Disaster knocks softly on one’s door before breaking it down. This is how Mischa Berlinski introduces us to the horrific earthquake in Haiti, 2010. Frightening sounds without source. The foundations of the elite and the impoverished at once blended in a swirl of nature’s chaos. Secret gardens exposed to everyone still standing…but only for the moment. The author spinning, dizzied, seeing horror in rapid flashes as if seated in a slideshow. Rushing in controlled panic (the author coining the term “reptilian optimism”) to his family at home, the young husband and father found his wife in mixed but joyful tears and his baby well and collected, calm. As if in Jericho, a modern day Joshua blew his trumpet, and the high walls of P-a-P came tumbling down – all of them. Though the situation was dire, as survivors gathered near the residence of the prime minister, the closeness emitted the contrary sounds of fragile gaiety in the moody air. Stoic men vanished from the scene as the colorful emotions of the women dominated the sights and sounds and scenes of loss.
Communication ranged from none to spotty. A cell phone might be found that connected but it might not have any prepaid minutes remaining. Between the mundane programming, foreign radio stations reported, over seemingly long intervals, the quake in Haiti, first the occurrence, upgrading the adjective later to massive, and finally, hopefully, to the penultimate adjective: catastrophic. This assessment being trumped by the declaration of a local priest – “fin des temps“. Waiting for international response, the masses swayed on this island earth between the jolts of aftershocks. Sounds lacking for this monumental tragedy included the absence of sirens coming to aid, the hissing of helicopters wishing to rescue. Sounds tracking the night were those of prayer. The darkness seemed to covet the mourning until dawn when the sun alerted those still murmuring on their knees that their struggle was to begin again and that each was exhausted.
Ruination dominated the hysterical hearsay, facts probably embedded. What was left standing? Curiosity out paced good sense to the hopeful skeptic. The author ventured out to gather his own evidence at his own peril. Sensed along his path to knowing, Mischa noticed that the odor of mass decomposition could not compete with that of massive human waste. Sight awed at the collapse of all man’s structures thus burying the individual demise of many men,women, and children. However, unavoidably, a mangled corpse struggled and emerged to be viewed. Eyes wide. Guts displayed. Face powdered with the offal of the aforementioned collapses. The green lawns of luxury hotels held the wounded in lawn chairs. Foreigners, who had made contact with their country of origin and whose country cared about that individual, might be rescued by helicopter. Elites reestablishing themselves atop the ruin as soon as conditions permitted.
With Mother Nature chortling in the background at the commencing nonsense, the blame game began to play out. Aristide, his enemies, the elites… The much maligned UN was there from the prior man-made disaster with its guns to contain perpetual chaos. Nature was there to impose her enduring order. Mr. Berlinski found his way to an impasse, within the impasse sat collapse, under the impasse lay Haiti’s destiny. Dying but not dead. Choking but still breathing. Hopeless but still praying.