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A Haitian woman escaped gunshots and terror in Port-au-Prince only to lose contact with her husband

WorldA Haitian woman escaped gunshots and terror in Port-au-Prince only to lose contact with her husband

A woman who has been shuttling her family to hide from violent gangs throughout Port-au-Prince, Haiti, said that she and her children are safe for now but that she has lost contact with her husband. 

Marlene Calix, 35, has lived for the past five years in La Plaine, a neighborhood in Haiti’s capital, a family-friendly place known for its flat land surrounded by mountains, which is chock full of restaurants.  

Calix Marlene.
Calix Marlene.Courtesy Calix Marlene

But in August, armed groups invaded her neighborhood, forcing her and her family to flee for Carrefour, another neighborhood in Port-au-Prince.  

“After a while, things got heated in Carrefour, and the gang took over the area,” she said in an interview.  “That’s when we left and returned to La Plaine. To paint a picture for you, gangs take over neighborhood after neighborhood.”

A month later, Calix’s family heard things had settled down in La Plaine, so they returned to their house. The rumors, however, were false. 

“Oh, my Lord, when we returned to La Plaine, everything was awful and devastating; the neighborhood was destroyed. It’s God who saved us,” she said.

Calix described the fear and uncertainty that gripped her family upon their return. “People locked their doors and didn’t go outside because of danger,” she said. 

“Everything was dangerous. Sometimes, we would hide inside our house, looking out the window to see if someone was going to the market, and then we would ask them to get this for us,” she said. “Neighbors who know each other helped each other out. We all lived in distress, in fear.”  

On a Wednesday in October, tragedy struck. Calix recalled the day her neighborhood was invaded while she and her family were attending church. 

Decelyn and Rose-Esther pose for a photo in front of a tree.
Decelyn with Rose-Esther.Courtesy Calix Marlene

“They didn’t get to our house yet,” she said. “So I ran inside and grabbed a small bag that had important documents.” In the scramble, Calix said, she heard gunshots ring out.  

“I grabbed my kids and ran,” she said. “Everyone was running in different directions. Houses were getting set on fire, even mine. To this day, I don’t don’t know how we are alive.”

Calix and her two children, Rose-Esther, a 6-year-old girl, and Decelyn, a 9-year-old boy, fled Port-au-Prince, leaving the capital behind and heading north. 

Calix’s husband, Delins Francois, 39, was at work during the invasion and hasn’t been heard from since. “He sells merchandise like headphones and electronics. He is a street vendor. Ever since that day, I have never heard from him,” she said through tears. 

The family’s journey to safety was fraught with danger, as they begged for rides and relied on strangers to help them reach Cap-Haitien, about 130 miles north of Port-au-Prince.  

Calix only had time to pack essential documents like birth certificates and passports. She expressed sadness at losing family pictures, her kids’ report cards and other beautiful memories.

Delins Francois.
Delins Francois.Courtesy Calix Marlene

With no money, “we begged people. People know and see the situation. We asked for rides and carpooled until we got to where we were going,” she said. People gave them crackers to eat on the road. 

Calix said that along the way, in Port-au-Prince’s Morne Cabrit, armed men stopped their car and robbed them at gunpoint. They entered the car and took “everything that was in it,” she said. 

The family didn’t resist, knowing the danger of defiance in that unforgiving place. The children were visibly affected, crying and shaking throughout the chaos. “My daughter, every day she physically has her hands in her mouth, crying,” she said.

“We prayed so they wouldn’t hurt us and to let us go with no harm, because, in Morne Cabrit, Port-au-Prince, they don’t give people chances,” she said. “They told the driver to go. When the car started driving away, the gang members fired a few gunshots up in the sky. They didn’t shoot directly at the vehicle.” 

The journey took them three days until they reached Cap-Haitien. 

Despite the hardships they faced, Calix expressed gratitude for their survival. Every day, she worries about her husband. “I don’t know where he is, if he is alive or if he is dead,” she said.

Since the escape, Calix said, she has struggled to make ends meet. She had been a stay-at-home mother, and her husband was the breadwinner in the household. Now, she relies on occasional laundry-washing jobs to support her family. Decelyn and Rose-Esther haven’t been back to school since the violence erupted. “I don’t have the financial resources anymore for school,” she said.

As Calix continues to rebuild her life amid the ongoing crisis, she remains grateful for the support of her community and holds on to hope for a better future but knows that returning to Port-au-Prince isn’t an option. “If we didn’t die,” she said, “it’s because God wanted us to survive.”

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