Two Melrose residents and natives of Haiti are enduing the unthinkable this week as they wait to learn the fate of extended family members who may have survived the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the island nation on Tuesday, Jan. 12. For one, however, death has become a certainty.
Two Melrose residents and natives of Haiti are enduing the unthinkable this week as they wait to learn the fate of extended family members who may have survived the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the island nation on Jan. 12.
For one, however, death has become a certainty.
Nunotte Zama, an attorney who moved to Melrose with her 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son in 2000, said she was able to contact her half-sister two days after the earthquake and learned that she, Zama’s half-brother and many of her cousins were safe.
However, Zama’s first cousin, his wife and their six children died in the disaster.
“We spent Christmas in Haiti and we came back Jan. 1, my children and I,” Zama said. “It’s hard, hard, hard. What you see on TV is nowhere near the reality. Believe me — it’s so much worse. Our house there — the one my children played in — is gone.”
The initial news was better for Herbie Germain, 21, a 2006 Melrose High School graduate, who told the Free Press on Thursday, Jan. 14, that on Wednesday morning — one day after the earthquake — he was able to contact his mother, father, younger sister and grandfather who still live in and around Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
However, he is still waiting to hear about the well being of his “countless” uncles and cousins.
One uncle on my father’s side lives in Carrefour, like, the center of the earthquake,” Germain said. “I spoke to my father and asked if he had heard from him and he hasn’t yet.”
Germain’s immediate family lives a few miles outside the capital, he said, while his grandfather’s home in downtown Port-au-Prince was “completely destroyed” in the earthquake.
Like many Haitians living in the United States, Zama and Germain have not been able to regularly speak with family members in Haiti due to the earthquake’s destruction of the nation’s communication infrastructure.
AUDIO: Nunotte Zama, a Haitian living in Melrose, tells her story
Zama said her family is from L’Asile, Haiti, and that her sister was traveling from L’Asile to Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit.
“For three days it was nerve-wracking because we couldn’t hear from her,” she said. “On Thursday we heard from her. The telephone system is still not working. Sometimes we get through, but we’re not able to have regular communication. A lot of people you hear about from word of mouth — one person calls one person, that person calls others. That’s how we’re able to establish communication.”
Germain recalled frantically trying to reach his family throughout the night after the earthquake hit on Tuesday.
“I kept trying all night after the earthquake [to contact family],” he said. “I couldn’t get a hold of them all through the evening. Then around 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning I called and luckily I spoke to them … I spoke to them yesterday [Wednesday] again — yesterday afternoon around 2 p.m.”
A former diplomat for her home country while living in Washington, D.C., many years ago, Zama said she is still waiting to hear about friends who are in Haiti and that as time passes without any word, it’s difficult not to expect the worst.
“You don’t want to presume if you don’t hear from them that the person is dead, but it’s the assumption now. That’s the presumption,” she said. “I have many friends who I’m waiting to hear from, friends that worked for the United Nations. It’s tough. It’s really unimaginable. All our worries are there.”
Finding local support
Germain, who moved to Melrose from Haiti nine years ago to live with his aunt and uncle and attend school in the U.S., was at his aunt and uncle’s home last week in Melrose while on college winter break. He returned to Syracuse University on Monday, where he is a pre-med senior majoring in biochemistry.
“In terms of helping, I haven’t really been able to do anything since I’m going back to school on Monday,” he said last Thursday.
Zama, a practicing Catholic, said she found support through Our Lady of Grace Church in Chelsea, the sister church of St. Joseph Parish in L’Asile, and which has a Haiti Committee that undertakes outreach in Haiti.
‘You don’t want to presume if you don’t hear from them that the person is dead, but it’s the assumption now. That’s the presumption. I have many friends who I’m waiting to hear from, friends that worked for the United Nations. It’s tough. It’s really unimaginable. All our worries are there.’
— Nunotte Zama, a Haitian native who lives in Melrose
Rev. James Barry, Our Lady of Grace’s pastor, held a special Mass on Monday to bring together members of the Haitian community and Americans, Zama said. The church also brought in grief counselors and others from the Cambridge Public Health Alliance and, after the Mass, held a meeting in the basement so parishioners could share their thoughts and feelings about the tragedy.
“There was a time when they did a survey,” Zama said, “that said Haiti had the least numbers of suicide in the world — and God knows we had the most reasons for suicides,” she continued with a small gallows-humor laugh. “We are very strong people and a lot of times that’s one thing [depression] you don’t really talk about, usually. We don’t talk about mental issues. So it was a good thing for our [people’s] mental health to go over there and talk with people and see if there was anybody who needed any help … it was nice of the priest. It was nice of him to do that.”
Zama said Rev. Barry also encouraged parents to speak with their children about the disaster and for parishioners not to lose their faith in the face of the earthquake’s terrible impact on their families and friends in Haiti.
“My daughter, who’s 10, she knows what happened,” Zama said. “We need to talk to her about what’s happening.”
“It’s very depressing and sometimes you question your faith, so he invited us to share our feelings,” she said. “We are all feeling the same things. There is not a Haitian who is not directly touched by what happened. Either they know someone themselves or know somebody who lost somebody. It’s all the same grief and worries.”
For information on how to help and participate in earthquake relief efforts for Haitians, visit "Earthquake in Haiti" at melrosefreepress.com and the “Haiti Headlines” blog at blogs.wickedlocal.com/haiti_headlines.
Melrose Free Press