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Dispatches from Haiti: A Nation Mourning Dispatches from Haiti: A Nation Mourning

Dispatches from Haiti: A Nation Mourning

by Crystal Wells
February 19, 2010

This is a continuing series on the devastation and reconstruction of Haiti. As the story fades from the front pages of newspapers and trending topics on Twitter, we will endeavor to provide a continuing look at what is happening on the ground.
The music started around 4:30 am, soothing and melodic, like a chorus softly praying into the early morning air. As the sun rose, so did the energy of the music, filling the city with percussion, rhythm, and cheers of "hallelujah".
It was exactly a month since the devastating 7.0-earthquake hit Haiti and the sounds marked the start of a period of national mourning for the 200,000 who died in the disaster. Streams of people, mostly dressed in white, flowed towards a stage erected near the remains of the Presidential Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince to take part in a national prayer service.
Some here call the earthquake "l'événement"-the "event." Others refer to it by the terrifying sound of its destructive force: "Goudoum! Goudoum!" It's  a saying that started with children who, having no word for earthquake, invented one that mimicked the quake's shaking and rattling. Whatever its name, the earthquake was a collective, near-apocalyptic experience that touched every Haitian-rich, poor, mother, child, brother, sister.
If their house did not collapse, a close friend's did. Their family might have survived, but someone dear did not. So many remain missing, the majority lost beneath the rubble that is everywhere.My second day in Port-au-Prince, my driver showed me a video he shot with his cell phone. It was of a casket. Inside, he said, were his wife's aunt and her two children. They had just been recovered from the rubble, three weeks after the earthquake, partly decomposed and their faces scarcely recognizable. One casket was all they could afford.Yet he felt lucky to have found them. Now, they could have a proper burial.Memories of the disaster haunt the city and as cranes start to clear the rubble, fear of another, possibly even larger quake, hangs in the air. Even those with undamaged homes don't dare sleep inside. Next time they might not be so lucky.But on this day and the days ahead, it is time to mourn the dead.Songs of prayer also hang in the air at the University Hospital, less than half a mile from the Presidential Palace, where International Medical Corps is providing around-the-clock medical care to thousands of Haiti's most seriously sick and injured. Patients in their beds, too sick to travel to the service, join together in song, often with their families beside them, in groups as small as two and large enough to fill two 30-foot long medical tent.The music lifts tired spirits. It stokes resilience, assuring those in song that Haiti will not perish, even if the rubble of this memory takes years to clear.Communications Officer Crystal Wells is with International Medical Corps' Emergency Response teams in Haiti and reporting for GOOD on her experiences and the people she meets along the way.
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