Almost immediately I found him on a tribute site on Facebook. I traced it back to the start of the thread. Before I read forwards I knew what had happened. Greg worked for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States as an inspector of planes. Considering the job he did I was surprised he hated travel. He was far more at home with his circle of friends in Antigua. But he had been forced to go to Haiti for a workshop and he stayed at the Hotel Montana. The earthquake occurred while he was there. As I read the posts on the Facebook page the story with all its emotion unfurled. First there were the post trying to find him, and ask for any help. Then as the days go by there was the support to the search and rescue teams who were battling to dig into the rubble of the hotel. Then the desperation as nothing was found well beyond the time you would expect anyone to realistically survive, and finally the moment when a body with identifiable markings was brought out.
And then the posts became about the tributes to a wonderful man, a great colleague, a fine friend. The details of the memorial service, links to the newspapers in Antigua and Trinidad. And more comments came.
To find this over two and a half years after the event was a devastating blow. To know such a warm, friendly human being, and realised how much I’d taken his presence for granted. To know his life was taken away in a moment, or maybe in such a painful, horrific way I cannot imagine. Another friend I wanted to grow old with.
My time in Haiti was punctuated with the loss of two great comrades, and for that I shall always be saddened. My time in Haiti was also a tense time with having to be constantly on guard, often confined and with the pressure of a quick contract to deliver. Still through that I saw a resilient people, a fiery creativity growing from the heartland of this crazy capital city, and still the elements of all good Caribbean living in its rural areas. Its future will be difficult, may not go exactly to plan, but it inevitably has to have a future, and an independent character that will see it on for many hundreds of years to come.
And personally, well , I still have the glorious memories of my good friends.
Sunset over Port Au Prince
The next morning we all got dressed up in smart shirts and ties and headed for the workshop. We got their bright and early and had time to fix the usual projector issues, worry over the banner (it was smaller than we expected) and wait ages for anyone to turn up. As well as a load of round tables there was one long table already heaving with snacks, drinks and ice.
At the workshop
Queueing for the buffet that did the damage
The banner that caused all the problems
We went way past the start time before we got a quorum. Quorums in this case does not mean a minimum proportion of the whole group, but ensuring that the key people are there. And of course most people of high status make sure they arrive unfashionably late so that everyone else is left waiting.
The workshop went well, we got some feedback, and headed back to the hotel. We’d eaten a huge buffet at the Montana and I was ready to relax before retiring early to be ready for the next day’s travel home. But whether it had been the buffet’s fish, or the salad, or something in the cream cakes…. my stomach was not happy with it and I spent a sweaty, uneasy night and difficult early morning. Suddenly the Polyfilla of Imodium became essential and I said my goodbye to my excellent colleagues ( they were there another day before they headed to UK and Quebec).
These little events stay in the mind, but they were horrible punctuations in a rich tapestry of life. Towards the end of the trip, I had completed the work I needed to do and had my inputs ready for the workshop. Jean Luc needed some help at the hotel where the workshop was to be held, so I accompanied him on a short visit there. The Montana had been one of the flagship hotels in Haiti before the quake. Like many high status buildings on the south side of the valley, it had a prominent position on the end of a ridge. As we headed up the entrance driveway, the vista revealed itself – the Caribbean Sea to the west, the port and downtown area next by the coast, and the suburbs, airport and salt lake all laid out below us. But the hotel was a shadow of itself. It did not reveal itself to me immediately. Jean Luc and I walked across a small garden with a formal ornamental pond into a small neatly painted office; the reception. We waited a while for the staff to become free and then walked with the events manager to the conference room. We passed a pool surrounded by half collapsed masonry, and into a large room facing out over the city.
The swimming pool
We sorted out the affairs and I took a little look outside on the terrace. There seemed to be few guests and few rooms for them to stay in, but the room we were looking at was in good repair. Another sign of the disproportionate damage done and the disproportionate manner in which the reconstruction had taken place.