As her Dash-7 plane began its descent over verdant hills and into Jacmel's airport yesterday, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean looked out the window and began to cry. She wiped her tears away, and told her Rideau Hall staff that she needed time to compose herself.
She did, but it didn't last.
On the tarmac, two little girls in white dresses with matching ribbons in their hair waited to offer flowers, and old friends of her family formed a welcoming party. On this, the final leg of her four-day visit to Haiti, Ms. Jean had landed triumphantly in her spiritual home, and it seemed like all of Jacmel was waiting for her.
"This is where I retrace the steps of my childhood," the Governor-General said on the steaming tarmac, in a voice choked with emotion. "I feel a bit overwhelmed by emotion. It's the most moving moment for me."
Her welcome in Jacmel, the picturesque port town to which she traces her family roots, was worthy of that given a returning hero. It underscored how inspirational a figure she is for the impoverished people of a country where hope is as scarce as three square meals.
All day, Ms. Jean was treated like a superstar. Families squeezed on cinder-block balconies to catch a glimpse of her, and peasants waited on dirt roads in the searing heat. Mothers with children stood on her route with signs reading "Merci, Michaëlle."
Some people didn't know exactly who she was, but they knew she was Haitian, she was successful, and she was now among them.
"We realize that if she can do what she did, so can we," Yaël Talleyrand, 9, wearing a crisp school uniform, said as she waited to meet the Governor-General at the airport. "When most Haitians leave the country, they forget they're Haitians. We're proud of her because she didn't forget Haiti."
Jean, incidentally, is perhaps the most prominent member of Canada's Haitian community. This population is overwhelmingly concentrated in Francophone Québec where they make up perhaps one percent of the Québec population, there contributing both to a poor proletariat subjected to racial discrimination and also a highly successful and educated elite. Jean clearly belongs to the latter group, but (hopefully without sounding patronizing) it is nice to know that she has felt able to retain her links with her homeland. Her visit has been compared to Karol Woltyja's post-Papal visit to Poland for a reason.