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The Agony Of Not Knowing: Hartford's Haitians Call – And Wait

Helen Ubiñas

January 14, 2010

Joseph Boisette, the longtime butcher at the ACA supermarket in Hartford's North End, stared at the cellphone clutched in his hand.

"It was them," he said, sounding crushed, "and I missed it."

The sound of the machines behind the counter, he explained, were too loud. And so even though he'd been vigilant about keeping the phone close, he somehow missed a call that morning that he'd convinced himself was from his daughter in Haiti.

Update: Finally, An Answer From Haiti

He'd later learn that it wasn't, but the missed call led to a frantic round of overloaded lines and busy signals and then, finally, to the inevitable, agonizing wait that was playing out all over the state as friends and family tried to reach relatives in the earthquake-devastated nation.

Earlier, I'd been talking to a woman from Marlborough who also had been trying to reach relatives with no luck. Shirley Alexandre said she lost count of how many calls she'd made trying to reach aunts, uncles and cousins since a massive earthquake hit Haiti Tuesday.

She'd keep trying, she told me, and pray for the best.

And right in the supermarket's back room, Boisette's boss, Yvon Alexandre (who I later learned is coincidentally related to Shirley) had been trying to reach his two brothers all morning.

One had just arrived in Port-au-Prince Tuesday afternoon, where another who runs a mission picked him up for the long drive to Les Cayes.

When Yvon Alexandre miraculously reached them Tuesday night, they told him they were about an hour ahead of the earthquake that destroyed the capital. They felt the car move, they told him, but the solitary roads they were traveling on kept them safe from crumbling buildings that trapped and killed so many.

Alexandre hoped to talk to his brothers again. He was visibly frustrated when he dialed their number while we spoke and got only a busy signal. But one look at the desperation on his employee's face reminded him of how lucky he was that he had talked to them at all.

Boisette, the butcher, had been briefly relieved when he discovered the call he'd missed wasn't from his daughter. But real relief wouldn't come until he knew his daughter and three grandchildren were safe, until he was sure that they weren't among the estimated hundred thousand or so feared dead.

"We talk every day," he said; about the kids, their day and, most recently, about hopes of bringing them all to Hartford. In fact, he'd just spoken to his daughter a couple of hours before the earthquake hit, he said.

The uncertainty brought fear, that a country's catastrophe would become intimately personal. But also sadness that a nation already so broken had been dealt another disastrous blow that both men were unsure it could ever recover from. Last time the men visited, they both said, they sensed an impending, if fragile, stability.

"And then this," Yvon Alexandre said, shaking his head. "This will set them back even more."

But those were concerns for another day.

For now, they were consumed with reaching their families — and Boisette with his so-far unanswered prayers that his family had somehow escaped the devastation.

Hours after meeting Boisette at the supermarket, I called to see if he'd heard from his daughter.

His greeting was frantic, yet hopeful.

"Yes?" he asked, clearly hoping I was the daughter he'd been hoping to hear from.

"No," he said, after a short pause when he realized it wasn't. "I haven't heard from her yet."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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