Thursday, June 17, 2010

And the Dead are Not Garbage.

First imagine Port au Prince all twisted and dirty, her sewers overflowing on trash streets, then imagine the heart of downtown, where the regal Palace and Cathedral still lie in rubble surrounded by tent cities, then imagine the General Hospital at the heart of it all. The General Hospital is huge, filthy, chaotic and putrid now imagine the morgue there. Hundreds of bodies thrown together mostly naked, strewn ten high in two walk-in coolers. The air conditioners leak water creating a pool of water on the entire floor that’s a mixture of dirty water and human fluids. It’s not a nice place. Father Rick and the guys go every Thursday to collect the unidentified bodies, wrap them in burial cloths and give them a proper burial on a pretty hillside outside the city overlooking the ocean. I have been trying to pin down Father Rick to have a talk about the school and the only way I could do it was to join him on the burial. I have been scared to go in the past but decided I had to see for myself what happens to the very poor when they die in the City of Dust.

We piled in the back of two big St Luc trucks and headed downtown. 20 of our guys sat in the back passing around a bottle of rum and having lively discussions about who was a better team Brazil or Argentina. We sang songs and danced as the rum took root. When we turned into the hospital an expectant hush came over the guys; we pulled into the morgue. We put on rubber gloves and headed inside. Father Rick and the guys all lit menthol cigarettes to mask the smell. I lit mine, slugged some rum and walked into the cooler. I have seen plenty of dead bodies since I have been here and I was expecting something terrible but was not prepared for the sight and smell of hundreds of bodies piled high and rotting. There was a woman inside digging through the bodies looking for her father: she didn’t cry. Father Rick blessed the bodies and we got to work. We wrapped each body and gave them a rosary and carried them to the back of the truck, my jeans became covered in viscous splatter, I lit more cigarettes and swore under my breath; the sun was hot. The guys began to sing loudly, beat the morgue walls like drums and dance as they worked “I’ll fly away lord, I’ll fly away, take me away.”

We finished and headed out into the country. I asked Raphael why we collected the bodies. He drank a little rum and said “When you dead, you not garbage.” If not for our guys and Father Rick these people would be thrown into the landfill where the city waste goes, a place where pigs and rats devour anything left behind. Father Rick pulled me aside and said, “Can you imagine if that was your mother there, you see, we must do what we can.” We drove our trucks to a beautiful empty hillside perched above the blue green Caribbean waters. A few skinny gravediggers leaned on their shovels at the mouth of forty graves. A 10 piece brass band in suits played marches “We call this band the Grateful Dead” Father said with a chuckle. We placed each body in the graves, lit incense and sang songs; the wind blew cool on my forehead. This was finally the dignity these unnamed people deserved and it was beautiful.

On the way home Father and I got to have our talk. He told me about a fat woman at the hospital who is volunteering at the hospital and driving him crazy, every morning she corners Father Rick and complains that some doctors are tying tubes and giving out condoms, a big no-no in a Catholic institution. She threatens to report him to the church. Father explains to her that he will look into these but that these doctors are hard workers and saving lives all day long and she should not judge them. The fat lady tells Father that it is people like him that are corrupting the church and that she used to be like him until she was hit in the head by a 2x4 and God came to her and set her straight. Father Rick angrily told her that it is not for her to hit his people and friends with a 2x4 and if God wants to hit them then leave it for him to do.

My friend has a mobile clinic and Raphael, Conan and I went to get it and bust it out. He's not using it and we could be everyday. My friend is out of the camp but the guy running his clinics is there. He’s a nice young kid but really green and keeps saying “Cool Beans!” as Conan and I roll our eyes. We steamroll him and get him to agree to let us run the clinic our way. We need to replace the three clinics in Cite Solie that crashed. Raphael hops in the driver seat and fires it up; its huge and unruly. Its like a scene from Christmas Vacation I feel like we are Cousin Eddie, uninvited, unwashed and wild eyed.

Raphael drives like a maniac with Conan and I following behind laughing and cringing as he smashes every tree and a few cars on the way down the hill. We bring it into the hospital like prize from a far off war. Father Rick loves it.

Did a tent distribution in Cite Solie in the morning there was an amazing guitar player there; he played a song for me.

After I went to friend’s mansion on the beach for the weekend. All the rich kids; childhood friends and now inherited owners of every industry in Haiti. We ate heartily, smoked grass and danced as 2 Dj’s played music until the sun rose over the perfectly still green water.

It was excessive and strange but fascinating. I was racked with guilt about leaving the hospital for the weekend; was my first weekend off since coming. There was an NFL player there who came to Haiti to give money and support Non Profit work, by the end of the weekend he was planning with all the guys how to make money here and talking about Haiti as an untapped goldmine. Good luck asshole.

Taught a class in my friend Nadia’s one room corrugate school in a tent city, wish all teachers could be like her. That night got drunk and laughed with Nigerian soldiers on a UN camp somewhere.

I have been waiting for an Anesthesia machine that had been donated to the hospital to show up for months. It arrived yesterday and was 20 years old and a piece of shit, really disappointing. That night Nebez had his birthday party at his house in Delmas, we danced till 3am to a Copa band, wish I had brought my sax. Father Rick and I talked under the night sky, he told me about Eco Theology. A radical idea that laments our cultures separation from nature. Father has been studying all the worlds’ ancient religions and is upset that the church has made the world about the individual person rather than a part of nature. How sad he felt watching the oil spill, he wondered if we could ever be a part of nature again. Big thoughts for a priest.

I’m down in the dumps on Thursday, frustrated by the slow progress on the land and the bullshit. Raphael sees me and tells me we are going to the Ollofson for drinks and dancing. We drive through downtown streets, firelit and alive; I tell him I want to quit. He pulls the car over next to a tent city, grabs two beers, opens them and cranks up the music. “Wavin Flag” comes on; he pulls me close and says, “You know what Lucky Dube says?” “What” I say. He smiles, slams his beer and says, “Nobody can stop Reggae!” Then he begins to dance right in the middle of the street, some young kids from the tent city join in and start dancing too. I am at once back to my center, I know its true and I begin to dance as well. “Nobody can stop Reggae!” I yell and I yell it loud enough to wake up the world.