Monday, February 22, 2010

The silence


Sometimes Haiti is a quiet sweep of a dry, dusty breeze over barren hills. Patches of black scorched earth stand out starkly against the dry brush and piles of rubble. Just outside the city is a narrow dirt road where trucks have traversed, with their cargo from the remains of the earthquake.

This is where some mass graves are, where thousands of earthquake victims were buried.

You travel down the dusty dirt road, the parched mountains rising in the background observing the valley below like silent sentinels. Piles of garbage line the way, flanking the road like snowbanks of crushed plastic and broken green glass. The road winds and curves and dips behind the first hill seen from National Road number 1, and then the highway vanishes and you are overlooking the valley below. Dotting the ground are simple handmade white crosses. When you reach the bottom of the hill, you come to a small clearing where there are about four or five large mounds of rubble, each marked with a white cross made from what looks like white metal chair legs. Go further down and you arrive at the pauper’s graveyard. Here, two cows graze peacefully among the graves, each plot unmarked but for a white wood cross or a tin cross painted hospital green. Some green crosses have names scratched on them, rust staining the edges.

A man we picked up to escort us to where they dumped the bodies after the earthquake tells us that these are the individual graves of those too poor to be properly buried. They were dumped here by a city hospital. They now rest among the victims of the January 12 earthquake. He points to a small grave marked by a white cross, a grave that has rubble piled atop it. “These are earthquake victims,” he says of the rubble.

The larger mass graves are around the bend, where small mounds rise from the dirt, each marked by a white metal cross. Mothers, fathers and children are buried here, poured into deep pits like refuse when trucks dumped the bodies. No names. No records. No one mourns here. No one knows who they are, where they came from or who loved them and who misses them. No flowers or flags or little mementos such as a child’s truck or a sister’s favorite hairbrush.

Nothing but crude white crosses.

There is no closure here for the living because there are no names. I wonder if here is the final resting place of the husband of a woman I met on my last visit to Haiti. The woman, whose home was destroyed and who lives in a tent city with her three children, told me her husband was buried in a mass grave. He was a stone mason who was at work during the earthquake. “He would have found us by now,” she insisted. She had checked all the hospitals in a vain search to find him. “They threw him away.”

It’s so quiet here compared to Port-au-Prince with its blaring horns, people singing gospel in makeshift churches beneath blue tarps, determinedly cheerful radio music urging people to unite and rise up above the tragedy, and the chatter of street vendors trying to reassemble their shattered lives.

There is only the hush of a breeze sweeping down the mountains to the turquoise ocean below, and the dry whisper of dead leaves stirring in the air.

And the silence.

1 comment:

Mary Ricksen said...

I can't tell you how much this post affected me. Tears are nothing compared to this...