The one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti brings disturbing memories and gut-wrenching images.
One Haitian boy who was airlifted with more than 50 other orphans from a Port-au-Prince orphanage to Pittsburgh by Gov. Ed Rendell will mark the anniversary at his new home in suburban Philadelphia.
Eight-year-old Wadner Simon is sitting in the living room of his tan two-story house in Hatboro, playing a soccer video game just feet from a twinkling Christmas tree. Like plenty of other kids his age, Wadner’s not just playing the video game, he’s clutching the controller, shifting his body from side to side with the ball on the screen, perched on the edge of a table … probably a little too close to the screen.
What’s so surprising about Wadner’s new life in Hatboro is how similar it is to any other kid’s his age. He likes playing sports, watching the Phillies, riding his bike, and eating everything but vegetables.
Carolyn Simon was in the process of adopting Wadner before the earthquake hit.
“We just finalized the adoption a week ago. So it took us almost a year to finalize. He just had his first Christmas here, his first Christmas really ever,” says Simon. “He had some in Haiti but not like we have here.”
In the chaotic aftermath of the earthquake, Simon says she heard rumors a plane with Rendell on board was on its way to rescue Wadner and the other kids at the Port-au-Prince orphanage. She was worried, but then got an e-mail telling her the kids were on their way to Pittsburgh.
“They didn’t even know who was on the plane, but if you want to go there then go. So I got in the car and spent two days there and finally came home with him,” she says.
In the living room, Wadner scores a goal. He jumps up and starts running laps around the room – cheering and grinning from ear to ear.
When Wadner first arrived he only spoke a few English words, and Simon spoke virtually no Creole. He started school in February and, by the end of the school year, he was speaking nearly perfect English.
Now he no longer wants to speak his native language,
“I think he wants to focus solely on being American and learning English until he gets to that point where he feels like he’s totally got it. Then I think he’ll go back to it,” says Simon. “Sometimes, I had CDs in the car that I was trying to learn it and he’ll say, ‘Mom, put the CD in.’ He knows what they’re saying and he’ll answer the question and he giggles. But it’s rare that he does that.”
A few days after Christmas, Simon took Wadner to Pittsburgh to meet with some other kids from the orphanage. Simon says Wadner wouldn’t even speak Creole to them,
“They were trying to say his name. In Creole they say ‘Wad-ney’ they don’t pronounce the last ‘r.’ Well since he has come here, he wanted us to say Wadner because that’s how most Americans say it. When they saw him and were calling him Wad-ney he’s like, ‘That’s not my name.'”
Wadner grows suddenly shy when he’s asked to turn off the video game. He gets a little more talkative when rattling off his Christmas gifts: “Roller blades and Nerf gun and Sorry game and…and Legos and a laptop.”
Sitting on the couch, Wadner fidgets. He’d rather talk about sports than the earthquake.
“Every single time I play soccer, I always be a middie. I take my energy out and I still have energy,” he says. “When I came home from Pittsburgh and we were going to bed, I had lots more energy left and I couldn’t sleep!”
Simon isn’t sure if Wadner’s birth mother is alive. She gave him up years before the earthquake hit.
Wadner sometimes tells Simon he wants to go back to Haiti, other times he says he doesn’t.
He is indecisive when considering the question: “Mmmmmmm…..probably….I don’t know.”
A few minutes later, Wadner turns off the video game, straps on his helmet and with a big smile on his face, sets off on his bike for a friend’s house.
Simon says she doubts her 8-year-old is going to comprehend the significance of the one-year anniversary.