Page 4 of 4   <      

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.

Men and women linger in the street or dig through the rubble. Some have decided to stay in the old village, afraid squatters will move in, even though their houses are cracked or shattered. A sweat-drenched man in dirt-streaked pants and a rumpled shirt -- a lawyer by trade -- rants on a street corner, drawing the bored and the weary.

"If they want to help, the aid has to be distributed!" Jean Claude Charles, 42, screams during a five-minute tirade against international relief groups. "If they can't bring the aid, we should tell them to go! What's the point?"

Heads nod all around.

Charles carries a book in his right hand -- "Volcanoes and Earthquakes" -- that he says he borrowed from a library three years ago. He flips it open to a page with the header: "What type of phenomenon predicts an earthquake?" The crowd presses in for a closer look.

Couba slips away.

"Lawyers talk too much," he mutters.

Couba steps past his church, now flattened, up a steep street where garbage smolders, and slides delicately into the doorway of his home, a squat cinder-block structure that still stands but has ugly cracks in its walls. He's come before -- to rescue DVDs and clothes -- but aftershocks have scared him away. It's bright outside, but dark inside. He shakes his head and turns away.

On the walk back to the soccer field, he runs into his friend, Jean Erick, who is pressing his face against the twisted metal window bars of the fractured home of his 19-year-old daughter, Sara Drival. The teenager died in the quake, caught under a collapsing building on her way home from school. It took days to find her body, and when he did, he could only place it in the street to be collected by a passing front-end loader that he presumes ferried her to a mass grave.

Erick and Couba walk together in silence back to the soccer field, where they sleep a couple of tents away from each other, instead of a couple blocks away. By the time night comes, Couba has changed clothes, turned out in a loose-fitting orange cotton shirt; Erick sports a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.

Someone has rigged up a stereo. A pounding bass line shakes the pavement. A gangly teenage boy bops past, mouthing along with the rap in Creole: "Fight for what you believe/If you want this life to change/Don't just sit and look around."

Couba's television plays a romance, "The Cousin," and the children press around. He smiles at his creation, a community theater of his own making.

A Land Rover eases into the crowded parking lot, and Couba runs over. "Hey, hey! My friend. Wait."

The man behind the wheel smiles for a moment, but then shakes his head. Couba thinks the driver is a relief worker who might be able to give him a real tent, but he's not.

Behind the bulky vehicle, dozens of people are streaming into the new Village of God, funneling into the corridor where the women are cooking furiously. Fifi Charles has a new stew in the skillet. The smell of fried pork, fried hot dogs and fried fish compete with the suffocating funk of the latrine.

More people squeeze in, pouring into the soccer field from the old Village of God and from the other encampments that much of Port-au-Prince still calls home, now, more than a month after the quake. Some jostle and call out to friends; others beg for a morsel. Close your eyes, and the sounds and smells evoke a typical night in the old Village of God. Open them, and newfound joys mingle with newfound despairs in the new Village of God.

<             4

© 2010 The Washington Post Company