Mariot spoke English well, and often, on our long days out, we’d carry on conversations. About his life — before and after the earthquake. I quickly figured out that he was special.
His full name is Jean Mariot Cleophat. He was born in 1983 in Bainet, a town in southern Haiti. His father was killed in 2000 in a burglary; Mariot lived with his mother, a brother and two sisters in the Haitian capital.
Life was not easy before tragedy struck January 12. He never attended schools, he told me. When he was nine, his grandmother began teaching him to read and write. He is fluent in his native Kreyol. He learned French and said he wanted to perfect his English. One day, he said, he wanted to write a book in English, one that would make it on the New York Times bestseller list.
He told me he owned more than 2,000 books and once things had settled, he planned to dig under the rubble of his house to find them. It was the second time his family had lost their possessions. A hurricane wiped out their house in Gonaives in 2004. That’s what brought them to Port-au-Prince.
Mariot considered himself lucky to have landed a job, albeit temporary, with CNN. He liked acting as our guide, our translator. He met people he would have otherwise not met, saw places he had not seen before. In this photo of him, he is standing inside Gallerie Nader, one of the best known art galleries in Port-au-Prince.
He said he felt thankful to God that his family had survived the earthquake. He saw dead people in his dreams and when he was awake, he thought about the many friends he would never see again.
Still, he never gave up his will to succeed.
“It may be stormy now, but it can’t rain forever,” he wrote in an e-mail this week.
One day, as we drove back down to central Port-au-Prince on a winding hillside road, Mariot told me that reading was what sustained him through everything. He was upset that the library had collapsed and he could no longer check out books there. He liked history and philosophy. He read about Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin. He admired Mahatma Gandhi and asked me about my native India.
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” he said, quoting Gandhi.
“The past is behind you, learn from it,” Mariot continued. “The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here. Live it.”
“Do you know that quotation?” he asked.
I nodded my head, in awe that a Haitian man who had never gone to a single day of school could quote Gandhi this way. I don’t know that many Indians who could do the same.
Mariot dropped me at the Plaza Hotel and I knew he would be going back to his family, surviving in a makeshift tent nearby. I knew that he would arrive again the next morning, in a freshly laundered shirt and a big smile on his face.