Sandro was our fixer in Haiti. And since everything I’ll ever talk about from this point forward involves Sandro, I’ll take some time here to tell you his story.
Sandro drove us, interpreted for our every interview, watched over us like bear cubs. Among his various business ventures, Sandro operated a rental car company that catered mostly to Haiti’s nascent tourism industry. He was expensive, as fixers in the aftermath go, but his knowledge, connections, and access to vehicles and fuel made him worth it. At least to me, but I wasn’t paying, so it’s hard for me to take a hard stance on the matter.
He was educated, had studied diplomacy in university before quitting his studies to make money. He was a businessman, as he liked to state during negotiations. He also taught me everything I know about Haiti that I didn’t see for myself or read about on twitter.
Sandro had a woman. Suzette. I don’t want to romanticize things beyond their usefulness, so I’ll state that Sandro appeared to have other vaginal avenues available. But Suzette was the one that was important. He called her his wife, even though they weren’t married. They had met while studying together, and, as he tells it, she and two of her friends all took to Sandro at the same time. But Suzette was the best among them, and he chose her.
Suzette was ambitious. Driven in a way that impressed Sandro. She didn’t need his money, had her own dreams and drives separate from him. This is why he loved her. She had already finished one degree and was working towards a Masters as well. She also worked her way up to a position as a human resources manager for the NGO, Plan. She had a future for herself, and unlike many educated Haitians, she wanted to spend it on Haiti. She doesn’t anymore, though, because she’s dead.
There was one trait of Suzette’s that Sandro had trouble grappling with, and this was her stubbornness. Like any man who loves strong women, this stubbornness was frustrating beyond words, and doubly so because his love for her was mainly a result of the qualities that created it. They had one persistent argument. Suzette wanted to work full time at Plan and continue studying towards her advanced degree. Sandro could see that it was wearing her thin, and urged her to take some time off from school while she settled into her new responsibilities at the NGO.
“You don’t even have the time to finish your schoolwork,” he’d tell her. But it didn’t matter to her. She knew it was all under her dominion, that she had power enough for both. She relented briefly. Took some months off from her studies. The dream, however, was in front of her, compelling her, and she gave into it and affirmed her return to her studies.
January 12th, 2010 was the first day of classes for the new term. They argued, Sandro insisting it was too much for her, Suzette reassuring. He drove her to the university in silence, dropped her off, and drove away. She sent him a text message before her class began, “I’m sorry. Don’t be upset with me.” He didn’t respond. It was the first time in their relationship that he didn’t respond right away. The weight of this old, stupid argument made his thumbs too heavy.
At four o’clock, she texted again, “Are you ok? Why haven’t you responded? I love you. I’ll see you soon.”
If she had listened to him, he says now, if she had taken the break…
The earthquake hit Haiti at 4:53, and he never wrote her back.