In honor of the one year anniversary of Haiti's earthquake, and our ongoing commitment to feature the voices of Haitian women, we present the remarkable story of Evelyn Margron, in her own words. Her voice is a testament to the courage and vision these women bring to their nation. —The Editors
It was January 12, 2010. Around four in the afternoon my boss in Managua, Nicaragua, Mariecke, and I were talking together on Skype. At 4:30, my grandson Matias arrived from school. He always comes to my office and then we go to see my partner Guy before we head home. Mariecke was waving at Matias on the computer screen and Matias was amused. He waved back before sitting across from me to work on a drawing.
The telephone rang. Guy was calling me to remind me that I was late. I had barely placed the telephone back in its cradle when the walls began to shake. In Spanish, I told Mariecke “Terremoto!” In the same breath I yelled to Matias, “Under the table, quickly! Are you alright?”
Later, I realized I had lost consciousness after crawling under the desk.
The earth shook again. As I came to I inspected myself. I was lying on my right side, my right arm pinned tightly to the ground by a wooden beam. I touched the ragged, viscous remains of my right arm with my left arm. I removed my Skype headset, my glasses, my necklace. And the earth trembled again.
“Abuela, are we going to die?”
Matias took me by surprise. “Maybe,” I replied, “but I will do everything in my power to prevent that.”
“I ask for forgiveness from anyone I have wronged, whether I did it or just thought about it.” he said.
“It will be alright,” I told him and myself. “We will get through this.”
I asked him about his body—was he hurt, could he move? His left arm was pinned to the ground near my right arm. I ordered him to pull with all his force to free his arm. If I had to die, at least he could escape. He tried, but the task was too difficult for his small body.
I heard voices. A colleague was trapped and badly hurt on the ground floor of the building, which continued to crumble, for the earth did not cease to groan beneath us. I began to yell in an effort to warn the others that I too was trapped. When they heard me, they asked me to save my energy and be patient while they came to my rescue. I didn’t know how long I could wait. Each aftershock added more pressure to my chest.
After a long while, I heard them extract a colleague, Abdonnel, from the rubble and march away. Matias and I were alone. I did not hear another voice for a long time. I yelled without stopping just in case someone passed by to hear us.
“Callate, abuela!” Matias pleaded. Stop yelling, Grandma. Let’s sleep while we wait for them to save us. I was scaring him. Grandmothers don’t cry, they comfort, they cajole.
“You sleep, Matias. I have to yell so people know we’re here.” I began to yell again. The earth trembled. Matias slept.
I knew I had to rest to conserve my energy. Between yelling “Amwey!” I meditated to empty my thoughts. And I reflected on death.
I thought that soon I could be a number, a statistic. It would be so stupid to die that way, without knowing why, without reason. What was the use of searching for meaning in my life for the past forty years? Is there anything after death? I still didn’t know the answers; I only knew the body in which I wished to continue to live. Should I let go? Would it let me go?
In any case, I had to save Matias. I tried to lift the weight which pinned me to the ground. My left side was in agony. I did not succeed.
Voices in the street. People swarmed. They heard my cries.
“Yes, a child and me.” The light from their flashlight found us. [paging]
“We see you; yes, we can see you well, but there’s no way for us to get you out of there.” To his companions he said,
“Let’s move on.”
One of them refused.
“There are people still alive there, under these beams. Let us try, at least, to give them the gift of life!”
Someone yelled down to me, “How can we get to you?”
“Take the stairs,” I said.
“The stairs are gone.”
I thought some more. “We’re not far from the window by the road.”
“But how are we going to lift the pillar?” one of them asked. They began to search the street. The earth continued to tremble, and each time, the men jumped out of the destroyed building. Matias awoke, and we pleaded to them not to abandon us. They promised to stay.
I thought to myself: To lift the beam, they need a lot of force…some sort of lever.
“In my car, in front of the house, there’s a hydraulic dyak that can lift four tons. It’s red. Break the windows.”
They found it in the car and slipped it under the slab. The weight shifted above me, and I could finally move my arm, and Matias was freed. They took him first. Then they propped the front of the beam with…I don’t know what…and moved the jack to lift the other half, where I lay. For a short moment, the pressure increased on my chest. I screamed, but quickly the pressure lifted, and I felt men pulling me by my armpits. They lifted me and laid me on the asphalt road.
Matias stood next to me. We were freed! The heat of the ground enveloped me. The sky was beautiful. I laughed at myself, always in admiration of the sky. I asked a young man to wrap my wounded arm so Matias wouldn’t see it, and he used his yellow tee-shirt. One of my colleagues, Prospery, gave Matias a bottle of water and some bananas and found a car to transport me. Hands lifted me with caution to place me in the backseat of a vehicle to L’Hôpital du Canapé Vert.
The hospital itself was partially destroyed and incapable of receiving the dozens of injured who arrived. The men who rescued us found me a mattress and brought me to a doctor who hooked me up to an IV. I was cold. Prospery found me a curtain to use as a blanket and then left to look for a doctor. He did not find a single doctor that night.
I couldn’t move and the earth wouldn’t stop shaking. I asked Matias to stay in the courtyard, for it seemed to me the hospital could collapse at any moment, and the aftershocks would not stop. He promised to stay close to the door so he could see me.
I was alone, surrounded by three others who were hurt; three others who quieted one by one.
I wondered about Guy and what had happened to him. He could be badly hurt or dead. If I could do anything for him, it would have to wait until I recovered. If I could find someone to help me stand, and if Matias could support me, I could perhaps walk to the house, or to his office, which was much closer. If not, maybe Matias could go see for himself. [paging]
Later, some men appeared who carried me into the courtyard. One of them, Riboul Matadore, stayed the rest of the night with me. He caressed my head, wiped the blood from my face, arranged the curtain on my body, supervised the IV, and comforted me.
“I promise you won’t die, Madame. I promise. I’m a drunk, and God loves me. When I’m drunk, I’m good, and He rewards me. I’ll stay with you tonight, because I can see you’re lonely.” Several times he looked to a phone for me to communicate with my family, but the lines were busy, and my family’s phones had lost charge.
He left me a few times to visit with the others who were hurt, and eventually was replaced by a friend. At dawn, he left, promising to return with a bowl of soup for me.
A little later, Yolette arrived, searching for lost colleagues. She offered to tell Guy where I was if she found him, and asked a friend, Tamara, to stay with me. Tamara told me of Yolette’s mother’s death at their residence. She offered me her phone, and finally, around six in the morning, my call to Guy went through. He was alive and in one piece! He ran to the hospital.
Prospery and his sister in law, who is a doctor, also came to the hospital, to take care of me. Guy and my sister decided to transport me to the Dominican embassy. The Dominican Ambassador, Ruben Silie, is an old friend and offered to evacuate me to the neighbor county by helicopter. The trip to Pétion-Ville was difficult; the road was blocked with debris. From the backseat of the car, I could see nothing, but could sense the quiet, heavy desolation that surrounded us. We held our breath, as if our lives depended on it.
In the embassy courtyard, I met friend after friend, consumed with emotion. Miguelina held me hard, sobbing. A Cuban doctor cleaned the wounds on my arm. The pain was atrocious, causing my entire body to bend on the mattress below me. A scream leapt from my throat before I could stifle it. The doctor urged them to evacuate me as soon as possible.
Some men secured me in the helicopter to take me across the border to Jimani. When I arrived, the doctors there sent me to the hospital in Santo Domingo with Guy and Matias. In the ambulance, I knew I was in bad shape.
Meanwhile, my children who were living in Santo Domingo tried to find me a helicopter to get me to the capital faster. Dozens of our friends mobilized to acquire a helicopter for me, and they succeeded. We boarded in Barahona, after about an hour and a half of driving in the ambulance. We landed at Hospital Plaza de la Salud, at seven that night. Another ambulance took me to emergency services. There, a team of professionals took charge of me, testing and examining me rigorously.
The doctors told me that I needed to be operated on that night. My chest was crushed—the left half of my collarbone was broken and four ribs had pierced my lungs. The skin and veins in my right arm were in tatters, and I had lost a lot of blood.
I let go of myself again. I could at least rest, and abandon myself in the arms of the doctors. I was saved. Matias was healthy and safe. Guy was alive and safe. Dozens of people, in a long chain of unconditional solidarity, on both sides of the border, gave me the gift of life.
Watch a video interview with Evelyn Margron about her experience.