EDITED BY PETER ORNER AND LAURA LAMPTON SCOTT
Jean’s son Diego shows his schoolwork in the Dominican Republic.
Jean Marseille recorded these dispatches on his phone while surviving on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from October through December 2022. As the chaos that followed the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 devolved into further lawlessness, Jean witnessed first-hand a city in free fall.
And yet he remembers his childhood on his grandparent’s farm outside Cap-Haïtien as a happy one. There were cows and goats and donkeys and land to roam. . . . But he missed the mother he’d never known. From Florida, she’d send him cassette tapes: “The first time I heard my mother’s voice was on those tapes. Think about that. Your mother’s voice comes in the mail. That’s my life.”
— Peter Orner
Dispatch #4: 10/23/22
Good afternoon to anyone who may be listening. It’s me, Jean Marseille, in Haiti again. I wanted to tell you a little about myself today.
About six months ago, things were really hard for me. Lucky for me, I have an older brother in the States called Will. He’s my mom and my dad’s first son. He was the one that was with me on my voyages between the Bahamas and the United States. One day he just called me up and told me that my mom had died1 and left an insurance claim for me, which was about $7,800. That money was hard for me to get. After a few months, after a lot of struggle, with the help of Joe Mozingo, my friend who works for the Los Angeles Times, they finally gave me the money.
Things were starting to lighten up. A little less pressure. I started fixing up my house. Then, the people around the neighborhood realized that I must have some kind of money coming in. So these people decided to kidnap my son Diego.
I don’t know which gang it was that took my son. I didn’t see those guys’ faces, because they had masks. Some of them had on those Scarface bandanas.
They held him seventeen days. And if I was not smart, they would have killed him. The day when I went to give the ransom money, one guy took the money and tried to not give Diego back. Another guy in the gang said, “That’s not fair, man. The guy paid, release the kid.” I had to mostly give all the money that I had in the bank. Altogether I gave seven thousand dollars US to get my son back.
And as soon as he got released, I started to do what I could to get my family out of Haiti.
The same people that did the kidnapping, they took over my house. They took every house on my side of the street, burned all the other houses. They are still living in my house today. For me, going to the DR [Dominican Republic] is a wonderful idea and everything, because it’s safer there, but I would like to see these people give back my house. I need my home back. My mom left the house for me. It means a lot to me to have my own space.
I’m kind of worried right now, because I’m not working. And the only funds that I’m able to get now come from begging my friends Joe and Peter. I know one day that’s all going to stop, and I’m thinking, What’s the next step after I get to the DR? In the DR, they’re very racist toward Haitians. The situation with Haitians and Dominicans goes way back. Boyer, one of our first Haitian presidents in the 1800s, he mistreated the Dominicans. He forced them not to speak Spanish, all kinds of things. These things stay with people. Now they are really racist towards Haitians.
I don’t plan on living in the DR for a long time. They have all the power over Haitians, and they mistreat us. They know our country is at war right now and we’re fighting amongst ourselves. No country seems to respect us. We have no choice but to suffer it.
Right now, my wife and my two daughters—Annesamma and my adopted daughter, Geyonce—are still stuck in Cap-Haïtien. My wife has proper papers and a visa and things like that, and the other day she and three of my kids tried to cross the border. But as they were entering the DR, they were stopped. They accepted my wife and my two daughters. But my son MacDonald is already age eighteen. They said he needed his own passport. He had to go back to Port-au-Prince to get one. So the whole family turned back.
So right now I’m in Port-au-Prince trying to get MacDonald’s papers done. The plan is for the whole family to meet in the DR, but who knows if it will all work out?
It’s not easy. In order to get help from people, I’m always having to ask. Whoever will help, I’ll ask. Sometimes, I get help from my wife’s sister, who’s living in Brazil.
My final plan is to send my kids to Brazil. That’s where my wife’s sister is, and she’s trying to make that happen—but that takes a little time and money.
Joe Mozingo has been good to me since it seems like the very beginning of time. My wife’s mother, she calls my son Diego, “Joe Mozingo.” That’s the side name that my wife’s mother gave my youngest son, because he wants to be just like Joe. Like Joe, he wants to be a writer. I didn’t choose that for him. He chose that for himself.
Joe and Peter have been a very big part of my life. Other people gave up on me in the end. But these guys always seem to be there.
Lately I feel like I’m living strictly on faith. I have the strong belief that I’m here for a reason, even though I don’t know what the reason is. Even though I lost my house and I don’t have anything. It’s raining right now. I have to stand in this rain to make this recording underneath a roof, because where I sleep, it’s leaky and it rains. My house—I have a nice house that these crooks just took over for themselves, and I got to just suffer it out in the rain.
This is Jean for right now. We’ll talk later.
1 In February of 2022, Jean’s mother died from the coronavirus.