JIS News

A feeling of quiet anticipation filled the air of the breezy Jamaican afternoon in the hilly interior of the country as former Haitian President, Jean Bertrand Aristide awaited the arrival of his two young daughters.
The day, Thursday, March 18, 2004 was about to become one of the most memorable in the lives of Mr. Aristide, his wife, Mildred and their two girls. Three weeks ago, seven year-old Christine and Michaelle, five, had been sent to Florida, USA to stay with their grandparents – the parents of their mother – as an armed rebellion and daily violent protests by political opposition groups threatened the presidency in Haiti.
After warmly greeting each one of the small team of cameramen and a reporter from the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), the former President took up his position for the long-awaited arrival; his quick furtive glances at the sky betraying the anxiety being felt by a father. Within minutes, the Jamaica Defence Force helicopter bearing his most precious possessions came into view and his tightly clasped hands said clearly that words of thanks were being offered up to heaven.
It is quarter past two. The anticipation of the reunion is evident on his face as he waits for the chopper to land on the property’s beautifully manicured front lawns.
He is overcome with joy at the first sight of his girls being lifted from the aircraft and their feet touching the lush green grass of Jamaican soil for the first time. As a broad smile breaks out over his face, security officers and cameramen scurry after him as he abandons the prearranged meeting point in the cool shade of a towering willow tree and takes a few long strides towards his obviously happy children.
A security officer helps Christine from the chopper and removes her earmuffs before she is swept up in her father’s embrace. Christine looks eagerly around her new surroundings and Michaelle gives an excited cry before leaping into her father’s arms. Mr. Aristide then shares a warm embrace with his wife. For a few seconds the four family members hugged each other tightly, seemingly oblivious of the noise, the wind and the cloud of dry leaves sent flying by the helicopter’s rotor blades.
The intimacy of the moment is intense. The cameramen are respectful of this, and the first few minutes of the emotion-filled reunion, punctuated by hugs and kisses between parents and children, are not filmed.
As she clings lovingly to his neck, Mr. Aristide lifts his elder daughter Christine into his arms and takes firm, gentle hold of Michaelle and they make their way into the Government protocol house. The first of two objectives of his short humanitarian visit to Jamaica – that is, to be reunited with his family – had been achieved.
The children are shown to their rooms and allowed some quiet time with their parents before sitting down for a brief photo opportunity.
Christine and Michaelle are in a playful mood as the family settles on a long, comfortable sofa to share a few words with the members of the state media they had agreed could cover the arrival.
The girls speak happily in French to each other and to their parents. Christine, it emerged, had been the most curious about Jamaica. Now she spoke of how beautiful it was and how the mountains and the trees reminded her of home in Haiti.
What were the moments before their arrival like for the former President? He had spent the time writing his thoughts to ease the tension. Content to just hold his children, Mr. Aristide is happy to have his wife speak for the family on this occasion.
Mrs. Aristide describes the reunion as a bittersweet one because while she and her husband are very happy to see the children, they are mindful of the other families that have been displaced as a result of the violence in Haiti.
“In a moment that is difficult for many Haitians, we are very grateful to be together and we think and contemplate on the many Haitian families who are not united; who have been broken apart and are suffering and going through a very difficult moment,” she says.
They both express gratitude to the people and Government of Jamaica and particularly to Prime Minister P.J. Patterson for allowing the family to stay in the country.
The children speak very little English but asked what they think about Jamaica, Mrs. Aristide says: “Their first impression of the country was very good. I had told them that Jamaica was an island like the land Haiti shares with our neighbours in the Dominican Republic and it was very green and had a lot of trees”.
Mrs. Aristide tells JIS News that no final decision has yet been made regarding the future plans of the family, or what they will do during their stay in Jamaica. “We are taking it one step at a time. We will see as we go along what’s best in terms of the children and in terms of our stay,” she says.
In the meantime, they will be content to be together as a family even as they remain mindful of the strife in their beloved Haiti. They listen to the happy sounds of the children as they explore their new surroundings and are reminded that despite the difficulties, Haiti will overcome, because as Mr. Aristide says, “It is in the children that our future rests.”

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