Fritz Aristilde will tell anyone who will listen that God answers prayers.
After nearly a week of gut-wrenching waiting and imaging worst possible outcomes, Aristilde received word on Jan. 19 that his sister is alive and safe in Haiti.
“I am great,” belted Aristilde when a reporter called to inquire about his family for the third time since the 7.0 earthquake violently upended life in the small impoverished Caribbean nation on Jan. 12. “I asked for a miracle. This is an incredible miracle.”
The Clarkston business owner’s relief came thanks to a photo of his 24-year-old sister that was circulating via e-mail that someone in Haiti recognized. He was told that his “little sister” Bernande Aristilde has survived the collapse of her home and has left for the country—Au Cayes, located about 50 miles south of Port-au-Prince.
One day last week exhaustion overcame Aristilde.
With his cell phone clutched in his left hand, he was passed out mid-afternoon on a bright red sofa in the Clarkston restaurant/lounge where he is part owner. Three days into the Haiti disaster Aristilde still had no word on the whereabouts or condition of Bernande.
She lived at 81 Delmas in Port-au-Prince, the hard-hit capital of Haiti, but he didn’t know where she might have been when the quake rocked the country. Questions raced through his mind. Was she among the living? Was she injured and in need of assistance? Had she been rescued but unable to communicate?
Until this Monday, the news Aristilde had received had been devastating. Seven family members were at a home when the earthquake struck and all didn’t survive. His aunt lost her husband, mother, nephew and cousins. He said his aunt learned who died and who lived via an e-mail.
Asked how he’s coping, he said, “Only prayer, taking it one day at a time.”
Artistlde, who moved to America when he was 9, living in New York before coming to metro Atlanta five years ago, last spoke to his sister on Christmas.
Café Fasika, a Haitian/Caribbean restaurant and lounge on Indian Creek Drive in Clarkston, has become something of a gathering spot for Haitians awaiting news on family and friends. Where they previously came just for the food, drinks and music, now they come for solace and to share in personal reports—the good ones and the horrific. Someone recently shared that a 13-year-old cousin trapped in a house for more than a day made it out alive—without a scratch. A flat screen television looms overhead near the bar blaring nonstop cable news reports. Customers and workers keep their eyes on the screen. And in a corner of the café, boxes and plastic bags of donated goods intended for the survivors have begun to stack up.
Last week Hugues Dorvit of Covington dropped by Café Fasika to commensurate with those from his homeland.
Dorvit left Haiti in 1984 and has a large number of relatives on his mother’s side of the family who still live there.
“I haven’t been able to reach anyone,” he said last week. However a few days later, he got word from six of his cousins that they were safe. He’s still awaiting information on two uncles and an aunt.
Lorette Lucas, food ministry coordinator with Haitian Ministries, said they support 27 churches and schools in Haiti that they send clothes and supplies to as well as nurses to do mission work each year.
“Still in the stage we don’t know the fate of our families yet,” said Lucas. “We have not been able to get in touch with anybody. We cannot get through. We don’t know what happened. It’s really hard.”
Lucas noted that their church, Haitian Ministry Theophile Church in Christ on Custer Avenue in Atlanta, is now open every day and is accepting donations of medical supplies, water and clothing to send to Haiti as soon as possible. The church has a congregation of about 500, some of whom live in DeKalb County.
Lucas, who has been in the United States for 20 years, expressed concern for her 60-year-old father, brothers and other relatives in Port au Prince.
Meanwhile Aristilde is planning to donate proceeds for the next six months from the weekly Bouillon Nights held on Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. He said he’s eliminating the cover charge for the parties and will allow attendees to donate whatever they choose to Haiti relief.