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Jounen jèn, Days of Remembrance

February 16, 2010

Letters from Port au Prince

by Sasha Kramer

The National Cathedral in June 2009 at Father Gerry’s funeral – Photo: Sasha Kramer
Friday, Feb. 12, one month after the earthquake, the first day of Jounen jèn, the days of mourning and remembrance, and we walked through the twisted iron and dusty shards of glass of the shattered National Cathedral. As we crossed through the open door and stared down the length of the cathedral, it was as though the world had ended and even the wind had disappeared into the silence of the rubble.

Just blocks away, in front of the crumbling palace, thousands of people dressed in white were singing songs of grief and praise, but inside the National Cathedral on this national day of remembrance, there was only the sky and the crumpled flowers from the altar scattered across the floor where so many feet once trod.

As we stepped gingerly through the cement dust, climbing towards where the altar once stood, I remembered the last time that I walked down this aisle, through the sunbeams and the wailing, walking to pay my last respects to Father Gerard Jean Juste in June 2009. This place has always broken my heart.

The National Cathedral in June 2009 at Father Gerry’s funeral – Photo: Sasha Kramer
So many voices that once sang in this church have been swallowed by the earthquake and I longed to hear Father Gerry’s voice, but I knew what he would have told me. He would tell me that those of us who survived have to sing louder, to work harder and to love each other more.

As we left the cathedral and passed the crowd on Champ de Mars I could hear the crowd of thousands singing their sadness into salvation. I knew that Father Gerry was with them, under the tarp churches, marching through the streets, watering the parks of the city with their tears.

When we got home in the evening on Friday, everyone at Matthew 25, where we are staying, gathered to read aloud a prayer for Haiti. Three quarters of the way through the prayer the tears began rolling down my cheeks. I could see the cathedral as they carried Father Gerry’s body down the aisle and the flowers buried in dust that we had walked through earlier.

Flowers from the altar scattered among the rubble – Photo: Sasha Kramer
I cried for hours that night for the first time since coming to Port au Prince. Mine were only drops in the lake of tears that flowed through Haiti this weekend as people said goodbye to their loved ones and their lost city.

I end with an excerpt from the prayer that we read on the 12th: “Raise up your people from the ash heap of destruction and give them strong hearts and hands, shore up their minds and spirits. Help them to bear this new burden.”

This week with your donations we were able to provide a week’s worth of food to over 350 families, deliver 24,000 gallons of water to five communities, provide medicines to several mobile clinics, give out over 4,000 water sachets in churches during Jounen jèn and purchase 140 tarps, reaching over 5,000 people in Port au Prince. In Cap Haitien, the SOL team provided food and medicines to victims of the earthquake that have been relocated out of the capital. SOIL is still small and though we cannot rebuild the National Cathedral, with your support we can help thousands of families in Port au Prince to bear this new burden.

A banner stretched across the front of the National Cathedral in June 2009 reads, “Gerry, you are gone but the struggle will go on.” – Photo: Sasha Kramer
It is the strength of the Haitian people that has helped me to rise from the ashes of my own fear and sadness. Today on this final day of mourning I pray that I can treat the victims of this tragedy as they have treated me, with compassion, respect and dignity. I am so grateful to all of you who have helped to lighten Haiti’s load. This experience has helped us all to remember our humanity.

Sasha Kramer, Ph.D., an ecologist and human rights advocate, is the co-founder of Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) and an adjunct professor of international studies at the University of Miami. She can be reached at sashakramer@gmail.com. To donate, go to www.oursoil.org.

For more photos of the National Cathedral before and after, go to http://picasaweb.google.com/photos.oursoil/JounenJenDaysOfRemembrance#.

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