Jean Manton Lizaire, who was born and raised in Haiti, moved his family to Asbury Park in 1977. Tonight, he is calling a friend back in Haiti, because the weeks since he’s been gone are piling up. And, he needs to get back to his 12-acre farm.

He wants to know what his friend can see. But, he apologizes that he can’t really say what it’s like outside his door. “I can’t go out there,” Jean quotes his friend for a reporter, “There’s at least 30 dead bodies lying in the street.”

It’s like a scene out of Mad Max. The worst I’ve seen in decades.

Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF

Meanwhile, (despite the obvious dangers), our friend Jean Manton still plots his return. But why? 

The New York NPR radio station reports 11 dead bodies found that morning after gangs raged through the night. And Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF, says gangs control parts of the capitol of Port-au-Prince and have taken over the airport. Two-thirds of the country needs aid and 350,000 are displaced, Russell says. “It’s like a scene out of Mad Max. The worst I’ve seen in decades.”

During other eruptions Port-au-Prince had always remained calm, now without even a temporary prime minister in residence, Amy Wilentz, a contributing editor from The Nation magazine, worries that the country will become a “Narco State.” The word collapse is heard a lot. And incredibly, gangs are forming their own alliances. Thirty Americans fled the country on a charter flight and are reported safe now. “It never seems to work, the alliance idea…,” says Jean. “They decide to give peace a chance, but by 7 p.m. they’re fighting again and people are caught in the crossfire.”

Credit: Asbury Park Reporter Graphic

Jean’s farm is at least a three to four-hour drive southwest of the capitol, in Fond-des-Blancs, which translated means the White Valley, a reference to the Polish troops who settled there after they aided the French who were fighting against the Haitian Revolution. Go figure. Consequently, inhabitants today are said to often have blond hair and green eyes. Jean describes this section like another world, cradled by mountains, with plump mangoes dangling from trees, cashew nut and Yuca crops in the fields and cows and goats roaming.

There is no better country than the good ole USA, but home is home.

Jean Manton Lizaire
A fine-feathered resident of the farm struts about Credit: Jean Manton Lizaire
Hanging fruit Credit: Jean Manton Lizaire

Before the recent crisis, he invested heavily in a five-year transition to the cashew crops. If he had the money now, he would maximize the Yuca crop, which is used to make bread as well as whole meals, to hopefully help stave off the famine that most expect.

“Yes,” he agrees, “there has been famine going on – a way of Haitian life,” he says. “People go without food three to four days a week. Most people are dying.”

Before this, an average bag of rice of 40 lbs was sold for $400, he explains. But last year that jumped to $800, largely from “food bandits” stealing and selling it back at these inflated prices. “They have been around the better part of three years and right now the same 40lb bag is $1500, while the average person makes $1,000 a month,” if they can get to their jobs. A family of five eats a bag of rice in one week. So a family may take an empty bean can to measure out a portion of rice to sell from a bag. “People make a small profit this way to pay for their children’s educations.”

The marauding gangs have missed pockets of peaceful communities. Ideally, the country probably could be separated into segments, so that people in peaceful areas can plan, can have central government and a rule of law they can rely on, Jean imagines.

As you might imagine, when Jean Manton Lizaire and his wife Marie left Haiti to raise their family in Asbury Park they didn’t stop trying to save their native home. Jean soon joined HOPA – Haitians Organized to Promote Achievements, and he launched a radio program broadcast from Brookdale College on 90.5 FM, called “Haitian Sound.” And, with on-air host Jean Vilard, they set up Haitian-language programing on WYGG in Asbury Park. Also, Jean Manton took his vision for his homeland, appropriately, to Cablevision with “Haitienne Vision” (pronounced vis e own). Today Jean, 69, and Marie have two sons, 46 and 44, and a daughter 37, who live on their own in parts of central New Jersey.

As Jean says, “There is no better country than the good ole USA, but home is home. Some of us want to go home and when you cannot, you feel you are in jail.”

Four-legged friend of the farm Credit: Jean Manton Lizaire
Bounty from the cashew crop ripens on a counter Credit: Jean Manton Lizaire
The beauty of Fond-des-Blancs, surrounds the farm Credit: Jean Manton Lizaire

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Some first-generation-Americans, those born here of foreign-born parents, also feel that Haiti is their home. How can people help those who are trying to hold Haiti together, especially when there is no postal service or street names?

Here’s one local option: Pastor Jason Jennings, who operates a food pantry and soon an early childhood daycare program at The Rebirth Church, 142 DeWitt Avenue (near the West Side Community Center), will be organizing a way to make donations through a church-to-church bank-to-bank system with The Tabernacle of Glory, which has five churches in Haiti. Pastor Jennings strongly urges donors to identify their payments as “For the Haitian Mission.” He can be reached at 201-995-3082.

Sheila Etienne provided background information and assisted with this article.

Maureen Nevin is an award-winning independent journalist who has won the National Press Club's First Place Award for Consumer Journalism for “Who's Watching the Watchdog?” An Asbury Park resident from fall of 1999 to 2021, Nevin launched and hosted a live call-in show Asbury Radio – The Radio Voice of Asbury Park from July 2000 to November 2006, broadcast over WYGG 88.1 FM and the internet. Her parents were born in Great Britain.

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