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Homecoming

Michaëlle Jean's emotional reunion in Jacmel Add to ...

The first tears came mid-morning, spilling out over Michaëlle Jean's dark, caramel cheeks the moment she laid eyes on the lean, sorrow-eyed girl dressed in black on Tuesday.

The Governor-General gasped and put her hands to her face, momentarily forgetting the two dozen female activists sitting before her as she stepped toward Mailé Marcelin, hugging her tightly and then pulling back to place tender kisses on both of the girl's cheeks. They stood weeping as Ms. Jean ran her fingers through the 29-year-old's hair, smoothing it with the long, comforting strokes of a practised mother.

For nearly an hour they sat together, arms entwined and hands clasped, silently sharing a common sorrow. Ms. Marcelin is the surviving daughter of Magalie Marcelin, a lawyer and activist who was killed in the January earthquake and who, as a close friend and the godmother of her daughter, occupied a special place in the Governor-General's heart.

When Ms. Jean rose to explain their story to the women gathered to sing and receive her Fanm Desidé (Creole for "women decided"), the Governor-General's voice broke for the first time since her arrival on Monday in Haiti, revealing how deeply she has felt Ms. Marcelin's loss.

The powerful emotions seemed to fuel Ms. Jean's strength as she delivered a motivational message she seemed determined to repeat often on her visit to quake-ravaged Haiti. "There is no reconstruction viable in Haiti without the women's organizations," she said. "Without including the citizens we fail. Without including the women, we fail."

Ms. Jean seemed at ease among the women, to whom she pledged $40,000 to support their programs, including medical and microfinance initiatives. She also promised continuing support from cities across Canada. When her handlers began urging her to leave, Ms. Jean lingered at the door to gaze at the crowd of women who broke into song to thank her for coming. She paused for a few moments to sing along.

"You are my family," she told them.

Outside, she resisted being marshalled into her vehicle, stopping instead to hug and shake hands with a young man she recognized from a past visit. Shifting between French, Creole and English, she told a crowd clamouring for a look at the pair that the two discussed what has to change in Haiti - selfishness among citizens and powerbrokers - to keep young people motivated.

"We stayed friends," she said, gazing at the young man. "We have always stayed friends."

Ms. Jean made a brief stop at the Canadian Forces' dockside medical clinic to thank the medics and other soldiers who have staffed it for nearly two months. The walk-in clinic, which closed Tuesday, has treated more than 10,000 patients since the earthquake.

Wearing dark pants and a casual olive blazer, Ms. Jean was composed and gracious during her time with the military.

But it was while she was drawing a crowd and causing downtown traffic to stand still, her hand firmly clasped in the palm of a smitten cousin while the arm of another draped over her shoulder, that the Governor-General began to look gleeful, as if she felt at home again in Jacmel.

On a walking tour she insisted - despite a tight schedule and her security team's resistance - on moving through some of the city's most heavily damaged streets, Ms. Jean seemed unfazed by the blazing noontime sun or the chaos created by jostling street merchants, wandering livestock and erratic motorbikes. She happily accepted a portrait painted by Garraud Reginald, a local artist who scrawled his phone numbers on the back of his canvas.

Ms. Jean's face bore a blissful look as she strolled from the town square to the front step of a tiny tin-roofed home a few blocks from the square where she spent her childhood vacations.

There, she ignored the circle of bodyguards surrounding her, pulling old friends and cousins through the ring of security men to embrace them and shake their hands.

Strolling arm-in-arm with some of them on an unscripted walk, she seemed oblivious to the fact that military and RCMP officers were working hard to block off the nearby streets.

"I feel like I'm floating," she said, the crowd around her growing steadily. "Like I've got wings."

The moment faded as Ms. Jean was taken to the airport and a military helicopter that would take her back to Port-au-Prince. As it lifted off, signalling the approaching end of her two-day visit, Ms. Jean buried her head in her hands and began to sob.

Follow on Twitter: @jessleeder

 

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