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The earthquake in Haiti can't destroy the Village of God's spirit of survival

Haitians pick up the pieces of their shattered lives after a devastating earthquake hit the impoverished nation on Jan. 12.

Charles and her family occupy a small improvised tent, where her 17-year-old daughter, Bilkensia Jack, lies one morning, just after sunrise. Next to Bilkensia is a plastic bowl, similar to the one her mother uses for dishwashing, though in this case it's a makeshift chamber pot. She's afraid to go outside at night, so she lives with the stench inside.

When the family runs out of supplies for the little food stand, they can walk a few steps to the impromptu vegetable market, where half a dozen women have laid out carrots, cabbage, spinach and oranges on dusty blankets. The oranges are particularly prized because Haitians, ever desperate for fuel, dry the peels and use them as substitute firewood.

'They have nothing to do'

One morning, Edwich Michel, a single mother of five, squats over her micro-business in the new village's market and sobs. Earlier that day, thugs attacked. They cracked coconuts, mashed tiny tomatoes and pulverized okra. They told her she should go away; if she stayed, she remembers them telling her, "the white people will not bring us food." (Whether this is a factor or not, residents of the new Village of God say they've gone without food from relief agencies.)

Michel needed cash to revive her business after the quake, and says she borrowed the equivalent of $25 from a neighbor. He expects to be paid back.

"I'm trying to make a life," she says. "And they're trying to stop that from happening."

While she cries, Alex Couba finds a way to make his fellow villagers laugh. Couba is a strapping 37-year-old truck driver with an easy smile and a cool, self-contented demeanor. He wears clean shirts and jeans with elaborately stitched back pockets. He was more prosperous than most of his neighbors in the Village of God, but the quake had some leveling effects -- he sleeps in a bedsheet tent now, just like the others.

Yet, somehow, he managed to salvage a precious item that has given him tremendous status in the new village: a chipped and dusty, but functioning, 36-inch Panasonic television. When he can find gas to power his generator, he plays DVDs. A crowd always forms.

"They have nothing to do," he says. "I have to give them something."

Couba sent away his children -- 13-year-old Alexandro, 12-year-old Jeff and 8-year-old Sandra. They fled to a small town outside Port-au-Prince -- joining a mass exodus of capital dwellers who could afford bus or boats to the less damaged countryside. But Couba remained, reasoning that Port-au-Prince is "what I know. Where I used to work. Where I can find work."

One afternoon, he slides a disc into the DVD player, and the face of the Haitian comedian Jean Corvens Rosier materializes on the screen. The goofball film is called "The Sound of My Sandals," and three dozen kids form a semicircle to watch. On-screen, a dwarf tries in vain to propel a bicycle, but his legs can't reach the pedals. The kids crack up.

No one laughs harder than a scruffy 8-year-old boy. He has never been to a movie theater, and his family doesn't have a television. For a few moments, the new village seems almost better to him -- or at least more entertaining -- than the old one.

Back on home turf

Another afternoon, Couba decides to walk the two blocks back to the original Village of God. Houses sag. The school is flattened. There's a foot-wide crack in the street in front of the barbershop where he always got his hair cut.


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