Haiti earthquake diary: 'Your family is alive!'

To my surprise and delight, my earlier report of the demise of an entire Haitian family is 'greatly exaggerated.'

Ana-Bianca Marin/Reuters
A Brazilian UN soldier directs people waiting in line to receive food and water in Port-au-Prince January 24. US soldiers and Brazilian UN troops handed out food and water in one of Haiti's largest slums on Sunday amid criticism that aid was not getting to earthquake victims fast enough.

Sunday, Jan. 17

A dear friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edwidge Danticat, has sent me a text message from the States.

Her first cousin, Rev. Maxo Danticat, has not been heard of since the quake. But Edwidge’s text says that that Maxo’s baby is alive!

I’m speechless. And so happy. She says this gives her hope that maybe someone else in her family is alive. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

During one of my first days here, I’d visited the ruins of the family's home in Port-au-Prince's Bel Aire neighborhood and neighbors had told me the family was all dead. Calling Edwidge then with the tragic news was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe word of the family's death was greatly exaggerated.

I call and call for more information but can’t get through. Cellphones still don't work. There’s a Digicel, Comcel, and Voila vacuum.

So I head to Edwidge's ruined house in Bel Aire to see if I can find any information for her about the baby.

There are people gathered outside her home and they say that not only is the baby alive, but Maxo’s wife, Fabiola, and several of her kids are alive, too; only Maxo has died. I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it until I see them.

Maxo's wife has come every day to search the rubble for his body, a neighbor says.

A guy says he’ll show me where I can find the family. He grabs my hand and I run with him through the alley, emerge on a parallel street, climb up a pile of rubble, and there is Maxo’s wife, Fabiola, and several other family members sitting on chairs - as calm and alive as the sky is clear.

How is this possible? This country is full of surprises. Most of them I don’t like, but occasionally there’s a curveball that makes me happy. This is one of them.

I bend down to talk to her. She’s a small, frail-looking woman, who doesn’t quite seem to know what to make of the whole thing. She doesn’t seem to grasp how wonderful this news is to me.

She speaks in a quiet, reserved way. Was she always like this or is this the result of the quake? She says she was trapped until Thursday. Perhaps it was just hours after I passed by, and got the false report that everyone had died. If only I’d known, I wouldn’t have put Edwidge through such pain.

I call Edwidge, but no one answers. I call Fedo, her husband, and when he answers I hand the phone to Fabiola. They don’t talk long, but this time I like to think that Fedo is smiling, and that soon Edwidge will be smiling, too.

--- For stories, blogs, and updates on Haiti after the earthquake, go to the Monitor's Haiti topic page.

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