by Jesse Muhammad
I have to be honest, it's very difficult for me look at images from Haiti online or on television. Too much to bear. But nothing compares to being on the grounds and seeing it with your own eyes.
When I got a call from National NBUF Chairman Kofi Taharka that Haiti earthquake survivor Sister Mawiyah Duperval (Valerie Michaud) wanted to sit down with me one-on-one, I had to brace myself. I knew this was going to be a painful interview.
I was right.
On the same day (January 19) that the city and the country were observing the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I headed over to the local NBUF headquarters on Southmore Street in 3rd Ward.
See, Sister Mawiyah was in Haiti when the earthquake hit on January 12. She has been doing missionary work there for the last 23 years and made it her home for the last five years. The name of her organization is Haitian American Ministries. Bro. Kofi had been notifying us that she was missing during the earthquake and was not responding. But around 2:00am on the morning of January 14, he received a text message from her that confirmed she was alive in the midst of thousands being found dead.
She arrived back to Houston on Sunday, January 18 with only the clothes on her back. It was a ray of hope.
When I arrived for the interview Bro. Kofi escorted me upstairs where Sis. Mawiyah waited. Within an hour she was about to hold a press conference with the local press but she desired to give me the full detailed account first.
I was honored.
I walked into the wooden floored room. She had her head down and with her arms folded in her lap. She wanted to stand to hug me but I motioned to her to stay seated. I embraced her for several minutes although it seemed longer. She had a little heater at her feet for warmth.
Then it happened. Her teary eyes met mine. I saw the trauma. This woman was broken, yet strong.
I pressed record on my digital device and she started telling me what happened from start to finish. Before talking about her experience she declared: "I have work to do, that's why I believe God blessed me to make it through this. And once I get my mind back together Brother Jesse, I am going to go back to help our people just like I have done the last 20 years."
That's love. That's service.
This is coming from a woman who had just slept outside for four days with a concrete block for a pillow; who walked for miles navigating through Haiti streets littered with dead bodies; who just lost her home there; who saw with her own eyes the headmaster of a school trapped under the rubble.....the list goes on. But she wants to help her Haitian brothers and sisters.
"Inside the cyber cafe, everything was fine. But once we stepped outside, it was chaos," said Sis. Mawiyah. "Concrete buildings had fallen. There was rubble all over. Where can you run in the middle of an earthquake? So everyone ended up standing in the middle of the street."
"And even as I'm sitting here talking to you, it seems so surreal. When it first happened I was in shock like everyone else. But the tremors continued. Even until the day I left on Saturday, tremors were still occurring," she said in a slurred tone.
She described an unforgettable image of a woman running down a mountain covered in blood and dust and yelling that her home had collapsed and her baby girl was still trapped. "That was within five minutes of the earthquake," said Sis. Mawiyah.
With tears continuing to fall from her eyes, she shared more.
"There was one part of Haiti where the ground actually opened up. There were houses that were swallowed up along with their occupants. So that's why I say, they will never be able to accurately say how many people perished in this earthquake. Because there are people underground," she said.
"Even Hotel Montana pancaked with some 200 people inside of it. I had several friends who worked there but I don't know if they survived."
Our interview was interrupted by Bro. Kofi, but for good reason. Awaiting downstairs were family and friends who had yet to hold her face since she made it back on U.S. soil. I offered to conclude but she instead requested that they all come upstairs as we finished the interview. She wanted to get it out to me.
The last thing she said to me was, “I have work to do but I am not going to lie to you Brother Jesse. I am still very traumatized from seeing that many dead bodies."
We finished the interview.
I witnessed people flooding into the small room to embrace her with shouting, tears, hugs, and words of encouragement. What a moment.
It was now time for the press conference. We held hands in a prayer circle before Sis. Mawiyah descended downstairs to appear before the waiting media and the praying community.
More to come in the next few days on this blog and an upcoming edition of The Final Call Newspaper.
Related Haiti articles & resources:
Farrakhan calls for National Mobilization for Haiti
Haitian-Americans pray, worry about country
Recommendations on Rebuilding Haiti by Dr. Ron Daniels