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Haiti: Teens’ perspectives on the earthquake

Although the coverage of the aftermath of the 7.3 earthquake which has left Haiti's capital partly devastated, has been massive, one group of Haitian bloggers has been overlooked – teenagers. Here is a look at what young people have to say about this catastrophe, which foreshadows a new era in their lives.

You might not wanna know what happened to me. You might only be interested to what happened to you aunt or your grandpa that are in haiti and that you can’t reach by phone. I can’t blame you for that, though you can’t blame me for wanting to write all this, since there’s no one else but my blog that can sit and listen to it.

These are the first words of female blogger Krizkadiak in her January 15th post entitled “From 16 year old eyes” and they reveal her need to speak, to be heard and to have her pain acknowledged. This echoes a post by Frantz Duval [Fr] published by Espas Ayisien, entitled “On oublie que les enfants aussi ont mal” (We are oblivious that children suffer too), in which testimonies of Haitian teenagers are compiled.

Both posts inform us about the first signs of the massive earthquake. In the words of Krizkadiak:

We felt the ground shaking, but we didn’t pay attention, because none of us had experienced that before, so we continued walking. but then it started shaking a lot more and we could hear the PE teacher screaming for us to lay on the ground.

This experience is echoed by 15 year-old Nathalie quoted in Espas Ayisien‘s post [Fr]:

Nous étions en cours de danse chez Joëlle Donatien Belot, dans la salle du bas quand nous avons ressentis une forte vibration. Personne ne s'en est inquiété. [...] Le temps pour nous de sortir, il y a une nouvelle secousse.

We were at a dance class at Joëlle Donatien Belot's in the room downstairs, when we felt a strong vibration. But no one got worried. [...] We had hardly had enough time to rush out, when there was another shake.

Both girls’ testimonies highlight the lack of preparedness for an earthquake of this magnitude, but they also share a common theme, which is the need to connect with family – especially their fathers. Krizkadiak says:

Then everyone got up and ran to go get their phones and try to call their parents… I tried to call my dad; the only thing i could hear was the « beep beep » it does when it’s busy. and disconnected.. i got extremely worried about him. worried.

While Nathalie adds [Fr]:

J'ai arrêté d'avoir peur quand mon père est venu me chercher.

I stopped being afraid when my father came to pick me up.

Words of wisdom are shared by these teenagers who acknowledge that they have been lucky. Here is Nathalie's statement [Fr]:

Aujourd'hui, quand je pense à tout cela, à mon école, l’ Institution du Sacré-Coeur qui s'est effondrée, je me dis que nous avons eu de la chance.

Now when I think about all this, about my school, Institution du Sacré-Coeur which collapsed, I think to myself that we have been lucky.

In the same post, after witnessing scenes of horror on her way back home, she continues:

I saw my school fall in front of me.

I saw people running covered in dust, hearing that their houses fell… sometimes with people in them.

I saw a refugee camp, as they are on tv… people praying, people alive but not really…

I saw a baby half dead, covered in bandaids…

I saw almost 150 people in three little tents… and thousands on the ground outside.

I saw a friend at the cemetery burying his little cousin.

I saw the oldest and prettiest houses of jacmel reduced to nothing.

I saw pickup truck filled with corpses…

I saw my teacher walking to the cemetery behind the car where his wife’s dead body was…

I saw kids from my school, people i KNOW, at the refugee camp….

Krizkadiak concludes:

When we got back to the beach, my neighbor’s hotel had huge crack all over it, the sea was still not at it’s place, my house didnt have much damage, there were broken bottles and glasses on the floor, but nothing very important…

However, these testimonies cannot hide the fact that other teenagers have also been affected by the earthquake. In Espas Ayisien‘s post, we learn about 16 year-old Fanorah who did not experience the tremors herself, but saw her life turning into a nightmare on the following day [Fr]:

[...] je ne comprenais rien à cette affaire de tremblement de terre car Pétion-Ville et le haut de Delmas ne sont pas très affectés. Tout au plus, cela avait provoqué un grand embouteillage et gâché ma soirée, raconte-t-elle.

L'horreur, elle ne la découvre que 24 heures plus tard, quand le décompte des morts commence. Sa marraine, et trois de ses amies sont mortes et aussi plein de gens qu'elle connaisse. « Je ne comprends pas, je ne comprends toujours pas ce qui s'est passé », répond-t-elle à chaque fois qu'on lui pose une question sur le tremblement de terre du 12 janvier.

[...] I couldn't understand anything about this earthquake since Pétion-Ville and the top of Delmas had not been significantly hit. It was at the most, the cause for huge traffic jam and a spoilt evening, she said.

She only discovered the horror of the situation, the next day, when the casualty toll begins. Her godmother, three of her friends and many people she knew, died. “I don't understand it, I still don't understand what happened” is her answer every time she is asked a question concerning Jan. 12th earthquake.

In her following post entitled “it’s not a dream… face it: it’s real“, Krizkadiak explains how this horrible event has altered their perspective about everyday teenaged concerns, which now seem so superficial:

… it’s good cause then you realize, none of all these stupidities everyone here wants, really mattered. partying never mattered, fancy clothes, making a big deal about how your hair is done, huge & expensive armored cars, summers at the beach in Miami, having a beautiful body, nice hair… you realize all this was BULLSHIT; that all this was going nowhere, a big nasty pile of POINTLESS time-wasting crap! Now you have to open up your eyes and face reality with all it’s details and find a way to compress years of growing up into these 35 seconds, that changed everything

She also talks about cherishing family and the gift of being alive:

You can’t think the same way you used to, you’re not allowed to have the same priorities as you did before… Now you know what really counts in life… loving your brother more than anything, having the people you care about close to you… or simply being alive, being able to eat, sleep,… nothing else.

These awareness and sensiblity make new fears and doubts even more tangible for a 16 year-old:

to have doubts on how tomorrow’s gonna be, to feel the ground shaking at anytime (the shaking even woke you up once.), to hear about dead people everyday,… banks that are closed, schools also… This is driving you crazy right?! You’re becoming paranoïd, you can’t go in the dark alone, you cry for no reasons.
[...]
The more time passes, the more i have to deal with the fact that this reality won’t go away… yup. it’s not a dream

Comments on Krizkadiak's posts show the great impact her testimonies have had on readers outside of Haiti, in countries like Italy, Ghana and the Caribbean, to name a few. Here are some of the most telling:

34 GreyOne
janvier 18, 2010 à 3:45
Your words are important. You are a voice for many who cannot speak at present.
The things you have seen and endured are more than most will ever have to know.
Let it give you strength , let your strength give comfort and voice to your fellow citizens.
Thank you for helping us to understand what has happened, as if it were our sister telling us about it.

37 Michele (Italy)
janvier 18, 2010 à 6:26
You go on this way.
You Speak. You Tell. You Make the History.
You Reconstruct. You Keep on living.
Ciao Yael

44 Kate
janvier 22, 2010 à 7:10
Your words say it all so much more eloquently than all the journalists in all the world have tried for over a week to say it.

Bless you and your family, Yael. My prayers are with you and with Haiti.

If you want to know more about the Haitian people's day-to-day reality through 16 year-old eyes, you can also follow blogger Krizkadiak on Twitter @yatalley.

Global Voices’ Special Coverage Page on the earthquake in Haiti is here.

  • Chuck Kidwell

    My wife and I live in Grass Valley California. Should there be teens that can travel out of Haiti, we would be honored to host them and get them back into school here in California.

    • Catherine Knott

      Our small town in Alaska is ready to host 10 to 20 Haitian teenagers for temporary relief, as many months as visas will allow. We have families ready to host, the schools are very supportive, we have French speakers, French-speaking counselors and basic medical available, and can arrange for travel from Miami. Some of us are returned Peace Corps volunteers, and are willing to work with teenagers to train in healthcare, construction, and any other skills that will help in reconstruction of Haiti. Please contact us at sansanding@hotmail.com, with Haiti in subject line.

      • Manoj Panta

        Hi Catherine!

        I would like to give you many many thanks for your interest in supporting the haitian teens who have really the dark future.. I am from Nepal, i can just wish u all the best for your generous work, nothing more than this. Thank you.

        Manoj

  • http://medeamaterial.blogspot.com Juliana Rincón Parra

    Thanks for making these voices audible and visible. It is a terrible tragedy, and after the mass media attention wanes, there will still be help needed while life gets back to a simulacrum of normality: a home, meals on time, school, activities, etc.

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  • caleb

    So many voices aren’t being heard. Read this from the CS Monitor’s ‘Haiti Earthquake Diary’:

    “The big name anchors are, for the most part, either gone or slated to leave by Sunday. Our ABC nightly news story is cut from the schedule, fighting for time with John Edwards. Then it’s back on the schedule, but competes with a dog being rescued from a flood. Huh? Not that I don’t like dogs, but it’s hard to feel empathy for man’s best friend when outside my door thousands of people are living in tents, their lives buried somewhere between, beneath, or below enormous chunks of concrete.”

    http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Haiti-Earthquake-Diary

  • mel

    when the earthquake happen i reaaly felt distabilized by the lost of my friend Beatrice even she wasn’t close to me but it really hurt.I give a shout out to all my friends out there still going strong

    je vous aime tous mes amies.soyez tous fort car la vie continue.

    mel

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