Four nights. Wailing, keening, punctuated with sudden stillness and low murmurs. Sleep, awake again. Piercing screams from unknown fathoms of sorrow mix with the rising and falling counterpoint of the voodoo drums, chanting, and cocks crowing. With the tinges of daylight the keening stops, the roosters fade and only the drums and chanting continue unrelenting. Soon they too will become still.
Today is the funeral. Relatives of the dead women come to us for money. Denise says no and apologizes, telling them that the money we have is for the living. We did all we could for the woman before she died.
The funeral is at three o’clock at the Episcopal Church. We have never been there, though it is not far. I know the path it is on because I have seen school children heading to and from their school.
Bermane, our security guard, is attending the funeral and walks with us to the church. I am not sure what I am expecting, but I am not prepared for what I see. The church and school consist of two “structures”.
One is a large aluminum frame tent, the fabric shredded from time, offering limited shade at the best. I can still make out remnants of the logo for UNICEF above the entrance. This is most likely been repurposed after the earthquake aid efforts of 2010.
The other structure is crudely built with a low flat tin roof and walls consisting of blankets and woven palm leaves. It is about twelve by sixty feet and jammed with rustic wooden school benches and a few rusty metal folding chairs. This is where the funeral is being held.
It is filling up quickly when we arrive but we manage to find a school bench near the back where the school children are sitting. At the front is the casket and two chairs for the minister and his assistant. There are no flowers, but instead there are two huge ribbons adorning the casket. The casket is open for viewing. Soon there are between 75 and 100 people pressed shoulder to shoulder in the tight space.
As three o’clock approaches and passes, Bermane leans over and whispers that the minister has not arrived yet. A few minutes later Jon Louie approaches, he is the dead women’s brother-in-law and is in charge of all the arrangements. He asks us if we have a camera, we do not, but I do have my I-phone. The family wants a picture of the deceased. I tell him that I can use my phone and he leads me outside and around to the front where I work my way through the pressing crowd. I take two pictures, show them to him for his approval and then work my way back to my seat. I consider taking a few pictures of the “church” full of mourners, but I do not know if the pictures would be wanted and do not want to be invasive.
When the minister arrives the service begins. After an opening song the minister leads prayer and reads from the gospel. When he begins to deliver his eulogy, wailing begins and gut wrenching sobbing and keening drowns him out. One woman collapses on the floor raising her hands in supplication, another young women drops her head to the desk and softly knock her head against the surface as she cries out in uncontrollable grief. Other women join in the moaning while other come quickly to comfort and calm as best they can. The scene repeats itself several times, reaching a total frenzy as the casket is closed and the people rush outside with the pallbearers following with the casket. The sounds of grief gradually lessen as the crowd moves down the path and into the street.
Denise and I follow at a discreet distance and turn off at our drive as the crowd continues on to the place of internment. We hope we have been respectful and as supportive as possible, considering that we are outsiders. We are both very quiet, finding each other’s hands to hold as we walk up towards our apartment.