Haitians find comfort in routine
by Daniel Bush
Jan 19, 2010 | 5280 views | 0 0 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Haitian-Americans Cope After Earthquake
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Congressman Anthony Weiner visited with factory workers missing loved ones.
Rock Pacaud's first reaction upon hearing news of the earthquake was to fly down immediately; to leave work and somehow make his way home to Haiti to find his missing cousins and uncle. But a family member convinced him the task would be impossible. So instead, with a heavy heart, Pacaud did the next best thing.

He went to work at his job at Madelaine's Chocolate Company.

The company's Rockaway factory employs approximately 120 Haitian-American workers, more than any other business in New York City. Nearly all, like Pacaud, have friends and family affected by the earthquake that struck the tiny island nation January 12.

While the city's version of Little Haiti in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, has been flooded with attention and resources in recent days, the Haitian community at Madelaine's was largely overlooked until the factory's workforce came to the attention of Congressman Anthony Weiner.

He visited Madelaine's three days after the earthquake to collect a list of missing persons from workers unable to contact relatives and loved ones. Workers on the day shift alone produced a list of hundreds.

“Right now we can't do nothing,” said Pacaud, who has been frantically calling family in the country's capitol of Port-au-Prince for days. “The only thing we can do is pray. It's very difficult.”

Marie Cesar has no idea if her sister-in-law is living or not. She can't get through to her, and watches the news in small spurts for any sign that things are improving. Still, even following the disaster from afar is almost too painful, her friend Jean Francis Lafortune said.

“Every afternoon I watch the news [and] I've been crying every day,” Lafortune said.

Workers at Madelaine's are coping with overwhelming feelings of helplessness and loss by doing just that, working. Esther Joseph, the company's personnel manager at Madelaine's, said virtually none have missed more than a day of work since news of the earthquake reached the United States.

“A lot of them feel better” at Madelaine's, said Joseph, the company's only Haitian manager, whose cousins in Port-au-Prince survived. “They would take a day and then the next day show up.”

Cesar said she could not bear the thought of staying home alone, only to sit in front of the television for hours on end watching horrific images of mass graves and overwhelmed hospitals. Better to be surrounded by her friends at Madelaine's, where a ready support system is in place.

Many of the factory's Haitian employees live in surrounding apartment buildings on a windy stretch of Beach Channel Drive that overlooks Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. They have started their own relief drive, in the form of a collection box mounted on a factory wall beside the time clock and the company's mission statement, which was translated into three languages.

Madelaine's management has donated $10,000, according to a company representative.

Weiner left the factory with the massive list of missing and a promise to dispatch the list to government aid forces in Haiti. The assembled crowd of Haitians broke up, slowly, and men and women drifted back to work.
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