What We Do In Haiti

Here you will find glimpses of our daily work in Haiti. But do visit our official site at stlukehaiti.org

November 24, 2017

The faint of heart are welcome to skip these pages. They will be about stark realities we face every day.

Early this morning, I got a call from a friend who is the director of a public hospital in Port au Prince. Since my team and I are well known for "not leaving any dead on the street", she asked me if we would come to claim and to  bury the abandoned dead children from the hospital wards. Often enough, even at our own hospital, bodies are never claimed by the families whose poverty makes a funeral and burial impossible.

This was the scene. In the parking lot of the delapidated  hospital there is a broken down bus. The tires are flat, the windows are broken, there is certainly no air conditioning (and barely a breeze). Since the hospital has no morgue, this bus is the next best thing. When a child dies, they are brought to the bus and placed on a seat. They wait until their mom or dad or grandmother comes to claim them. Often enough that doesn't happen. 

This is not what most moms, dads and grandmas do at a bus station anyway.

They lay on the seat, rain or shine (mostly a very hot shine). They start to return to the dust from which they were made. You can believe there are a lot of intermediate steps from which you prefer to hide your eyes and control your wretching with some rum or a cigar. (Even if you are not a drinker or a smoker). A bus to no where.

A bus to worse than no where.

There were twelve today. They really needed immediate burial. We called our gravediggers and asked for 20 graves by 5pm. twelve children from this dreadful place, and eight of our own. (We ordered another 39 graves for Monday, since we have been asked to bury what is left of the bodies the medical students dissected to learn anatomy. These, thankfully, are not passengers on this hell bus).

The rate limiting step for us (what takes the most time) is the gravediggers. In the hot sun, without shade from tree or cloud, they dig in rocky soil. All around themare refugees from the earthquake of 2010, who live on the bones of the dead. 

We did not plan to do burials today. It would even be dark by the time we got there, with the 20 little bodies. The funeral of a child is very sad. Today the sadness was times twenty. Somehow it's even sadder in the dark.

Because of the hour and rush, we dispensed with incense and holy water (mea culpa). I donned my white alb, and the purple stole of mourning, as a sliver of silver a moon appeared, and a few stars started to look on like the faint last light in the eyes of dying children. Also looking on, the landless refugees who have nothing better to do in that desolate place at night, than to gawk at us. 

I walked between the  simple graves we had just lain children in, murmuring first the Christian prayers for the dead and then, by my own custom, the mourners kaddish of the Jews.

An old Tom Jones song came to my mind. "The green, green grass of home."

It's about a priest, "a sad old padre", walking with a prisoner to his execution. These children were executed by poverty, and their only companions are a sad old padre, and sad old Raphael.

But the chorus is the hope of our faith, as we bury them in the hope of resurrection:

Yes, they'll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly.
It's good to touch the green, green, grass of home.