Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Encounters | An occasional feature

One year later, a survivor can't bear to face the world

Magdala Joseph has tried different things to lift her out of the depression that set in after surviving the Haitian earthquake and losing her baby and leg. But nothing has worked.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Magdala Joseph has tried different things to lift her out of the depression that set in after surviving the Haitian earthquake and losing her baby and leg. But nothing has worked.

TAMPA

The bedroom door is closed. Not because it is the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. Not because it muffles the gurgling sounds of the month-old baby in the other room. But because Magdala Joseph can't bear to face the world.

It is noon on Jan. 12. A year ago at this same time, Magdala had a beautiful, month-old baby boy, an adoring husband, a university degree and a job as an accountant.

"The world was mine," she whispers. "Then, in seconds, I had nothing."

She waves her hand in front of her, palm down as if she were wiping something away.

"Nothing," she says again.

At 4:52 p.m. on that day in January 2010, she was at home in Carrefour, Haiti, nursing her baby, Gimpsley Lenny Joseph. He wore a little blue knit cap and a matching top. A minute later, the masonry house shook. The masonry house where Magdala sat in a big cushy chair, next to a spray of bougainvilleas on the coffee table.

She woke up a week later in a Port-au-Prince hospital, asking for her son. No one said he was dead, still under the rubble. No one said her right leg would need to be amputated below the knee, or that it didn't matter because she was paralyzed below the waist.

"I didn't know until I got to Florida that it was over for me," she said.

She was one of the lucky ones: Airlifted to Tampa. Treated with the best medical technology. Cared for by wonderful nurses and doctors. Installed in a furnished apartment in South Tampa from Catholic Charities.

"Lucky?" she asks.

Every day, she puts on a matching outfit and maneuvers her wheelchair around the room to make up her twin bed with perfect hospital corners. Her thick Larousse French/English dictionary is on a table next to her child-care books. Perfumes and moisturizers cover the dresser, along with a vase of silk tropical flowers and a teddy bear. Tapes in English.

But she doesn't see them.

"I only see the sound in my head that never stops," she says.

She tried church. She tried counseling. She tried physical therapy. Taking the bus places. Helping with dinner. Talking to neighbors. But the sound always shuts her in.

"The sound of no tranquillity," she calls it.

In the living room of the two-bedroom apartment, her roommates, also earthquake refugees, hold up their baby boy and laugh. He wears a little blue knit cap and matching top like the one her child died in.

"He is our future," his mother says.

From her room, Magdala hears this and looks away.

Her baby was dumped in a mass grave. She can't imagine having another. Her university degree, thumb-tacked to the wall, yellows. Outside, her husband circles on a bicycle in the parking lot, reluctant to go back to a room with a door that is always closed.

On this day of blue skies and bright sun, dozens of Haitians in the apartment complex go to doctors' appointments, apply for jobs and walk their children home from school. But not Magdala Joseph. She closes her eyes and puts her hands over her ears.

Meg Laughlin can be reached at mlaughlin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8068.

.about the series

Suggest an Encounter

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2924.

One year later, a survivor can't bear to face the world 01/16/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 17, 2011 7:36am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. BREAKING: Tropical Storm Harvey forms in Atlantic

    Hurricanes

    UPDATE: At 5 p.m. the National Hurricane Center said a hurricane hunter plane had determined that Tropical Storm Harvey had formed with sustained winds of 40 mph.

    Three tropical waves are expected to strengthen as they move across the Atlantic Ocean. [Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center]
  2. Editorial: Pinellas should join lawsuit challenging new state law

    Editorials

    The Florida Legislature has been on a cynical, constitutionally dubious quest to render local school boards powerless. The most direct assault is a new state law that strips school boards of much of their authority when it comes to the creation and funding of charter schools. It's time for the Pinellas County School …

  3. Editorial: Fix funding unfairness in Florida foster care system

    Editorials

    Many of the children in Florida's foster care system already have been failed by their parents. The last thing these kids need is to be failed by bureaucracy, too, and yet that's exactly what appears to be happening because of a needlessly rigid funding formula set up by the Florida Legislature. Child welfare agencies …

    The Legislature may have had good intentions when it came up with the funding plan, but it’s obvious that there is some unfairness built into it. The funding may be complicated, but the goal is simple: Making sure every child in need gets the help he or she needs.
  4. After Charlottesville, Judy Genshaft asks USF to "stand together with open minds and open hearts"

    Blogs

    TAMPA — In a welcome letter celebrating the start of a new academic year, University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft took a moment to reflect on last weekend's violence in Charlottesville and asked students to unite with "open minds and open hearts."

    USF president Judy Genshaft posed with graduate Matt Jackson in 2015.
  5. Police: Man arrested in Largo had thousands of child pornography files

    Crime

    LARGO — A 43-year-old man was arrested Wednesday after detectives found thousands of child pornography images and videos on his laptop.

    Tyrone Jeffrey Russell, 43, was arrested Wednesday on child pornography charges, according to Largo police. [Pinellas County Jail]