I first met Maya Gurung last year, a few days after a massive earthquake struck Nepal. Maya was recovering from the amputation of her left leg at a Kathmandu hospital.
I wrote a story about her because I wondered how a little girl would fare in Kashi Gaon, the remote and rugged village in Gorkha District, where she lived. It would be hard for her without the use of a leg; her future seemed bleak.
Then a second quake hit Nepal on May 12. And Maya’s life trajectory changed again.
Ahead of the first anniversary of the quake, I returned to Nepal for CNN to find out how Maya was doing. I believe hers is a story of something good happening from something very bad.
I spoke with my friend Jean Mariot Cleophat by phone today. It has been five years since I first met him.
He was my guide for much of my reporting journey through Haiti after the massive 2010 earthquake that left Haitians is utter despair. They called in “La catastrophe.”
Reporters from around the world rushed to Haiti then, hungry to tell the story of the disaster. Ordinary people felt moved to make donations, by cell phone even. The world pledged billions of dollars.
Everyone said: Haiti will rise from its ashes and finally succeed in its long struggle to overcome poverty.
Everyone said: We will not forget Haiti.
But we did forget Haiti, by and large.
It is the fifth anniversary of the earthquake and the world’s focus is not on Haiti today.
The earth shook for a mere 60 seconds that Tuesday and 220,000 people died.
Millions were left homeless, desperately seeking shelter in camps that grew to become huge tent cities.
In their vulnerable state, Haitians braved killer hurricanes and a cholera outbreak.
There are places in Port-au-Prince now that show no hints of the catastrophe.
The palace has been fixed up and shiny new buildings built. There are new roads, new houses. The markets are do brisk business. But, said Mariot, they belie the truth about Haiti. They belie the plight of ordinary people.
I asked Mariot how his life has been.
“I feel without hope,” he told me.
Mariot is not yet 30. He is educated and speaks English fairly well. Since the last time I saw him in early 2011,he has gotten married and now has a four-year-old daughter.
He’s worked numerous jobs in international companies. He got himself OSHA certified and was working for a construction firm but when the World Bank contract ran out, so did his job. He’s moved to the countryside because it’s cheaper there than Port-au-Prince. I asked him what he was dong for money.
He said he finds temporary jobs here and there; makes $300-400 a pop. It pays for food. But it’s hardly enough.
“There are no jobs here,” he said. “What happened to all the promises of jobs for Haitians?”
That got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend whose father used to work for a major cruise company. He told me how he had been to Haiti as a boy when tourists flocked to its turquoise waters and white sand beaches. I know there had been efforts to restart tourism in Haiti, a notion that irks those who see it as exploitative. But I wondered how much Haiti might profit from a booming tourism trade.
If we can talk about Cuba opening up to Americans who want to sun themselves in the tropics, then why not Haiti?
I don’t know what happened to all the people I met in Haiti. How did they recover? Were they able to regain a semblance of normalcy?
I think of them this week and pay tribute to their fortitude. And resilience.
Before he hung up, Mariot told me he lives by faith. Like all Haitians, he said, he lives by the grace of God.
A year ago, I wrote a blog that began like this: “My heart breaks.”
I had just arrived in Haiti after the earthquake and the scale of suffering was shocking.
A year later, my heart is still breaking.
In Port-au-Prince, so many lives are unchanged. Survival was difficult in this nation before the quake. Now it is that much more so.
I met a man named Carlos Jean Charles, who spoke English well and took me around the tent city at Place Toussaint, across from the National Palace. He had a life once as a software engineer, as a husband, as a father. But after a year of homelessness and despair, the will to live was fading.
I wrote about him in an anniversary piece for CNN. Here is an excerpt:
Charles shakes his head, in disbelief that he lives in this reality.
Misery, he says, adds to misery. “It makes people fight,” he says, showing a scar on his face. “Someone tried to kill me for my phone.”
The government, he says, doesn’t care about people like him. “I know Haitian politics. They like it when we are living like this.”
More than a million Haitians displaced from their homes by the earthquake are still eking out lives in tent cities once thought to be strictly temporary.
Charles puts a few drops of chlorine bleach into the water supply at his shack. Now there is another worry: cholera.
He fears that the day when he can leave this place is still far in the future. He hopes that when it comes, he will be able to remember how to live like a human being.
Until then, he walks — from Place Toussaint, uphill to distant neighborhoods like Petionville. He is a man without destination. He walks to forget.
I first met Falone Maxi when she was lying on a mattress on the dirt. A sheet was her roof. But she liked it that way. Healing from her wounds suffered in Haiti’s massive earthquake, Falone did not want to be within concrete walls. What if there was another “catastrophe?” she said to me.
She was only 23. Quiet. Shy. Yet I admired her strength, her courage to face recuperation in, of all places, Haiti, where her family has little and life offers her even less.
I kept in touch with her over the months, even took her back to stand in front of the rubble of her university. I did not know if I was doing the right thing. What if all her nightmares returned?
She longed to see Mica Joseph, the classmate she had been trapped with for six long days under the rubble. Falone told me she survived because of her faith in God. And because Mica has been there with her. On my last trip to Haiti, earlier this month, I took Falone to see Mica.
I don’t cry often when I am on assignment, but when the two women, closer now than sisters, met, I found myself reaching for a tissue.
In January and February, he was hired by CNN to drive us around. On my latest trip, he drove me around and translated for me. Mariot’s English, all self-taught, is very good.
Stuck in Port-au-Prince traffic, Mariot and I enjoyed interesting conversation.
He gave me a book this time: “Like the Dew that Waters the Grass.” It’s a collection of words from Haitian women — about gender violence, political turmoil, Aristide, jobs, lives and most of all, perseverance and courage.
Mariot signed the book to me: “Don’t try to be a copy of somebody else.”
Even more precious is that he rescued the book from the rubble of his quake-destroyed home.
I stood in the balcony of the Plaza hotel — the exact spot from which Anderson Cooper broadcasted his show in January — and looked beyond. At the Champs de Mars, the city’s central plaza that is now home to thousands of people left without anywhere to go after the massive January 12 earthquake.
I thought about what the rain must feel like under a flimsy tent or plastic tarp, water seeping in from every direction. I watched as people tried to close shut the entrances, some of them just thin cotton sheets or blankets. Suddenly, the constant noise of the street came to a halt, replaced by the thud of monstrous drops falling hard from the sky. And the laughter of gleeful children cooling off after another scorching day.
The water started building along the roadside and I knew that in many of the camps, dirt had turned to mud. I was at the Petionville Golf Club earlier in the day, where resident Vital Junior had told me how treacherous the place becomes when it rains. About 50,000 people are living on a hilly nine-hole golf course at the once-swanky club for the elite. From its perch, the club affords a beautiful view of the city on a clear day. So many of Haiti’s elite must have sipped cocktails in the clubhouse and looked down on those below.
Now, the view was marred by human misery.
From the Plaza balcony, I ran back to my room, wet from the few short steps through the hotel’s open-air courtyard. What must it feel like to have no shelter from the elements.
I listened to the rain; reminded me of the monsoons in India. I knew more was on the way for Haiti — May starts the rainy season here.
And people who have already suffered too much will suffer some more.
Before January, it was a city known to me only through books and a few films and of course, the news – always bad news. But CNN sent me to Haiti to report on the aftermath of the earthquake. And my eyes were opened to a whole new world.
I saw Haiti for the first time after devastation and suffering of epic proportions. I regretted that I had not seen it before.
But before in what? “Normal times?” What were normal times for Haiti? This country has been through more turmoil and pain than any other nearby.
In news stories, you see phrases like “the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere.” You see on CNN that Haiti’s comeback will be that much more difficult because of lack of government, lack of system, lack of everything.
When I was there in January and February, I worked closely with a CNN producer, Edvige Jean-Francois. She taught me to see Haiti the way it ought to be seen – outside the American lens. She showed me the richness of culture, the wealth of Haiti. Not in monetary terms, but in other ways that matter.
Now, almost four months later, I am back.
I still see uncleared rubble and buildings teetering on the verge of collapse. But the smell of death has gone. There is no longer that dazed look on people’s faces – the look you have after you have lost everything, when you haven’t yet distilled the horror that has befallen your homeland.
On the way from the airport, I saw school children wearing bright checkered uniforms. I knew then that Haiti was progressing. Slowly, perhaps. But moving forward.