Simon Wendy, a young journalist and linguistics student, lost everything in the January earthquake.
His chance for a college degree disappeared when the Faculty of Applied Linguistics building in Port-au-Prince collapsed in the disaster. He was among the scores of reporters across the country who lost their jobs with newspapers damaged by the quake and weakened by financial losses.
However, the most-wrenching loss for Simon was the agonizing death of his sweetheart, Lyse Annie Bienaeme. She was the love of his life.
Lyse, 21, was trapped beneath the rubble of the five-story building after the quake, pinned at the knees but alive and alert. Simon, 22, a cultural-affairs reporter for Le Nouvellist, was at his desk on the fifth floor when the ground shook violently that Tuesday at 4:34 p.m. He and others in the building ran outside. They found a scene of mind-numbing death, destruction and mass hysteria.
“I was in a state of shock,” Simon said in an interview Saturday at the office of Reporters Without Borders in Port-au-Prince.” I held my hands to my head. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know if I would survive the next shock.”
Simon saw cars ripped apart, saw people die, saw the body of a colleague at the paper nearly severed in half under the wheel of a pickup truck. He was afraid and confused. The streets were wild and chaotic with people running, screaming. Dust clogged the air, people were dead and dying. Chaos was everywhere.
Simon focused on survival and of finding his family, his younger brother. He tried his phone, but there was no service. He began walking to his family’s house in Petion-Ville, miles away. The house had collapsed, but his relatives were not hurt.
Then he headed back downtown to check on Lyse at the university. He found the collapsed building, but didn’t see Lyse and, worse, didn’t know where to begin looking for her in the debris. He spent the night at the site amid the cadavers and rancid air.
The next day, he came across two students from the school who had managed to get out of the rear of the crumpled building. They had seen Lyse in the building and knew she was alive. She was trapped under the debris, they said. They helped him find a small opening that led close to where Lyse was. There was barely enough for a small animal to squeeze through. Simon crawled in, calling for Lyse. He could see and smell bodies along the way. After a while, Lyse answered.
“She was stuck at the knees, but she wasn’t badly injured,” he said.” She was taking care of another student, trying to get a little air to her. Simon and Lyse talked through the night. Lyse was incredibly positive, certain that eventually she would be rescued. She told him she could hang on for days.
The next night — Thursday — Firefighters from France came looking for survivors. They hoped to find French professors who taught at the school. They found Lyse instead. They gave her an IV, medicine and food. But the firefighters and crowds that gathered couldn’t move enough of the rock and debris to get Lyse out. They considered cutting her legs, but said it would have killed her.
Simon tried desperately to find heavy machinery to move the rocks. He searched near and far, including at the airport. He pleaded for help, but there was none to be had. The firefighters left on Friday. They said Lyse was stable and lucid.
She died the next day, Saturday, between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. “She wanted me to tell her father that she loved him. She asked me not to leave her there. She told me not to cry because she believed she was coming out.”
Simon and Lyse had met at the school two years earlier, but at first neither cared much for the other. She thought he was mischievous, bratty and not serious enough about his studies. He told her she should loosen up, enjoy life more. But they found that they shared much in common. Simon’s father died in 2000 of Hepatitis and his mother died a few years later. Lyse’s mother is ill. They practiced the same faith — Catholicism — and wanted many of the same things out of life: stability, careers, close families.
In time, they became good friends. They dated, worked on projects, planned weekly activities. They planned to marry and raise a family. But those dreams perished in the earthquake.
Since January, Simon has been jobless and homeless, living in a tent in a crowded encampment. The Reporters Without Borders office is his daytime refuge. There he finds access to computers and companionship with fellow journalists.
Two weeks ago, he was rehired at Le Nouvelliste, although he worked without access to a dedicated computer. Last week, he was among the 20 journalists who received computers donated by the Haiti News Project. He was thrilled to get the computer and thanked the donors repeatedly for the gift. He has suffered much in his young life, but says the computer is a tool he can use to begin rebuilding his life.