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Canada Governor-General Michaelle Jean speaks with the residents and members of her delegation in Port-au-Prince March 8, 2010.

STR/REUTERS/Felix Evens

Canada's Governor-General landed in her homeland this morning for a two day visit with top Haitian officials in the earthquake-ravaged country.

Dressed in relaxed military shades, Michaëlle Jean received Haitian President René Préval on the tarmac at the city's international airport before taking a helicopter ride over the city to the destroyed presidential palace.

She called the sight of the heavily damaged city "unbearable" and "unbelievable" but was quick to point out that she also sees signs of hope in the streets.

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"What I see being here is people trying to overcome that incredible ordeal," she said. "It's as if the city had been bombarded."

Standing alongside Mr. Préval in front of his ruined palace, Ms. Jean recalled a meeting she had with him just one year ago on the palace grounds to discuss a development plan for Haiti following four devastating earthquakes.

"We saw people so determined and ready to start again," she said. "There was a national strategy for ... sustainable development and to fight poverty in Haiti."

The earthquake, she said, should not be allowed to erase that.

"Mourning is one thing. Making sure life triumphs over destruction is the focus."

The Governor-General is scheduled to visit several sites in and around the capital city this afternoon. She is expected in Jacmel, her childhood vacation home, tomorrow.

Since the earthquake, Ambroise Anderson now carries everything that is important to him in a dusty red Jansport backpack secured with a length of coarse, twisted rope.

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There are art books, Sharpie markers for drawing sketches on smooth pieces of rubble, his school certificates and a yellowing piece of correspondence from August, 2006, stamped in the top left corner with the golden seal of Canada's Governor-General and signed with Michaëlle Jean's curvy penmanship.



"I hold everything that is valuable to me and this is important because I respect her," Mr. Anderson says as he gingerly pulls the letter from his bag outside the one-man tent that is currently his home on Sur Place, Jacmel's town square.

Ms. Jean sent him the letter years ago, in the months after her first official visit here as Governor-General, to say thank you for a painting Mr. Anderson gave her while she was in town. In the letter, she encourages him to continue his work, noting that it "enriches our world view and encourages reflection." Mr. Anderson, who is currently homeless, keeps it with him for inspiration. He's one of many Jacmel residents who carry memories of Canada's Governor-General close to them.

"We have a spiritual relationship," he explains. "I feel her presence here." Tuesday, that presence will be seen as well.

The Governor-General arrived in Port-au-Prince Monday morning with a delegation of Canadians. Tuesday, before she leaves the country for an official visit to the Dominican Republic, Ms. Jean is expected to stop in Jacmel, her mother's birthplace and the city that anchored some of the Governor-General's fondest childhood memories in the years before her family fled Haiti under the dictatorship of "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

The city has been abuzz for days with news that she is finally coming.

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Ms. Jean has not visited Jacmel since May, 2006, when she first travelled to Haiti as Canada's Governor-General to participate in the swearing-in of then-newly installed President René Préval. Her stop in Jacmel is still legendary. Ask almost anyone walking the streets downtown and they'll recount how, back then, she let down her hair, stood on chairs to address her people and danced, high-heeled, in the streets to folk songs.

She also delivered a rousing speech that stuck with people, although its content is perhaps now more applicable.

"The whole world wants to see Haiti seize this important moment and do what it takes to lift Haiti out of misery," she said in Creole at the time. "The time for tensions and divisions is over," she told the crowd, urging them to do their part in building a better nation.

Ms. Jean holds a special place in her heart for Jacmel, a seaside city of about 50,000. The people of Jacmel hold her equally close.

Although there are many successful Haitians abroad who hail from here - writers, musicians and artists - the lofty Canadian office to which Ms. Jean has ascended, combined with the obvious pride in her Haitian roots she displays so publicly on the international stage, has given Jacmelians cause to hold her in special esteem.

"She represents an important role model for Jacmel and especially for women in Jacmel," says Gerard Borne, principal of the Centre Alcibiade Pommayrac, a prestigious private school in Jacmel.

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Students are schooled in Ms. Jean's story because she promotes a positive image of Haitians and their country throughout the world. The fact that she left the country as a young girl and still maintains roots here is also important to highlight to youth, he says, pointing out that one of the country's problems is that Haitians who are successful abroad often detach from their home country.

In contrast, Ms. Jean's image here is one that is very much tied up in the ongoing aid Canadians are providing to the community, particularly in the wake of the earthquake.

Since January, Canadian military personnel have had a heavy presence in Jacmel: they're at the airport, which they are helping to run; operating a seaside health clinic; and they're on the streets, where soldiers have been doing everything from clearing rubble to repairing the water and sewer systems.

The general population in Jacmel has come to associate much of that work with the Governor-General. "The more Canadians we see here, the more we feel Michaëlle Jean," Mr. Anderson says.

When Ms. Jean lands here, a crush of people will be waiting to greet her at the airport. That will include nearly two dozen cousins and extended family members who are bursting with pride at the mere notion of glimpsing her.

"Haiti always lives on hope," says Maud Khawly, a cousin of Ms. Jean's mother who is the local family matriarch. "We hope Michaëlle is going to come and help the country," she says, adding: "She will take care of Jacmel."

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