First Person

A day of rest in Port-au-Prince

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Photo: Kenny Rae / Oxfam America
Photo: Kenny Rae / Oxfam America

Oxfam America’s Coco McCabe is one of several Boston-based colleagues in Haiti to help with the relief effort. Here’s her latest update, dated January 24.

It’s Sunday in Port-au-Prince—the second Sunday in this deeply religious country since a devastating earthquake rocked the Haitian capital, killing more than 111,000 people and leaving about 600,000 homeless across the city and beyond.

Do we work or do we rest?

The city, it seems to me, has decided to rest—if only long enough for some of its inhabitants to snatch a few moments of normalcy in a place that promises peace for many: church. Snaking down the mountain road from the house where we’ve been staying, the morning is quieter than it has been all week. There are fewer trucks and aid vehicles hanging on each other’s tails. Fewer people striding along the road’s edge.

I see a small family, a father and three young boys, dressed in slacks and pressed shirts–impossibly neat given the circumstances–ready to cross the street near a church that’s still standing. Where is the mother? I wish the question hadn’t popped into my head, and I fear the answer in a country that has lost so many.

At the Oxfam office, I ask a colleague about the possibility of attending a service. I’m not a religious person, but I love the singing–all singing. I don’t know what I’m hoping to hear in it today. Hope? Resilience?

I find myself at the Église de la Communauté Évangélique d’Haiti in Delmas 75, a creamy yellow building with moss green doors flung open in the sun. The service is already underway, so I stand at the back and study the crowd. All ages are here and just about every seat is taken.

I’ve arrived just as the congregation bursts into a hymn while the offering plate passes from hand to hand. A drummer and a pianist accompany the song and it fills the church, spilling out into the street on this crystal clear day. Afterward, during a long sermon of which I can only understand snippets–“life or death,” “you can make a difference”– a young mother sitting in front of me with a child in her lap, rests her cheek on his head, and I see him slide his short arms around her waist. He holds her tight.

One more hymn—a somber one, I think—and the service is over. People stream out, shaking each other’s hands. They mingle for a moment, and then they’re gone, back to lives so horribly and interminably interrupted 12 days ago.

“It’s going to be hard to recover, but hopefully we will,” says Rooby Pierre, who lingers briefly in the shade of a tree, recounting the urgency of the minister’s sermon: to help people find a place to sleep, food to eat, medicine to get better. “We have to do anything we can to rebuild our community–and our country. It’s our job to give hope back to the people.”

Save lives now by donating to Oxfam’s Haiti Earthquake Response Fund.

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