Monday, November 26, 2012

Little Nothing.

This is Anel.

He's my closest friend in Haiti. He is my translator, my teacher, my cultural liaison, even my conscience at times. He works side by side with me in the Haitian heat and has never once complained about anything. He is ever thankful for his job, his family and his friends. When I need someone to be a diplomat with an orphanage owner who is exploiting kids Anel softens my words and keeps peace. 

On weekends I travel to Titanyen where Anel lives and often we spend our Saturdays as makeshift tour guides for medical volunteers that come to work at the clinic in Cite Soleil. A few weekends ago there were two ladies, Kelly and Rachel and we took them along with the clinic's medical coordinator Jill to the mass grave a few miles up the road.

In 2010 Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake. Nearly 200,000 men, women and children lost their lives. Images of thousands of corpses lining Haiti's streets inundated first world televisions. The government decided to bury the unclaimed bodies en masse. And little Titanyen became a Necropolis whose dead far outnumbered her living.

The picture above and the one directly below were taken by Kelly when she was in Haiti in 2011. This is how the mass graves looked then, thousands of black crosses planted by mourners. 

But now, a year later only a few of those crosses remain. There is a permanent monument at the edge of the graves and a large wooden cross at the hill's peak but mostly there is a lot of rough underbrush and the scraps of remembrances past. A fake flower, a piece of purple fabric, spray paint epitaphs on pieces of plywood. I left the girls at the bottom of the hill and walked up to read the plaque on the cross. Anel followed me slowly but then turned and lost himself in thought.

Atop the small hill two large crosses serve as a slightly more permanent memorial to the 40,000 thousand that are buried here.

As I approached the cross a falcon was sitting, watching our wandering. I wondered how much he'd seen. Had he been there, circling in the sky, watching the tens of thousands of corpses pushed ignominiously into that gaping mouth of earth. Had he heard the wails of the living, screaming out sorrows for the dead. 

The girls had gathered at the truck and Anel was looking my way so I snapped a couple more pictures and hurried down. At the bottom of the hill joyful Anel was quiet and reserved. I unlocked the truck for the girls and then pulled him aside. "What's wrong?" I asked.

Instead of an answer he asked me a question. Did I know what he had done before he came to work for SP? I didn't. He went on, told me how he took pictures of people with a digital camera, then would print out the shots at a photo copy center and sell the pictures to his patrons for a little over a buck. On the day of the earthquake he had been going about his regular business and was inside the photo copy store printing out the days crop. He left the store and then 20 minutes later the building collapsed killing all 30 people inside.


Underneath our feet, some, maybe all, of those unlucky thirty slowly turned back to dirt. 

Come to find out, little Titanyen has always been a dumping ground for bodies. Thugs and gangsters, criminals and government hit-men alike have over the years disposed of their victims here. In fact all over Haiti that is what Titanyen is known for, that and a common perception that it is a desolate wasteland of a town. Titanyen literally means little nothing. 

But I love this little town. I miss it so. Some of the kindest, gentlest, most genuine people I have ever met live in Titanyen. And I miss Anel the most this cold, wet, gunpowder grey Mississippi morning. His enthusiasm is infectious. His dedication and determination tireless. Scripture says the last will be first, the lowly will be lifted, and that God calls those things that are not as though they are. I know Titanyen has not been forgotten by God. I saw Him there so often, on the faces of the children, heard Him in their laughter, tasted Him in the boundless generosity of home cooked meals. But mostly, in a town so acquainted with death I have seen God's eternal life in the indefatigable hope in the hearts of her people.


  1. Love it when you write about Haiti

    1. Thanks Annabelle. Want to write soooo much more but just sorting it all out and missin' her horribly.

  2. Actually, I'm wondering if you would write something for me.

    Today I was giving my friend a ride and he just kept having all these little things go wrong. we were talking about how it's just not his day. And then somehow I ended up telling him about Titanyen, and also about our Facebook conversation regarding the poverty there. And was wondering why Haiti is so poor. I gave him a few reasons, but I just didn't have a sufficient answer. He actually brought up how little his constant problems are compared to what I was telling him (which was not my point in telling him at all!). If you're up for that, I would love a post on why Haiti is so poor, with your personal experiences/perspectives too.