I Pledge Allegiance
by Rick Perera, CARE Emergency Media Officer in Haiti
Monday, January 25, 2010
You can handle a lot if you keep busy, but watch out when you get a chance to stop and think. On a long drive last night I had a talk with an exhausted CARE driver, and felt for a moment what it must be like to be Haitian.
He spoke with wounded affection for his country, so beautiful and so tragic. "We have a sweet climate. We have smart, hardworking people. We could be every bit as successful as America or France." The man punctuated his sentences with the phrases "Avant la Catastrophe" and "AprÃ¨s la Catastrophe" – Before the Catastrophe, After the Catastrophe. One can almost imagine a new calendar taking root here: B.C. and A.C.
It reminded me of my first visit back to the U.S. from Germany, where I was living, in November 2001. At any restaurant in New York you could clearly hear "Nine-eleven, nine-eleven, nine-eleven" emerging from the regular rumble.
I remember how I felt on that horrible day, when I saw the Twin Towers collapse live on my computer screen as I sat, powerless, at my desk in Berlin. I walked to the U.S. Embassy, a few blocks away. Germans were lined up for blocks to lay flowers at the end of the sandbag-blocked street. Most of my friends sent me text messages. "Dear America, you were there for us in our hour of need – now we”re there for you," wrote Berliners.
I saw an American flag, and I broke down.
Now, when I ride by the ruins of the graceful Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince – not so different from the White House – my heart breaks again. When I hear the passionate love songs to Haiti and Port-au-Prince playing on the radio, I feel the wounded patriotism of this lovely people. When I see the collapsed police stations with the beautiful Haitian flag at half-staff, tears come to my eyes again.
Haitian soldiers remove the flag laying on top of the destroyed National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince. Photo: 2010 Evelyn Hockstein/CARE