Last Sunday, Canada’s Governor General Michaëlle Jean stood before a gathering in Calgary, broke into a song her mother used to sing to her, as a child in Haiti. She sang a song in Creole, and then, in English, said, “It’s a song of hope. Like this woman’s song, rose from the wreckage, that song that traveled over the airwaves to reach us. So I thought, even when we have nothing left, there’s always a song. There’s always music, words and then steps, to bring us back to life, to bring us together and to provide hope.”
You have to hear and see her sing to understand the power of the moment, to feel that moment in which she fuses her mother’s song, her mother’s daughter’s song, and the song of the woman rising from wreckage, songs that bind and songs that bring.
The past two weeks have been filled with many reports, many images, many words, many silences. Images of women emerging from the rubble, ghostlike with the chalk and dust covering their faces and bodies. Pictures of girls, panicked, traumatized, barely emerging from the rubble, from les décombres, from the ruins. The images, the stories, the words are haunting.
“For me the hardest part is the living. There have been so many dead here, corpses are so common both on the street and oozing out of the wreckage, that it’s the living who haunt me.”
But what is the quality of the haunting?
Edwidge Danticat’s cousin Maxo died in the earthquake, died as well because the United States refused his asylum appeal.
“When Maxo was a teen-ager, his favorite author was Jean Genet. He read and reread `Les Nègres.’ These lines from the play now haunt me: `Your song was very beautiful, and your sadness does me honor. I’m going to start life in a new world. If I ever return, I’ll tell you what it’s like there. Great black country, I bid thee farewell.’”
Those with experience of Haiti know the intricate and intimate filaments of the tragedy, they know the names, which they must speak and share and weave into something new:
“When Robinson and I last toured Cite Soleil in March of 2009, a small girl approached me from out of nowhere, shoving a tiny piece of paper into my hand. Then she ran away. On that paper she had scribbled her name: Adline Verne. It took me some time to understand how powerful it was that she had no concrete expectations and had asked nothing of me. She merely wanted me to know, for future reference, that she existed. Because she opened her hand to extend to me this information, I feel obligated by journalistic responsibility to report it. In Haiti, there are millions of voiceless, nameless people like Adline. Maybe now their voices will be heard.”
The Haiti that haunts cannot be the Haiti of the living dead nor can it be the Haiti of rubble. It must be the Haiti of the living, including the living who have died. It could begin with a song sung by a woman conjuring the woman who was her mother singing that song to the girl she once was, a mother’s song that then forms a chorus with another song, a song sung by a woman emerging from the wreckage, refusing to become one with the wreckage, refusing to become rubble, rising and traveling and reaching, among others, us.