great woman- for your stories, yourself, for Haiti and the world.

pauli siemering

imanigurl01's picture

...You're Amazing Edwidge!


Between the teariness, I found your piece amazingly profound, prideful, simply wonderful. You are quite an accomplished writer, never losing your pridefulness as a Haitian-American, yet, remaining aware and real about what is happening in your native homeland.

My heart sickened, reading about the " tent phenomenon". As a sexual assault counselor, assisting clients in the aftermath of sexual trauma; reading about this situation will certainly have long range effects on Haiti as a country; women and children in the future. I do so hope that the severity of the traumatic occurrence will not be minimized or merely forgotten by funders or healthcare professionals, helping to rebuild this proud nation.

Edwidge, you have shared an amazing story. Thank you.



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