Sun | Aug 19, 2018

Painful memories resurface - Family that survived the devastating earthquake worried for their people following another massive natural disaster six years later

Published:Sunday | October 16, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
St Dic Compere and Marie Solette Rameau Compere, Haitian couple living in Jamaica.
St Dic Compere and Marie Solette Rameau Compere, Haitian couple living in Jamaica.
Damaged houses in southwestern Haiti, following Hurricane Matthew.

The massive damage unleashed on Haiti by Hurricane Matthew has conjured painful memories for Marie Solette Rameau Compere, who left the country in 2010 with her three children after a devastating earthquake destroyed everything they owned.

Although she has since made Jamaica her home, Marie and her husband have been uneasy ever since Matthew wreaked havoc in Haiti, as they contemplate the struggles being experienced by those in the country of their birth.

She said she has been crying and praying for Haiti ever since the fierce Category Four hurricane made landfall, and more so as the extent of the damage becomes obvious through media reports. An estimated 1,000 Haitians have died and much more have lost their homes, crops and livestock. Thousands are now living in shelters.

"When mi see that, mi cry, mi cry," lamented Marie, who is not fluent in English.

"I love my country."

She recalled holding on to her neighbour's hand and praying earnestly as the earthquake battered their houses in 2010. As soon as the tremors calmed, she ran to her children's school, only to encounter more graphic scenes of destruction. Fortunately, her children were not hurt.




"That earthquake was bad bad for Haitians, nuff people dead. One family of 11 and 10 people, all of them dead," Marie shared with The Sunday Gleaner.

Her husband, St Dic Compere, who was in Jamaica at the time working as a tailor so he could provide for his family back home, said for seven days he tried unsuccessfully to reach them.

"When I did not hear from them, I tell you, I'm walking looking like it's the breeze was carrying me. I am walking and I am talking to myself looking like a madman," he said.

Compere reached out to everyone he thought could assist him to get in contact with his family in Haiti, including officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government officials. Eventually, his boss suggested he speak to a local Syrian family, who are originally from Haiti, to see if they could assist. Based on their efforts, he was finally able to make contact.

A few days later, with the help of the Jamaican Government, arrangements were made for the Jamaica Defence Force to take his wife and children to the island.

Compere, who has been living in Jamaica since 1999 and became a citizen in 2014, has fortunately been spared the agony of worrying about his immediate family once again with another disaster now striking their country, but both he and his wife are worried about "their people" in the after-effects of Hurricane Matthew.

Marie said she is especially concerned about her father, who is still living in Les Cayes, located in southern Haiti. Although she has been assured that he is okay, emergency relief workers have predicted a long journey to recovery for Haiti from Hurricane Matthew, which was still in the process of rebuilding after the 2010 earthquake. The recovery efforts have been compounded even further by a cholera outbreak.

"I miss my country, because my family is over there. My father is 90 years old. When I came to Jamaica in 2010, my father cried, he cried. Him miss me, and I miss him, too. I want to see my father, but I can't because the ticket is too expensive and I don't have money. I am not working, is my husband alone working," said Marie.




Unlike his wife and his now three adult children, Compere had been taught English formally in Haiti, which made it easier for him to secure a job locally. He had initially come to Jamaica as part of a missionary group, but decided to stay and secure a work permit so he could seek employment and acquaint himself with the culture.

"The first trip, when we went to Mandeville on Caledonia Avenue (Manchester), there is a plaza nearby and I heard, you know, some people talking to each other, but it was pure Patois, so I couldn't understand nothing about what they were saying," he said.

"But if somebody talk good English, I can pick up something."

Compere started out working as a tailor at a business place in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, a week after coming to Jamaica, but he now operates his own business, where he makes just enough to pay the bills. He has not been back to Haiti since 2003 for the same reason his wife has not gone back - it is just too expensive.

For now, they try to comfort themselves with the knowledge that they have not lost any family member in the destruction of Hurricane Matthew, but their hearts still weep for their country and their people, and the help they so desperately need.