The purpose of this post was to share one little note which Guy S. Antoine wrote precisely 10 days before the devastating earthquake struck Haiti 4 years ago. In his note to friends, Guy tells about the tragic loss of his niece-in-law, and how that changed his life. The irony in Guy’s note is that mere days after he wrote it, all of Haiti would suffer loss so profound we’re still looking for the words to express it. While thousands remain in makeshift housing today, many of us continue to try to identify those lessons which some say we should have learned by now.
The more I thought about Guy’s note from 2009, the more I thought about the delight he brought so many through his website, Windows on Haiti. The post I had meant to write about the irony of loss became one of hope and gratitude for a one-man marching band who drummed alone in the desert long before anyone cared to listen. Chapo ba, Guy S. Antoine! Thank you for opening Windows on Haiti. I know many thousands would agree that it helped them to breathe just a little better.
Nou Bèl. E Nou La!
The more I think about Windows on Haiti, the more realize why VoicesfromHaiti came into existence. Guy and I sing the same song; we beat the same drum. So. . .a luta continua, vitória é certa.
Take a moment now to read Guy’s own words from 1998.
Windows on Haiti’s Statement of Purpose
Haitians have survived in a geopolitical environment that has been undeniably hostile to them from the day they voiced their desire to live free in a sovereign nation and ever since. Notwithstanding, they have created a startlingly different way of life, a unique signature of Religion, Arts, Language, and above all, a sense of identity deeply rooted in spirituality and collective remembrances.
We aim to present you some interesting windows on Haiti’s culture. True exploration begins when you venture beyond them and engage in respectful contact and discovery.
This web site has emerged as a labor of love for my native country. As such, I dedicate it to her friends and children, the painters and the poets, the researchers and the students, the drummers and the dancers, the musicians and the storytellers; to all participants in and contributors to the uplifting aspects of her culture; to the unsung heroes; to the makandals, the boukmans, the peraltes; to the marie-jeannes and the madan-saras; to the gwo-zoteys and the restaveks, the illiterate, and the famished.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank my family for allowing me to spend an inestimable amount of time and resources on this endeavour.
To state my views in the simplest way, I am against social barriers, let it be racism, sexism, class prejudice, or misplaced nationalism. In Haiti, our vaunted nationalism translates into pride in our History and total neglect of the Present. We were the first enslaved people to fight successfully for freedom and national independence. Yet today, we receive our dictates from abroad and we are at the international lending institutions’ mercy. Worse yet, many of us live in conditions of modern slavery, strangely reminiscent of old: in the “bateyes” of the Dominican Republic, and in the homes of our cities, which are populated with “restaveks.” Just where is Toussaint Louverture for them today?
At the start of the most recent, disastrously implemented US/UN embargo against Haiti, a middle-class youth in Haiti was asked if he was worried. He responded casually: “Sak pou manje ap toujou manje!” (Those who should eat will eat no matter what!) In this one statement, he betrayed the tragedy of the Haitian people. Haiti will never again be a great country, until we treat all her people as our brothers and sisters, deserving the same opportunities that many of us take for granted due to fortunate but accidental circumstances.
In colonial times, Haiti was a country with entrenched social divisions: classes of grands blancs, petits blancs, affranchis, and slaves. 1804 was supposed to have done away with all of that. As we near 2004, are we closer to a unified people than we were back then?
Barely 19, I came to the United States to pursue university studies. Now I have reached middle-age and have long ago become a U.S. citizen, a route which affords the privilege of voting one’s individual and group interests where one actually resides. In my heart, however, I will always be Haitian.
I want my children to learn everything about the culture of their Haitian ancestors. I have retraced for them my vast family tree, going all the way back to a slave named Chicotte. I teach them about the Haiti I know every chance I get, but in the end I want them to make their own choices and grow up to become productive and compassionate human beings in whatever corner of the world they may choose to live in.
That’s the story of many of my peers, friends, and relatives. Not all, as some have chosen to go back, at great personal sacrifice. For the most part, we were raised to leave Haiti behind, if not explicitly yet subconsciously, in a relentless and powerful way. Now, when I go back to Haiti, after the first few minutes of exhilaration at the airport on setting foot on the soil that gave me birth and breathing the air that invigorated my unforgettable youth, reality sets in. A reality that is as inscrutable as ever. A reality that begs for answers to these questions: Why would a people do this to itself? Why do foreigners seem more interested in saving Haiti than Haitians in Haiti? What role does the vast Haitian Diaspora have to play in all of this?
One thing for sure, today I am a Haitian-American. Whatever that means, it is precisely what I make of it through my personal choices which are dictated by values and not rigid ideology. I hope that my actions as a Haitian-American, in tandem with those of my friends all over the world, and specifically Haitians in Haiti, will help close the circle one day: Haiti has undeniably given so much of her blood, tears, and guts to the world, we must never lose hope that one day those riches in human and material terms will come back to re-energize her. Perhaps one day, we will stop referring to her (shamelessly) as “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere”, shaking our heads in disbelief at her abject misery. No country that has given so much could be intrinsically the poorest country. We have to change the forces that shape the exodus of her people and her riches. We have to fulfill our mission to become one people. Let us please stop saying vainly: “L’Union Fait La Force”, while stabbing each other in the back. Let us instead act on that worthy principle in our personal lives and in our national life. Only then will the circle close.
My objective is precisely that: to help close the circle. I invite you to join me in good faith and for the good of Haiti. Listen to your inner voice and reach out. Haiti needs all of us.
Guy S. Antoine
Windows on Haiti
Here now is that note that prompted me to write the post about one man’s loss 10 days before Haiti suffered her most devastating blow.
The best and worst of what happened in 2009 and our hopes for 2010
By Guy S. Antoine
December 31, 2009 at 11:42am
On this day, it feels good to be alive and most definitely healthier—though I probably looked better and healthier a year ago. Appearances can be deceiving. In spite of this great improvement, I am not as cheerful today as I was a year ago. I do not feel surrounded with as many friends as I used to have. The better perhaps to appreciate the love and friendship of those I can still call friends.
I am not as cheerful perhaps due to some personal losses in the second half of the year. So far, my circle of family and friends had seemed nearly invincible. But some cracks have begun to appear.
It all started with the devastating loss of my dearest niece (in-law); she was 47. She passed away on a long-awaited trip to Paris (originally delayed by the events of September 11, 2001). She and her husband would celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary in Paris, but her heart stopped precisely mid-way between Philadelphia and Paris–and exactly on the day of their 25th wedding anniversary.
The professionals on board, including three doctors, were not able to revive her. The second half of the trip, the back row of passengers was cleared to allow my nephew to spend the remaining time in quiet desperation but with dignity with his lifeless wife beside him. When the plane landed, I was the first one he called and I will forever be chagrined by the depth of sadness and absolute desperation I heard in his voice at that moment.
It was my responsibility to let the rest of the family know, including their 22 year old daughter who had been asleep. Afterwards, it would be her turn to inform her 17 year old brother. I never once thought I could handle such a heavy responsibility, but the unbearable sadness was mitigated in the following months by the resilience of love and the unbelievable strength of my nephew, my grand niece, my grand nephew, and the extraordinary level of emotional and logistical support that came pouring in from extended family members and our intimate friends. This was, in totality, an event that will mark my outlook on life forever. Wanda was “moun pa m.” Wanda was like my own.
A fifty-something man like me never expected to learn that lesson this year from a couple of forty-something women. But life is always full of surprises.
Ten days after Guy wrote his note, the earth would break open. Hundreds of thousands Haitian lives would be lost. Haiti and Haitians at home and abroad would never be the same. We are now 10 days away from year #4 after the quake. As Guy put it in 2009: “This was, in totality, an event that will mark my outlook on life forever.”
Thank you, Guy S. Antoine, for letting us share your powerful words.
Happy New Year!