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Ann ale, Grenadiers! The Haitian women's soccer team is the Haiti we should root for

Haiti's Roselord Borgella celebrates scoring from the penalty spot her side's opening goal against Mexico during a CONCACAF Women's Championship soccer match in Monterrey, Mexico, Thursday, July 7, 2022.
Fernando Llano
Haitian Heroes: Forward Roselord Borgella (22) and fellow Haitian national women's team players celebrate her goal against Mexico last year.

COMMENTARY: The Haitian women's soccer team just qualified for its first World Cup — and is waking us up to the bright Haiti too long obscured by dark scoundrels.

A big part of me right now wants to get the name Melchie Dumornay inscribed in Haitian history books along with heroes like Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Cécile Fatiman.

Not because Dumornay is a victorious general or an inspirational priestess — she’s a soccer player — but because she and her teammates have suddenly given Haitian Nation, and those of us who wish the best for it, its first really joyful moment in…Bondye, how long has it been?

Too long.

For much too long now, since the country’s apocalyptic 2010 earthquake, we’ve watched a parade of scoundrels, thugs and assassins abduct a proud population — the world’s first Black-led republic — and brutally break it into a failed state.

Corrupt charlatans like former President Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. Murderous gangsters like gang federation leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier. Delusional expat conspirators like president-wannabe Christian Emmanuel Sanon, who from Broward County allegedly set in motion the half-witted political scheme that morphed into the 2021 murder of President Jovenel Moīse — himself a tyrant-wannabe. They’ve all put Haiti in the headlines for all the wrong reasons for all this past, lost decade.

Until this week.

READ MORE: At World Cup, my head says root for U.S. women. My heart says cheer for Reggae Girlz

On Wednesday, behind Dumornay’s goals, the Haitian national women’s soccer team beat Chile 2-1in New Zealand to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in the squad’s history (and only the second time in the country’s history, with the men’s team having qualified only for the 1974 Cup). The crew — known as Les Grenadiers — said making it to the top tournament this summer, to be held in Australia and New Zealand, is a “breath of fresh air” for crisis-choked Haiti.

It’s much more than that, though. It’s a desperately needed reminder that Haiti is not Martelly, Cherizier, Sanon, Moīse — or all the shameless political and business elites the U.S. and Canada have recently sanctioned for payrolling the violent gangs that are now the nation’s de facto government.

The women's soccer team is a desperately needed reminder that Haiti is something loftier than the putrid leadership that crawled out from under the rubble of the 2010 earthquake.

It’s a wake-up call to the fact that before the earthquake, Haitians were on a far different, far more positive path. They were starting to show the world what Haiti could be and do on a stable stage. Yes, it was still the hemisphere’s most impoverished country. But little things — folks remember newly installed traffic lights suddenly blinking all over Port-au-Prince — seemed to portend bigger things, including hundreds of millions of dollars being pledged by newly interested international investors.

The quake suddenly leveled all that hope. And out from under the rubble crawled the reprobates — starting with Martelly. The crass carnival singer and devotee of Haiti’s monstrous Duvalier dictatorship got elected President a year after the disaster, then allegedly presided over the embezzlement of billions of dollars in public funds. (He denies it.)

But now, for a glorious moment or more, Melchie has kicked Michel aside — literally.

High-flying Handsprings

Dumornay’s first goal against Chile was an exhibition of muscle and mastery. She roared past a defender to chase down the ball, then finessed a left-footed shot into the far upper corner of the net. Her second was another lefty beauty, this time into the far lower corner. The strikes helped explain why the 19-year-old midfielder was signed last month by Olympique Lyon in France, one of the world’s best women’s club teams.

Haitian soccer star Melchie Dumornay
Haitian soccer star Melchie Dumornay

They also showcased how solid and fun the rest of the Haitian women’s side is. There were smart, gorgeous assists from Roselord Borgella and captain Nérilia Mondésir, and an amazing fist-save by goalie Kerly Théus. The high-flying handsprings Dumornay and her teammates performed after her first goal were an announcement that Haiti’s Grenadiers are the Cinderella team to follow in this year’s World Cup, much like Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz were four years ago.

Ann ale! Let’s go!

But something else makes them worth backing — not just as soccer players but as symbols of a loftier Haiti obscured today by its putrid leadership. When asked last week about her biggest life goals, Dumornay spoke not of making the World Cup or starring at Lyon, but of starting a soccer academy for Haitian girls, “to provide opportunities to players that I didn’t have myself.”

That Haiti — her Haiti — made it out of the rubble of 2010, too. It’s time we sought it out. And cheer for it.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Haitian goalie. It was Kerly Théus, not Madelina Fleuriot.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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