Give Us Just a Day to Grieve

The anniversary of the earthquake is in less than a week, on Jan. 12. Never before had Haiti seen so many victims from a single catastrophe in so short a time. Never had Haitians experienced such solidarity, nor received so much attention from abroad and from the international community.

So much attention that they never had time to mourn their dead as befitted, with a few rare exceptions. We did not fittingly mourn our dead, because they were too numerous. Because many were still buried in rubble. Because too many people were around us. Because there were too many victims, too many walking dead. Never was a dilemma so great: to mourn the dead, or those soon to die.

We did not mourn our dead as befitted, and of that we are not proud. Nor do we feel solace. We do not like mourning in public, especially in front of foreigners, and we were uncomfortable with the idea of mourning with the whole world watching. Because the whole world had come to aid us, and to watch us mourn. Unwilling watchers, but watchers all the same. Despite appearances, we dislike making a spectacle of ourselves. Some do so all day long, but one must not conclude that Haitians feel no reluctance to display their emotions in public.

So this numerous and massive presence of foreign friends come to our aid has become a heavy burden. Too many came, and have not gone. They came with too many propositions, too many resources, too many promises. They make too many decisions. They came with too much knowledge, and not enough know-how. So many embraced us, that in the end they embarrassed us. How can that be? With the warmth of their embrace, we are almost suffocating. Do they even realise this?

On Jan. 12, 2011, therefore, several organisations active in Haiti will try to use the earthquake's anniversary to raise their visibility to Haitians and convince their financial supporters of the importance of their activities in Haiti over the past year. They will also stress the need for their contribution to continue for years to come.

With little tangible or visible reconstruction, notably the absence of dwellings for the million homeless and little progress in clearing away rubble, these organisations along with certain local authorities are preparing to showcase their vision for this half of the island on Jan. 12. They will do interview after interview, and distribute videocassettes describing the prowess of their organisations and the sacrifices made by their staff in coming to the Haitians' aid.

Some will repeat for the umpteenth time that Haiti receives the most aid of any country in the world, after Afghanistan. And all will rehash their support for the Haitian people using new or recycled figures.

For some NGOs, the fight against cholera will also be on the Jan. 12 agenda, although there was some disappointment that it appeared where not expected. The thinking was that cholera would appear first in the camps, then spread throughout the country. Several organisations had given advance notice of this breakout in the camps, but it happened the other way around.

The cholera began in Artibonite, not the survivor camps, and spread to the rest of the country with a vengeance. UN/MINUSTAH should accept the consequences of the scientific conclusions on the origin of this scourge in Haiti. So far, too little seems to be made of this fact.

It is understandable that organisations actually working all year long in Haiti would use the time around the earthquake's anniversary to talk about their activities, and even to publicise and make their case. I only ask them not to organise public commemorations, celebrations, or inaugurations of any kind on Jan. 12, 2011. My suggestion is to choose any other date in January, except the 12th. Leave the 12th to the Haitians, finally to remember our dead alone.

I ask our foreign friends to give us a day at least. Just one day. Leave us alone on Jan. 12, 2011, and every Jan. 12th for years to come. I say again: I ask for just one day each year, from 2011 onward, to mourn our dead, remember them, and reflect on what is happening to us, and how and why we got where we are today. We need to find some peace that day, alone with our own.

I hope our foreign friends understand, that the embassies understand, that multilateral and bilateral agencies understand, that the NGOs understand, that MINUSTAH, the UN, the OAS, CARICOM, and all "friends of Haiti" understand. We need to be alone, to rediscover ourselves.

Fellow Haitians have even told me that they feel a certain nostalgia for the time when we were all alone. Things were not so good, it's true, but things are not so good today either, when we are not alone. We would like to keep Jan. 12 all to ourselves. One might say it is the only gesture of sovereignty we can really make for now.

I'm also counting on Bill Clinton and his team to understand, and on P.J. Patterson, too.

Best wishes for 2011.

[Source: By Ericq Pierre, IPS, Port-Au-Prince, 07Jan11]

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