PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The faces are what you remember.
Dominique Simon, a 23-year-old secretary, wiping tears from her bright brown eyes with a pink bandana emblazoned with the picture of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, crying out: "A year ago, I would have been shot for having this."
Antenor Volcy, a retired 62-year-old soldier with thick glasses, gray hair and a two-day-old beard, looking at U.S. soldiers guarding the National Palace, and saying: "God has made his miracle."
And Marie Dorilus, a 29-year-old mother, holding her 7-year-old daughter's hand and smiling at the sky, shouting: "If you could only feel the joy in my heart, now."
This is what it was like yesterday to be on the outside looking in, to be with the tens of thousands who showed up at the National Palace to witness the return of President Aristide.
On one side of the green, wrought-iron gates, politicians and generals, priests and soldiers, had front-row seats to history.
But out in the streets, it was Woodstock, without the mud.
It didn't matter that you couldn't really see the diminutive president-priest as he stood behind a bullet-proof glass barrier.
And it didn't matter that virtually no one in the crowd could hear a word the leader was saying, since the loudspeaker system was about as powerful as a transistor radio.
All anyone cared about was this: The president was back in his home.
"For this, we have waited three years," said Ms. Simon.
Along with thousands of others, Ms. Simon showed up in the main square before dawn, dancing, singing, preparing for an event that only a year ago seemed preposterous.
Yet now, it was happening.
Ms. Simon said she knew Father Aristide would talk of reconciliation and peace.
Yet, forced to hide for a year because she once worked in an agency of the Aristide government, she was still bitter as the party began.
"I would like him to speak about the attaches, the Tontons Macoutes, all of those who have been killing people," she said.
By the gates of the palace, hundreds of young men shrieked and cursed at the dozen Haitian policemen who paraded onto the grounds.
"They are the ones killing people," shouted Derosnel Jacques, 23. "We don't need them at all. We don't want to deal with them anymore. We want our democracy, now."
Haiti's democracy came courtesy of the U.S. military.
The American military presence was overwhelming, from the sharp-shooters who manned the roof of the National Palace, to the Humvees parked in the main square to military police who patrolled on foot.
As Ms. Simon talked, three American soldiers passed by, bearing M-16s.
L She looked at the men and shouted: "They came to us by God."
Father Aristide arrived in a more conventional manner, by helicopter.
One after another, dark green dots circled in the big blue sky, as helicopters brought the dignitaries in from the airport.
The crowd surged toward the gates, thousands of arms waving, thousands of voices rising, until there was one mass of joy and only one word that echoed in the air:
Aristide. Aristide. Aristide.
"This is a deliverance day," said Mr. Volcy, the retired soldier.
"I think there were no good leaders in Haiti before. Now we have one back. I believe the violence is over."
After living in fear for years, Mrs. Dorilus felt safe enough to bring her daughter Patrice to the celebration.
"I feel like I am in church," said Mrs. Dorilus, who was resplendent in a fuchsia dress and black shoes. "There is history here."
There was also one terrific party.
In one corner of the plaza, the crowd danced a conga.
In another corner, hundreds sang, "Haiti, My Love."
Vendors sold soda, sugar cane, T-shirts, straw hats and tiny pictures of Father Aristide.
Beggars and pickpockets blended in with teachers and students, businessmen and the unemployed.
It was a cross-section of Father Aristide's supporters, the mostly poor and mostly hopeful.
With an American flag draped over his shoulders, 17-year-old student Michedsen Cadet looked at the crowd and said: "This is just like New Year's Day."
But many in the crowd weren't interested in sticking around for the conclusion. By the thousands, they left as Father Aristide spoke on.
It wasn't a disrespectful act -- it was simply that the moveable party was headed elsewhere, through the streets and up to the neighborhoods, newly scrubbed and buffed.
As she prepared to walk six miles up a hill to Petionville, Altagrace Bloch was exhausted, yet still elated.
"Before this day, I thought we would all die," she said. "But we are alive."
Was she disappointed she neither heard nor saw Father Aristide?
"No," Mrs. Bloch said, a smile bursting on her face. "I will see him on television."