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A SPECIAL SECTION:  Haiti, Since the January 12, 2010 Earthquake
Posted January 4, 2011
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A Year Later, Haiti Struggles Back


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In 2010, Daphne Joseph, a slim, shy teenager, took a pounding from life.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Fabienne Jean, a dancer who lost                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             a leg in the 2010 quake in Haiti,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  now has a prosthetic limb. Dance                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         makes up part of her exercise routine.

She watched with horror as her mother’s mangled body was carted off in a wheelbarrow after the Jan. 12 earthquake. She fell in with a ragtag group of orphans taken under the wing of a well-meaning but ill-equipped community group. She left them unwillingly when a self-proclaimed relative took her away to use her as a servant.

And then last fall, not long before her 15th birthday, Daphne found herself in an actual home, reunited with the other orphans stranded after the disaster they all call “goudou-goudou” for the terrible sound of the ground shaking. She wore a party dress; she blew out candles; she smiled.

“I believe that Daphne was a fragile, sensitive girl even before ‘goudou-goudou,’ ” said Pierre Joseph, a psychologist who counsels her. “After, she was like a glass that got filled to the brim and then overflowed. You could say she is still in shock. But she is finding her equilibrium.”

After a year of almost unfathomable hardship in Haiti, there is little reason to be hopeful now.

More than a million displaced people still live under tents and tarpaulins. Reconstruction, of the build-back-better kind envisioned last March, has barely begun. Officials’ sole point of pride six months after the earthquake — that disease and violence had been averted — vanished with the outbreak of cholera and political unrest over a disputed presidential election.

And indeed, for some, misery is a constant. Rose, a young woman abducted, repeatedly raped and torturously stashed in earthquake ruins last June, was forced to flee to the countryside after her kidnappers made a second attempt. Marie Claude Pierre, whose son was whisked abroad in an orphan airlift, was sad even before the earthquake. She is sadder now.

Yet despite this gloomy backdrop, many Haitians, like Daphne, have started to find some equilibrium — to heal, to rebuild or simply to readjust their sights. A dancer whose leg was amputated is walking on a new limb. A pastor whose church was devastated is reveling in a congregation doubled in size. A businessman, stubbornly loyal to Haiti, is opening an earthquake-proof factory where his old one collapsed.

Here, haunting and hopeful, are some of their stories.

Fabienne Jean

Fabienne Jean, the dancer who lost a leg in the earthquake, smiled so radiantly and expressed such courage that everybody who met or read about her wanted to help. Doctors, prosthetists, choreographers, dancers with disabilities, charitable groups — they all aspired to adopt Ms. Jean.

By early spring, Ms. Jean was struggling with conflicting offers: to be fitted here for a prosthetic limb by a New Hampshire nonprofit group or to fly to New York, where Mount Sinai Medical Center would provide corrective surgery, rehabilitation and a stay of months in the city. The foreigners’ attention was overwhelming.

After a period of agonizing indecision, Ms. Jean chose to stay in Haiti, where she felt at home. The New Yorkers were proposing a second operation to strengthen her stump. That, Ms. Jean said, was a deal-breaker. “I didn’t want another operation,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose any more of my leg.”

Recently, standing proudly on two feet, Ms. Jean led the way into her family home. Always fashion-conscious, she was wearing chunky jewelry, a spaghetti-strap tunic top and slim jeans. Her new limb, ending in a stockinged foot encased in a delicate slingback flat, peeked out from beneath the cuff. Using a cane, she gracefully, but with a slight limp, navigated the house’s challenging terrain — a sloped, rutted entryway and unfinished concrete stairs without banisters.

Ms. Jean had moved back in with her extended family after breaking up with her longtime boyfriend, also a dancer, for “reasons of the heart, nothing to do with the leg,” she said. About a week ago, she proudly settled into a rental apartment of her own, which she shares with her mother and her young daughter (a niece whom she had adopted before the earthquake).

Several times a week, Ms. Jean does pliés and arabesques as part of an exercise routine overseen by a high school senior trained as a physical therapy assistant by the New Hampshire group. That group, the Nebco Foundation, which built and fitted her limb, will be fine-tuning the socket next month and testing out feet that will allow her to dance again.

Ms. Jean looks forward to that, she said, but she added: “Realistically, there is no way I’ll be a professional performer again. So I will need another way to make a living.” She envisions a fashion boutique or a dance school.

Ms. Jean said that she did not want to be a drain on her family, which had always expected her, the oldest child and the most talented, to support them. Her father, she said, was scared after the earthquake that she would end up “in a corner, like a handicapped person.” But that is not going to happen, she said.

Wehaitians.com, the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
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