Sunday, June 5, 2011

Small black crosses

The cross at the top of the hill can be seen from quite a distance

One of the most incredibly emotional times of the week was our brief trip to St. Christophe.

About 45 minutes outside of Port-au-Prince in the sparsely populated wasteland of Titanyen, a small insignificant arrow points from the main road down a gravel path to our destination. Located on the edge of a mountain, facing the coast is St. Christophe.

For those who may not be familiar with the area, it is one of the mass graves outside Port-au-Prince. Its’ hills house thousands and thousands of bodies, all earthquake victims. We were told by our driver that at least 35 large truckloads of bodies were dumped at this site.

The entire group was silent as we slowly walked through the enormous cemetery. It was incredibly peaceful and equally painful at the same time as we all considered the immense loss of life that this area housed.

It was virtually impossible not to compare this sacred ground to Arlington Cemetery, with its rows of straight, perfectly cut stone monuments honoring the dead. However, this had a different feeling. Hundreds of simple wooden crosses, painted solid black, are planted in a large flat area at the base of a hill. After 17 months, fairly straight rows of the makeshift headstones cover the ground, some standing upright, while others lie on the ground, collapsed by weather or the weight of small wreaths.

Several large crosses were positioned at various points in the area. One was painted with purple morning glories contained a small placard that read:

January 12, 2010
Remember those who have traveled before us.

Sally reading the inscription on the cross

The clouds and light drizzle of the afternoon added to the somber atmosphere that enveloped us. But the most striking moment was when we were moving back into the van, preparing to leave. The cameramen were still shooting when we heard a soft beautiful voice. Strains of Amazing Grace were coming from behind us.

Those of us in the car scrambled out to see the source of the song: it was our driver and security man, Newton. He stood at the edge of the crosses singing out across the grave in Kreyol, touching everyone’s heart with his soulful lament.

It was one of those moments that couldn’t have been scripted any better.

Newton, our driver and soloist at St. Christophe

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