Preface (preface was written in April 2017)
This story occurred in March 2010, about 2 months after the earthquake. At that point, our family had only been living in Haiti for about 11 months. We got involved in relief efforts because, well, we were there. And it just seemed the thing to do. In retrospect, there were things I would have done differently in a post-quake reality. The passage of time brought with it an increased understanding of Haitian culture, as well as foreign aid. Simply put, at the time, we did the best we could. And when we knew better, we did better. That’s all we could do.
I originally wrote down this story in chapters, and shared each chapter on my blog over a couple of weeks at the end of March and beginning of April 2010. It was an attempt to process and understand the things I saw that day. But the events of the day weren’t the only things that weighed into how this experience felt for me. This was a time where every single thing we experienced was horrific. We coped the best we could at the time. We drank more. We pulled in with other ex-pats and aid workers in the evenings to try to process. We tried to share funny stories about our lives to distract us, but it wasn’t enough.
The thing I realized on this most recent trip to Haiti is that the way I deal with the trauma I experienced during that time is to simply not think about it. It’s unexplainable to someone who wasn’t there. And so then when I get the chance to discuss it with someone who was, well, it lingers in my soul for a few weeks until I can forget again.
Please hear me, I GET that this story is not about me. While it’s written from my point of view, this story is about a beautiful baby girl named Patricia and her young mother, Babette.
This past week, after visiting Haiti and reviving tales of douz janvye, I revisited this story on my blog. I did a bit of editing for grammar, language, and clarity, and am now presenting it as one story.
One final note, the gourdes/US dollar amounts I share in the story are no longer the same as they were when I wrote the story. The devaluation of the Haitian gourde has been dramatic in the previous few years, but I kept the amounts the same in the story, as that’s what they were at the time.
March 22, 2010
Chapter 1: This is Hell
Yesterday it was raining. It had actually been raining on and off for two days. Our trash pile was starting to fester and so I asked Hugues to pack it up so we could go to dump it. He did so and we left for the dump, which is incidentally right next to Pinchinat, the big camp in Jacmel, where 6000 homeless souls now reside in tents.
I happened to have some diapers in my backpack and looked down into Pinchinat, which was a mud hole and thought, “With all this rain and mud, I should make sure Babette has diapers for Patricia.” Patricia was a baby that I was working with in the camp. She was just a few months old and she had some special needs. There was some sort of a neurological thing going on with her, and she had high muscle tone, as if she had Cerebral Palsy, and although she was never given a formal diagnosis, we had a team of doctors in a few weeks earlier, and that was their best guess. Because of Patricia’s special needs, she was a baby that I visited more often than the others. One day in February when we went to the camp she was ill-- listless and dry. We brought her to the hospital where, after much waiting and drama, she was given an IV to rehydrate her and some medication to take home. After a few weeks, she started to get better, but I still liked to keep a close eye on her.
It started raining harder and I almost reconsidered. The mud was thick but I reasoned I would just go and drop some diapers off with just her and then head out quickly. I told Hugues he could wait in the car if he wanted, but he said he’d like to come because he hadn’t seen Patricia in a while.
We walked through the mud and it was so thick it was the kind that swallowed your shoes and pulled them off your feet. We marched onward and headed down the row to Babette’s tent. Weaving our way through ropes and tent stakes we heard a horrific wailing. Someone was screaming. Loudly. As we approached, I realized it was Patricia’s mother, Babette. She was sitting on a cot outside of her tent in the pouring rain. She was wearing no shoes and was covered in mud halfway up to her knees. Her eyes were so puffy from crying that they were almost swollen shut. Her wailing was loud and intense. And I knew right away that something terrible had happened.
“Babette! Sa’w genyen?” (What’s wrong?) She didn’t answer me but kept crying, almost in a trance. I had to kind of shake her to wake her from her wailing.
“Babette, si vou ple, di’m sa’w genyen?” (Babette, please tell me what’s wrong.)
Her eyes focused on me as if she’d just seen me. Between sobs she gasped, “Li mouri, li mouri, li mouri!” (She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead!)
Already knowing the answer I asked, “Kimoun te mouri?” (Who is dead?)
“Pitit mwen. Patricia mouri.” (My child. Patricia is dead.)
Tears sprung to my eyes and I just held her. It was pouring rain all around us and I just held her and she cried and I cried. Someone ushered us into a tent. We sat on a cot and I held her for a while as she wailed. And then, as if a switch was flipped in my mind, my brain started processing all of the next steps. I have this tendency to do that. To just explode with emotion during trying times and then, unable to cry anymore I switch into “action mode.” It’s very American of me.
“Babette,” I asked her, “Kibo Patricia kounye a?” (Where is Patricia right now?)
“Li andann tant mwen.” (She’s in my tent.)
“A kile li te mouri?” (What time did she die?)
“Twa ze de maten.” (3AM.)
I looked at my phone. It was about 10:30AM. Seven and half hours. Patricia had been lying there in the tent dead for seven and a half hours. With the rain and mud and all of children and babies running around, I knew she couldn’t stay there. I wasn't sure what to do. But I knew she couldn't stay there.
I asked her if I could take the baby to the morgue while we figure out what to do next. She seemed hesitant at first as she’d already called a bos to start making a coffin, but she had no idea when it would be done or how she would pay for it. I asked her to please let me find a place outside of Pinchinat to keep Patricia until she could be buried. She agreed that was best. I asked her if she wanted to come with me and everyone around me started screaming, “No! No! No! Li pa kapab ale avek you. Sa pa responsibilte li!” (No, she can’t go with you. That’s not her responsibility.) This was the first of MANY cultural things I didn’t understand that were about to happen. Babette’s sister, her brother, her neighbor in the camp, and Patricia’s godmother also came along.
I asked Hugues if he would please carry the baby. He agreed and we entered the tent. Patricia was lying on the ground wrapped in towels. Hugues picked her up and we started our journey back through the mud. As we were walking the rain was pelting us. The mud was so thick that after a minute, Hugues just took off his shoes and walked through it barefoot so he wouldn’t lose his step. As we dodged the ropes and tent stakes, trying to keep our balance in the slippery mud, I heard Babette wailing off in the distance again. And my tears mixed with the rain. There was only one thought running through my mind. It cycled through my brain over and over again until I had no choice but to mutter the words out loud...
“I am in hell. This is hell. I am in hell.”
Chapter 2: The Morgue
We started out on the short trip to St. Michel, the local public hospital. Ironically, (and you'll see what I mean in a second,) the hospital is nicknamed by locals, "the morgue" because of the horrific conditions. On the way I called Nick to tell him what had happened. We was in the US for a Board Meeting and we'd had a big fight a few minutes earlier. Suddenly our problems didn't seem so big.
I started off the conversation by apologizing for our argument and then started sobbing and said, "Anyway, it doesn't matter because I am driving Patricia's dead body to the morgue." It wasn’t a tactful way to share this information, but I wasn't really in a good state of mind. And besides, Nick is a person with whom I can cut to the chase. I can just be me. That was a very good thing for me at this point. He knew how much Patricia meant to me. I remember trying to talk to him on the phone, cry, shift the car, clear the fog from the windshield, and wipe my glasses dry. I had nothing dry to dry them on--so they just stayed all steamy and streaky. “Of all the days I didn’t wear contacts,” I thought.
We arrived at St. Michel and the whole group of us paraded in shoeless and walked around trying to find someone to talk to. Hugues was still carrying Patricia. Lots of patients were there but we didn't see any doctors or administrators. This hospital had been taken over by Doctors Without Borders last month. I was so pissed off when I couldn't find anyone to talk to. I muttered out loud again. This time I said, "Doctors Without Borders my ass!" I thought back to when I was here with Patricia just a few weeks earlier and all I could think about was how they didn't care well for Patricia when she was brought there alive, why would I expect more in her death? I realize in retrospect that everyone was just doing the best they could. But at the moment, it felt helpless. We finally headed over to the pharmacy to try to get more information. They looked at us as if we were crazy when we walked in there with a dead baby. They said it had nothing to do with them and that we’d need to talk to the hospital administration. So we headed over to administration.
Hugues passed Patricia off to a family member and went in to talk to them. I followed. Hugues told me to wait outside but I didn't listen to him. I knew that we had a better chance of being listened to if a white person came in. It sounds ridiculous to say that, but it's true. But it turned out that it didn’t matter because they didn’t have any place to put her. We were told that ever since the earthquake the morgue there was not operational, so bodies were the responsibility of the family. Remember, this is the only public hospital in Jacmel. And there were lots of bodies since the quake. The UN estimates that there were 3,000 or so dead in Jacmel.
I couldn’t send Patricia back to the mud hell of Pinchinat so I asked which private morgue we should use. I told the family I would take care of paying for it, but I wasn’t sending her back to Pinchinat no matter what. But the family refused. They insisted that she should not be brought to the morgue. She was too little of a baby for that kind of cost. Instead they asked if I would help pay for the coffin, which they had already commissioned and then we would just get her buried. Of course I said yes. We piled back in the truck and were off to check on the progress of the coffin.
Chapter 3: The Coffin
We drove through crowded and rubble-filled streets, having to back up several times upon discovering roads were newly impassable. With all the demolition happening in Jacmel this was an increasingly common problem—there’s just wasn’t a convenient place to put all the rubble. I think the theory behind it all was that if they pile it in the streets, eventually heavy machinery could come through, scoop it up, and clear the streets. It's a good idea in theory. Some of the rubble IS eventually getting to the dump at the riverbed. I've seen it there. But theory and practice don't always mesh well. In practice it's... well, heartbreaking. And inconvenient. And then, of course, this is Haiti after the earthquake. So it's not just the piles of rubble. They are rubble mixed in with trash, people’s broken memories, food scraps as people walk by, and even sometimes, dried blood. Not a pretty sight.
We ended up parking about 4 blocks away from where we were headed. At this point I entered this zone where I had no situational awareness. I don't think I could get back there even if I wanted to. Actually, I feel pretty sure I could not. We walked past a bunch of half-broken buildings, down an alley and into someone’s back yard. It was a covered with a tin roof, but open on all sides, except where it connected to the house.
And there he was--the man making the coffin. It was so small. There's always something unnerving and kind of creepy to me about seeing a coffin. I found this to be even more true with a baby's coffin. It was just so small. Made from salvaged scrap wood, the pieces were neatly nailed together but didn't match one another. Therefore, the coffin-maker was tack-nailing some lightly stained, old, tattered white fabric-- an old sheet I think, over the wood. He worked slowly and paid a lot of attention to detail. The nails were evenly spaced and the fabric was pulled taut. When he was almost done, he realized he lacked the final bit of fabric to finish covering the coffin. He asked us for money so he could "buy" more fabric. I had no cash on me, but Hugues did and he handed it over. After which, his wife went into their house and brought out a white pillowcase which they cut up to finish the project.
At some point while I sat there watching him work, I asked the neighbor if I could hold Patricia. She quickly went to hand me the baby and then stopped mid-pass and asked me, “W pa ansent, non?” “You're not pregnant, are you?" I remembered the being told about this superstition-- if you look at or hold a dead child while you're pregnant, your baby will die. I told her I was not pregnant so she unwrapped Patricia and handed her over to me.
She still looked beautiful-- her head all wrapped up in green bandanna. Her mother, Babette, was pretty particular about usually keeping her head covered, whether by a bandanna or a little hat. It was adorable. Her eyes were not quite closed and they had the haziness of death present in them, but she was still beautiful. She was still round and pudgy (well, pudgy for a Haitian kid).
At some point I looked up and one of my teammates had walked in. As I mentioned earlier, Nick was in the States when all this was happening. After we talked, he called my teammate, who then tried to call me several times. My phone was in the car, so I didn't hear it. So she went to Pinchinat looking for me. And to St. Michel. Then she tracked down Hugues and therefore, me. She saw me holding Patricia and asked if she could hold her. I am pretty sure she knew I was at my breaking point and wanted to help. She told me she'd brought a bunch of money because she'd been in Haiti long enough to realize how these things work.
We just sat there. We sat and sat and waited for the coffin to be finished. Once it was, we paid the bos $200 HD ($25 US) and waited some more as a neighbor went to fetch some clean clothes and someone they'd hired to bathe Patricia's body.
Chapter 4: The Bath
As my teammate and I sat there waiting/talking/reflecting, the same thought over and over kept coming to my mind, "Is this really happening?" I remember saying that or some variation of that out loud. "Is this really happening?" "Am I REALLY sitting here right now doing this?" "Is this really my life?" We discussed our lives since the quake. We talked about Patricia. We talked about our husbands. We just talked and waited.
Finally a woman arrived. The family said she was here to bathe the baby. I looked her up and down. She was thin. She was wearing a very low-cut tank top with a push-up bra that VERY much enhanced her assets. Her hair was in shoulder-length braids and she had a short, crude manner about her. Her eyes were wild and she was one of those people who spoke just a few decibels louder than is necessary. She started gathering supplies for the bath and my teammate said, "Can you imagine if that was your job?" I couldn't.
The woman (I never got her name) set right to work. She bossed people around. She them bring her various things. We were held up for a bit while someone located a bar of soap and a bucket of water. Someone finally brought the soap and water. Someone else brought her a cup of clarin (moonshine) and a cigarette. She poured three small dashes out on the ground in a triangular shape and lit the cigarette which just sort of laid there, hanging from her bottom lip the whole time she worked. She didn’t really inhale it. It just sat there.
She unwrapped Patricia, took off her clothes, and started scrubbing her body. First her legs and rear end. Then her torso and arms. Interestingly, I wanted to watch all of this. In fact, I stood up, turned around and rearranged myself so I could watch her being bathed. I don't know why I wanted to watch, but it wasn't that I just wanted to, I needed to. Interestingly, she didn't take Patricia's green bandanna off. But she did scrub her face all over. Hard. With soap. There were suds all over her eyes and mouth and nose. I felt all sorts of indignation well up inside of me. It felt so disrespectful, but I knew this is probably a cultural thing that I didn’t understand. Still, I was mad that she was being so rough with Patricia. And while I know that Patricia's body was dead, I was still mad that she got soap in her eyes. But I kept my mouth shut. And then just like that it was over. The whole thing probably took no more than 2 minutes.
She was asking around to see if there was any cream to rub over her skin. I dug through my bag to see if I had any. I didn't have any skin cream. I did however have anti-fungal cream, antibacterial cream, scabies cream, rubber gloves, alcohol wipes, gauze, and a rectal thermometer. My teammate gave me a puzzled look and asked, "Do you often walk around with these things in your bag?"
I kind of shrugged, "Yeah."
In my head it made perfect sense. Often while walking through the camp distributing diapers, I'd run into a baby or child that had really bad scabies, a fungal infection, an infected wound or was burning with fever. Carrying these things with me just seemed to make sense and would save a car ride back to my house to fetch the supplies I needed. Another one of those thoughts passed my mind, "Wow, is this REALLY my life?"
I told the woman I didn't have any cream and she shrugged. She demanded a clean diaper and clean clothes. I dug down into my bag, grabbed a diaper and handed it over. I thought back to how I was just stopping in real quick at the camp to drop off these very diapers for Patricia when I stumbled upon this tragedy. The only thing the neighbor had in the bag of clean clothes for Patricia to wear was a white onesie. My teammate and I talked amongst ourselves and wondered if we needed to buy a dress. I piped up and asked if they'd like he me to go get a dress for her to be buried in. The question was dismissed with a “Non. Li byen konsa.” (No. She's fine in this.) I didn't want her buried in a onesie. I wanted her all dressed up in a dress. A beautiful dress. But I wasn't the mom. And I wasn't a relative. I was just this white person who was there. So again, I shut up.
Here's where things got interesting.
The woman who had dressed Patricia and then picked up her body, and walked over to place her in the coffin. This started the wails. First from her, then the grandma, then the neighbor. Everyone started wailing. Patricia was placed in the coffin. Finally her green bandanna was removed. Her hair was smoothed and they kept pinching her half-opened eyes shut. Before the coffin-maker closed the coffin everyone started coming forward with their cell phones and taking pictures on their phones. I sat there and remember opening my eyes really wide as if somehow opening my eyes wide would keep my mouth shut. Taking pictures? Really? And not just the family. Everyone who was standing around who had a cell phone. They looked over at me and asked, "W pa genyen kamera?" (You don’t have a camera?)
I was all, “Non. Non. M pa vle fè foto.” (No, no. I don't want a picture.)
And coffin-maker said, “Fok’w fè foto. Pou manman’l. W pa genyen kamera?” (You need to take a picture. For her mom. You don’t have a camera?)
I did a quick mental inventory of what was in my backpack as I searched through it for the cream. I had my little video camera with me. It takes marginal still shots. But it was something. But knowing the stereotypes about "camera-toting" Americans, I was pretty adamant that I didn't want to take a picture.
I remember asking the guy over and over again, thinking there was just a miscommunication with my marginal Creole. “W vle m fè foto? W vle sa, wi? Se sa w’ vle?” (You WANT me to take a picture? Right? This is something you want?)
I looked at my teammate and she told me to go ahead and take a picture, saying it was customary to take pictures of dead people in their coffin. Like one of those flip-books that make animated images when you turn the pages quickly, I remembered downloading some pictures for one of my staff members onto my computer from her digital camera. And I remembered several pictures of dead people in their coffins were among them. That produced in me another cultural twang. Reluctantly, I went over and took a few pictures.
The bather said she was done and wanted to be paid. We asked her how much. I dreaded this part. Because I was there, I knew the price would be higher. But I wasn't interested in haggling over prices. Not at all. Not at a time like this.
"200," she said.
"Dola?" (Dollars), I asked. I wasn't sure if she was speaking in dollars or gourdes. This was a question that could multiply the amount we were paying by 5. Always best to clarify.
"Wi." (Yes.) Crud, I was hoping for gourdes.
"Ayisyen ou byen American?" (Haitian or American?) I asked.
"Ayisyen." (Haitian.) That was better news. But still. That was the amount we paid for the coffin. And that took supplies and a few hours. I sort of just sighed. I didn't want to argue. I just wasn't up for it. We handed the money over. She tucked the money in her bra. The coffin was closed. I lowered my head and closed my eyes. I heard more wailing and some weird percussion type noise. I felt a little unsettled in my spirit. I looked up and saw that a couple of people were chanting and shaking some beaded gourds.
“Oh,” I thought, “This is a vodou thing.”
Immediately my situational awareness returned. I looked around. Holy crap. I was in a vodou peristyle (temple.) Until that moment, I honestly didn't notice this. There was a small tomb off to the left. There were skulls and crossbones painted all over the place. The center pole of the structure came down into a big cement circular altar. I realized that until I had turned around to watch Patricia be bathed, I'd been sitting on it. Weird that I didn't notice that earlier.
I whispered to my teammate. "Were totally in a vodou peristyle right now."
She looked at me and whispered back, "Yeah, I just noticed that now."
I had always knew that Patricia's family practiced vodou. Often times when I would come over to visit, she'd had some leaves poking out of her head wrap. When I asked what they were for, they said that someone who was like a doctor gave her this to use as a kind of medicine. Just the week before she'd died I went over with Sarah to visit and there was a cord tied around her neck with some sort of stuff cloth sack with something tied onto it. I was worried that the cord would choke her in her sleep so I asked about it. Again, we were told it was "medicine" and it would make her stomach better. Sarah looked over and said, "Yeah, it actually won't. The problem she has with her stomach is something inside of her. Tying something outside of her body isn't going to help her." But we left it at that.
I was ready to get out of there. Patricia's dad showed up. I didn't even know he was in the picture. We made some preliminary plans to get her buried and carried the coffin the 4 blocks back to the truck.
Chapter 5: Burying Patricia
I asked about what was next. Patricia's dad said it was the burial. He wanted to bury her up in a small, private cemetery in a village right passed the river on the road to Basin Bleu.
Hating to be "that person" I asked how much more money we'd need. It's not that I begrudged paying the money, I just needed to make sure we had it with us. The dad told us that we could finish everything for another $400 HD ($50US). Then he tried to talk me into not going along for the burial. He said the river was high and it would be too difficult to cross in the truck. He asked me for the money and then said he would take care of getting her buried. I wasn't excited about that thought. It's not that I didn't trust the dad… Well, actually, that was the situation. I guess I didn't trust him to do the right thing. I didn't know him and, therefore, had no reason to trust him. Well, that and the fact that he hasn't been involved in Patricia's life until now. I'd visited Patricia and Babette many, many times in the past two and a half months-- at all times of the day, and he was never there. When Patricia was in the hospital I asked Babette if she was still together with Patricia’s father. She said no. Now, here he was. In front of me. He was asking for the money to get her buried and basically asking me to trust him with the money and Patricia's body. I finally explained that if I was going to pay for the burial, I wanted to see it happen with my own eyes. I get that was super American of me, but yeah, that's where I was.
We arrived at the river and it was pretty high. But it was passable. Even so, we asked a random person to walk through ahead of us to show us the best place to pass. He did and he noticed we had a coffin in the back and asked if we needed someone to dig the grave. Patricia's dad told him to hop in. We passed the river with no problem. I will admit that it was higher than it had been recently, but still, we crossed with no problem. I have no idea what time of day this was. Around 1 or 2 is my best guess. As I was driving, I again had that thought, "Is this really happening?"
I also thought about our truck. Man, what a great truck. Purchased for us brand new a year earlier with funds donated from our home church, this truck has been so instrumental in so many medical emergencies. We’d been able to use it to bring numerous people to the hospital even before January 12-- both people we knew and people we didn’t. It was crucial in the moments and days after the earthquake. First surveying the situation. Then robbing our team housing of all it’s beds, all its sheets, all its towels to bring to the hospital for the wounded. It was loaned to the Canadian military when they took over the airport in Jacmel. It brought people to search for their families that were unaccounted for since the quake. It was our transport vehicle when we did a medical clinic at Pinchinat, an ambulance of sorts, carrying a woman in heart failure, a child with a severely abscessed wound, a baby with a major infection, amongst others. It had also carried Patricia to the hospital that day a few weeks earlier. That day she didn’t die of dehydration. And not just dramatic stuff, but it regularly carried our kids to school or our family to church. It drove us into Port Au Prince to pick up visitors, do legal paperwork, and buy groceries. And now it was playing the role of a hearse. I don't know why I mention that except to say that when you're fundraising to be a missionary, sometimes something like a vehicle is not an easy sell because it’s super expensive. And in a place like Haiti where there is adequate public transportation, it seems like a luxury even though in the States few people outside big cities go without their own vehicle. In the States, people knows it's important to have a reliable vehicle, but somehow when you’re living in a materially poor place, people want to give money to save starving children. They want their name on a number of lives saved. At that moment I was thinking about how this specific vehicle had been involved in so many important things.
We arrived up in the village. I don't even know the village name. It was pretty broken up. Piles of rubble were everywhere. We stopped while the workers rounded up some tools for digging. They found a shovel with no handle and a pick ax. We walked down a dirt road and quickly arrived at the cemetery. It was in a field with a giant mango tree. There were only a handful of graves in the field, maybe a 1/2 dozen or so. They picked a spot and started digging. After a few moments a large crowd had gathered and there was some "discussion" as to where the grave should be located. Soon they moved and started digging in a new location.
It worked like this-- one man would dig and dig and dig with the pick ax to loosen up the soil, and then he'd get out of the hole and the other man would shovel (remember, no handle on the shovel, just the head) all the loose soil out. Over and over. 5 minutes or so each. Then they would switch. I learned a lot about Haitian burial that day. If it wasn't so darn depressing of a situation, it would have been really interesting. For example, in the US, they dig a big, deep hole and just lower the coffin in, re-cover the hole with dirt and plant grass. Well, at least that's what I assume they do. Not so much in Haiti. They dig a deep hole and then they line it with rock. And cement. And tin. And more rocks, more cement, more metal. The coffin is not just buried in the ground, it's cemented in on all sides. I heard several people that day say that they were afraid if they didn't do that the dogs would dig her up, or the spirits would come eat her. Anyway, it's a pretty labor-intensive process.
That was the cause of the next conflict that arose. We had already agreed with the dad that we would pay $400HD ($50US). The mason came along and said that he wanted $600HD ($75US). He wasn't willing to negotiate. The dad came back to me and told me that we were going to need more money. I told him that I couldn't pay any more that day and that he had told me a price and we needed to stick to it. I felt like a big jerk haggling over money with this guy. I still don't know why I just didn't agree to pay more. Plus the dad was kind of not in a great state of mind. He ended up convincing the bos to do it for the $400 HD. And then he drank a whole bottle of whiskey and passed out and slept through the rest. I didn't blame him. Although, I did internally reason that if he had the money to buy whiskey, he could pay for the rest of the burial. But then I remembered that his baby had just died. And so I went back to not blaming him.
The men worked on and on. Other men came along. They were carrying rocks, bags of cement, buckets of water and buckets of sand.
We sat and sat. More time passed. It was a long and intense afternoon. Once we saw how much work went into the grave, we felt bad about sticking to the $400 HD. At one point, a random person nearby opened the coffin to take a look at Patricia. We saw from across the field and yelled at them to close the box telling them that this was not television. I asked them to please have respect and close the box. They all laughed at us. I remember having A LOT of judgmental thoughts in that moment. But I kept my mouth shut.
Finally, as it was getting dark, they lowered the coffin in. They cemented it in and covered it with metal. Then it was layer after layer after layer of rock and cement. Rock and cement. Rock and cement. And then more cement. Once the hole was cemented so it was level with the ground, we prepared to leave. The bos said he's work on the "tomb" part the next morning, that he couldn't work anymore because it was too dark.
We loaded back into the truck. The dad woke up and a bunch of people hitched a ride down the mountain with us. At this point it was only the godmother that was there left with us as the rest of the neighbors and the family had already left. They had kids to get back to and life to resume.
We rode back the mountain and crossed the river. It had gone down a bit. And while I really wanted to stop in at Pinchinat and let Babette know that Patricia had been buried well and with dignity, I was just too tired. I couldn't do it. I dropped the godmother and the father off at the road to the camp and went on my way home.
When I arrived at home, I realized that I hadn't so much as washed my hands all day. I hadn't eaten. I had drank only one sip of water all day long. My kids came running up to me and I forcefully pushed them all off, telling them bluntly, "I've been touching dead people, don't touch me until I shower and change." I honestly was just over it at that point. I was over everything. I was completely and totally over it. Everything. The earthquake, the camp. Patricia. Burying a baby. It ALL washed over me. I realized I was mentally unstable and I just sort of surrendered to not feeling anything. I remember showering-- my body trembling the whole time, not because the water was cold (although it was) but because my body literally could not handle the adrenaline rushing through it. There have been a few times in my life where I have described myself as having adrenaline poisoning. This was one of them.
I got out of the shower. I got dressed and humored my kids for a while. I apologized to my staff for being gone all day. I kind of explained what had happened, but just didn't have the energy to tell the story well, however, I did debrief with my friend Sarah a little later. And then I counted the minutes until I could put my kids down and collapse into bed. I laid there shaking and trembling, willing myself not to feel anything. I would have given anything for Nick to be there alongside of me, to just have someone to hold. But he was several thousands of miles a way dealing with his own drama. I took an Ambien and surrendered to sleep. Finally my day was over. But because this is Haiti, the story wasn't done yet.
Chapter 6: The Tomb
The next morning I tried to get some sort of normalcy back in place. I did homeschooled Nia and then left the kids to play while I drove over to Pinchinat to visit Babette. She wasn't crying anymore but she had that puffy appearance of someone who had recently had been crying. She was just sort of sitting there. She got up to hug me and then we both just sit there next to each other.
"Babette, kijan ou ye?" (How are you?) Dumb question. How did I THINK she was?
"Mwen la." (I'm here.) It was a pretty standard Haitian answer to the question-- an answer I really liked. In the US when people ask us how we are, we say, "I'm fine" or "I'm okay" even when we're not. "I'm here" is a much more honest answer.
"E ou mem?" (And you?) she asked.
We just sat there in silence for a while. I didn't know what to say. I felt like I had nothing to say that would be in ANY way useful. Finally I asked her if there was anything I could do that would be helpful to her. She said that she would love it if I could hire someone to come over and clean out her tent. To wash all her clothes and sheets and blankets and towels. She hadn't gone in the tent since Patricia died and she wanted to go back in but she wanted it cleaned out first.
"Of course." I told her. I was glad to have something I could do to help. I honestly don't remember how much it was, but it was a nominal amount. Maybe $20HD (less than $2.50US). I asked her if she had soap. She said no. I asked her if she needed soap for the washing, she said yes. We walked over together to the little market that was set up in the middle of the camp. We bought a baggie of soap flakes and a long bar of laundry soap for $7HD (less than $1).
We returned back to her tent. I visited a little while longer and then, having run out of things to say, I told her I was going to be on my way. I asked her if she wanted to go see the grave the next day. She said no, the day after. I told her okay. She asked if I could get some flowers for when we go and then we'd place them together.
I headed home and sort of ran into "life" that afternoon. I arrived back home and learned that my sister in the States had fallen very sick and was being brought by helicopter from one hospital to another. It was serious. I cried for a minute only. And as quickly as it started I shut off the tears. A week passed before I cried again. My sister got sicker and sicker. She was put on a ventilator in a medically induced coma. She nearly died. And yet I didn't cry. But I am getting ahead of myself again.
The next day Nick returned. Together we drove up to visit Patricia's grave. I wanted to make sure everything was in place before Patricia went up the next day. We drove up, parked the car and walked to the cemetery. As we approached, my heart dropped. Things were exactly as they'd been the moment we left. Well, not exactly. The cement had dried. But there was no tomb marking the grave. The promised work that was going to be done the day before had not been done.
I saw someone standing there and I asked where the bos was. He arrived a few minutes later and, again, as always, I was arguing with someone over money. I asked where the tomb was. He acted like he didn't know what I was talking about. I told him that I had paid for a small tomb to be built. He said that I hadn't, that I had only paid for the burying. I was certain that we'd agreed on this but then I just wasn't sure. Maybe there was a miscommunication. So I called Hugues. I asked him what we'd agreed on with the bos and he said yes, the tomb was supposed to be done the day before. This is Haiti.
I asked Hugues to talk to the bos. He did. It was a feisty conversation but in the end it didn't matter. He'd used all the money for what he'd done up until then, which, admittedly, was a lot of work. He explained all he used it for-- hiring people to carry rock, water, sand. Buying cement. Paying another boss to help him. I was over caring at this point. I didn't want to give him more money, but I knew Babette was headed up there the next day. I just wanted it done. I asked him how much. He said another $400 HD ($50US) more.
I paid him. We left. He made the tomb marker.
Because I had to leave for the US I knew I wouldn't be able to take Babette up. I asked Hugues to bring her up there to place the flowers the next day. I stopped to see her and told her I had to leave to go see my sister and that I wasn't returning for a few weeks. I told her that I would be thinking about her and praying for her. I bought flowers and she agreed to be there ready and waiting for Hugues the next day at 2 PM. When he went to pick her up, she'd sent someone else in her place. I don't know if she's ever been up there. Initially I was kind of sad that she didn't show up, but then I remembered that it's not for me to decide when she goes to Patricia's grave. Who am I to decide how she should grieve?
A few days later Nick he a bunch of our kids to go visit Patricia's grave and take a picture for me so he could show me the work had been done. I got a little bit of satisfaction looking at the grave knowing that Patricia had been laid to rest. She had a respectable resting place. I added up the total cost of everything and it came to just under $200US dollars. Seemed like a lot more at the time. I got a little frustrated when I thought about how frustrated I got with various people for "overcharging" us. But then I reasoned that frustration over frustration probably isn't helpful.
Since her death, as I've talked about Patricia with other people, I've had more than one person say some version of "she's better off where she is." I don't know. Patricia’s special needs meant that she had a long, bumpy road ahead of her. Still, it sucks. No mother should have to deal with that. And it's not fair. Not at all. Don't try to convince me of that.
I've also realized that the death of Patricia was much harder on me than it should have been. I really didn't know her that well. It's not like Babette was my best friend. She was a 17-year-old single Haitian mom. We had very little in common. I've really only known her for a few months. But she was a good mom. She loved Patricia and though life had thrown her a bunch of curve balls, she wanted to be a good parent to her daughter.
But still I've been having a hard time. I can't figure it out. I am not a therapist, but I am sure this is a much bigger thing. I am sure it is all wrapped up in the death and horror I've witnessed with the earthquake and my ability (or inability) to do anything. My inability to save anyone. Simply put, I can't do it. I can't save anyone. I can't redeem anything. The good news is that's not my job. The better news is that I serve a God who not only can redeem, but does.
I am not ready to say that there was a silver lining in Patricia's death. As long as I live I don't know if I will ever see anything "good" that came from this. But I guess it doesn't matter much if I ever see the answers this side of heaven. Because death is not the end.