clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Scenes after earthquake conjure childhood memories for Haitian in Utah

Luckner  Huggins
Luckner Huggins
Luckner Huggins

With teary eyes, my wife, Lynnet, entered my South Jordan office on the evening of Jan. 12. I held her in my arms until she calmed down. She had been watching the news about Haiti. She saw the enormous suffering of our people, especially a little boy in agony. He reminded her of me when I was a little boy.

I am a 51-year-old Haitian native. I grew up in Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of the earthquake where my wife saw that boy wailing under the debris. As a boy, I was happy. I enjoyed playing many fun games, especially soccer with friends. I also played in the rain. I lived in a house that had a cemented ramp on the side. The edges of the house roof had no gutters. Rain water fell freely on the ramp. I loved sliding down that ramp.

One evening, the whole family gathered around me and gave me buttered bread to dip into a cup of sweetened and warm milk. I wondered what had earned me such special attention. They said they had found me unconscious and naked in the street filled with sewer water. My brother Alex and I had had a contest to see which one of us could slide down the ramp faster. To avoid friction on the cement, we removed all our clothes. I won the contest, but I did not stop at the sidewalk.

Poverty was rampant in Haiti, and I saw suffering that people in America would have a hard time imagining. I was constantly anemic. I was also diagnosed as having a live devil inside of me. The demon was a large tapeworm sharing every bite of food I consumed. It had entered my stomach through contaminated water. The flood mixed the sewage system and the drinking water. Natural medicine got rid of the parasite.

I spent summer breaks in my maternal grandparents' small village. There, trees bore juicy mangoes, sweet oranges, pineapples and bananas. The names of the many other fruits were not even mentioned in my French school books. It was in that village I finally experienced the growth spurt that allowed me to become a normal teenager.

My anemia receded, the tapeworm was cast out. But the hurricanes troubling Haiti kept on coming stronger. I faced my first natural disaster in 1963, at age 5. Hurricane Flora hit Haiti at a speed of 140 wicked mph. The wind picked up the roof of our home. The rain poured inside. Our beds and all our belongings were soaked. We were cold. We could not make a fire to feel warm or to cook food. Between Haiti and the neighboring nation of Dominican Republic, 8,000 lives were taken. Millions of dollars of goods perished. Jobs were gone. In the village, a big avocado tree fell on my grandparents' thatched house. Grandma Tattie's leg was deeply wounded. Complications caused her to die the following year, in October 1964. Grandpa Aretus loved his wife more than life itself. He abandoned life and joined Grandma Tattie in death in 1968.

As I grew up, I heard many Haitians say, "We are cursed." Millions believe voodoo spirits are the spirits of our dead African ancestors, capable of removing our curses. Some sacrifice food that could save starving children's lives to feed voodoo spirits. Others believe our curse came from the dictator governments who cripple the nation, who oppress and trample all human rights. I have witnessed many signs of those curses, such as civil unrest, people being beaten and incarcerated for "alleged" political reasons. As a young man, I witnessed civil unrest, including people being beaten, arrested and put in jail. In fact, some of my friends were arrested for "alleged" political reasons. One of them was severely beaten before finally being released, and two others were never found or heard from again.

Let me suggest a plan for removing our curses. Let's stop blaming our former colonists. Why? Blame does not solve our problems. Let's apply the same laws that make America prosperous and free. Let's tackle this terrible disaster. Let's use all the resources to build Haiti at once! Let's stop being divided. It's time to stand together and build each other.

Luckner Huggins is studying to be a respiratory therapist at Weber State University, after a career in construction safety. He lives in South Jordan with his wife, Lynnet.