Depi nan ginen, neg rayi neg. (Creole for, “Since Guinea, blacks hate blacks.”)
This is a slogan that Haitians often utter to show how divided we are, how selfish we are toward each other.
I’ve always known otherwise.
In my younger years, I debated my position with passion and vigor. I’m more tolerant now. When I went on vacation in Pont Benoit as a young girl, I saw how women rushed to help other women get the overfilled basket from one’s head to the ground.
I saw men, four of them, taking turns carrying a sick person from the village to the hospital on a makeshift bed over their head for miles.
More often than not, at nightfall, I would hear them coming back…dragging their swollen feet. After walking, at times sprinting, to reach their destination for an entire day, they would come back with a dead body.
I can still hear the cries of the women. The baritone voices of the men, singing in the blackness of the night. There was no electricity in Pont Benoit. Their voices were carried away by the silent wind to the top of the cloudy mountains. The stillness of the night after their passage scared me. The echo of their distancing voices rang in my ears all night long.
When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida with a vengeance in 1992, I was a member of a group called “Women, We Will Rebuild.” I was also part of two emergency teams.
Then again, I witnessed the generosity and bon ke (good heart) of strangers. I saw first responders, braving complete destruction to bring a gallon of water, food, medication, anything to relieve the pain and suffering of others. Countless miracle stories were reported in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also. Neg pa rayi neg! (Black men do not hate other black men).
After a terrible earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 devastated Haiti last week, thereby creating the worst crisis there in 200 years, our brothers and sisters again demystified the “neg rayi neg” saying. As soon as they could steady their legs, Haitians dove into relief mode, digging under concrete with their bare hands. They used their nails as claws. The images on CNN, ABC and most of the major networks showed a consistent pattern: Regular men, women and children, most often complete strangers, were doing their best to save lives. They often put themselves at risk, crawling and squeezing into airless crevices to pull out a baby, a mother, a student, a father.
While most relief efforts were concentrated in Port-au-Prince (some people in the country complained that they were mainly in places where U.S. citizens could be found), Jacmel, Leogane, Grand Goave, Petit Goave were experiencing their own nightmares. No one was there to help. No camera crews, no witnesses. Stranded and buried under heavy slabs of concrete, victims frantically sent text messages to family members in the U.S. They gave specific instructions about where they were buried. Some were saved. Most were not.
We revived the Haiti Relief Task Force. We used donated scanners to scan pictures of relatives still missing in Haiti. The stories of our vanyan (courageous) brothers and sisters empower us, motivate us, strengthen us.
I refuse to dignify Rush Limbaugh’s remarks that “Haitians made a pact with Satan” with an answer. One only needs to look at the images coming out of Haiti to know.
In the face of unbelievable suffering, Haitians remain incredibly positive and strong. With unwavering faith, they continue to move on because they know that pausing to ask, “Why me?” means death. This tragedy of astronomic proportions truly shows that Ayisyen se rozo,yo pliye, men yo pa kase (Haitians are resilient, they will bend but they will not break).
In the spirit of such indomitable courage, let us find it in ourselves to give. Like Little Jonah, Dr. Judy Schaechter’s 9-year-old son did, break your piggy bank tonight, and give a donation. Every little bit helps.
Donations can be sent to the “Haiti Relief Fund,” c/o Eustache Fleurant, Bank of America, 9499 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Miami , Florida 33138. You can also send your financial support to the Red Cross, The United Way, World Vision and Food For the Poor.
Mesi Anpil! (Many Thanks!)
Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.