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About Amy Umble: Amy Umble writes about religion and social issues affecting the Fredericksburg community. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘In God We Trust’
Yesterday, we went with church members to measure an apartment building. It had been badly damaged in the earthquake but was still standing. Members of the Grace Network of Churches hope it can be restored and used to house future mission teams. In front of the apartment building, a pile of twisted rebar rods, concrete slabs and cinder blocks are all that remain of the home where mission teams usually stay in
Haiti. A grave near the apartment building marks the home’s owner and the apartments’ landlord, an 80-year-old woman lovingly known as Setata, which means “Sister Auntie.”
We climbed some damaged stairs to check the upstairs apartments. On the balcony, about a half-dozen potted plants were dry and brittle, their pots cracked and broken. In one pot, a small book–about the size of a deck of cards–lay open. The French devotional book had been ripped, the last page read:
4 Avril: Vous ne savez pas ce qui arrivera demain (car qu’est-ce que votre vie?) Jacques 4.14
Amassez-vous des tresors dans le ciel, ou ni la teigne rouille ne gatents. Matthieu 6.20
The verses translate to: You do not know what tomorrow brings, for what is your life?
Store up you treasures in heaven, where rust cannot ruin them.
Inside, grime covers the remnants of family life. The floor is littered with a collection of years worth of Haitian newspapers, a VCR tape of “Winnie the Pooh’s Grand Adventure,” a framed wedding photo showing a bride clutching a bouquet of white daisies and wearing an ecstatic grin, and a photo album.
I feel like a voyeur, but I can’t help myself. I open the photo album and see a family in happier times–and the apartment in better days. In one photo, a girl of about 4 sits on the steps outside, when the steps were intact. She leans on the stair, posing for the camera. The same girl at about 7 stands on the balcony grinning.
It is overwhelming looking through the photo album, seeing birthday parties and beach trips. And not knowing what happened to the family. The apartment is badly damaged; the walls cracked enough to see through them, pieces of ceiling and wall litter the floors and ground. But it is not completely crushed.
Mission team member Jeff Foltz is measuring the room, to try and restore it, and he reassures me, “It is certainly possible these people are still alive, and they’re living in a tent somewhere and they just haven’t come back for these things yet.”
I hope so.
A few hours later, we walk to a ravine near the clinic. The river is empty of water, but filled with trash. On the hillside, crushed concrete homes, corrugated tin shacks and piles of trash sit. It looks like a landfill combined with a ghost town. But people live there. They come up to me, show me their house–or the pile of concrete and rock that used to be their homes. Over and over, I say, “I’m sorry.” The words seem so inadequate. But between the language barrier and my grief, no other words come to mind.
Across the ravine, a group of five young boys see us and sing, “Beat It.” An old man walks by carrying a shovel. He shovels some of the ground, but it seems like a lost cause. He tells me he was shoveling the trash on the hill when the earthquake hit. He pantomimes shaking and falling down, to tell me what the earthquake was like.
His name is Luc Torcieant, and in Creole he tells me, “I saw everyone crying.”
We walk away from the ravine, through a cluster of damaged homes and makeshift tents. One concrete house has half a wall. In English, the wall reads, ‘In God we trust.”
The photos are by Peter Cihelka. The top photo is Don Jennings measuring the basement of the apartment building. The bottom is Luc Tocieant carrying his shovel.