No room in cemetery for Haiti dead

No room in cemetery for Haiti dead

Haitians throw corpses into a common grave at a cemetery in Port-au-Prince. AFP

It begins just a few feet into the cemetery. Pass the elegant arched entrance and walk along the central path that snakes through the tombs lined on either side like miniature suburban houses. First you are assailed by the smell, an acrid odour of death that wrenches the stomach and sticks to you like glue.

The smell is bad, but the sights are worse. Bodies are piled up along the path, dumped one upon the other. A couple of chickens are pecking at them like corn. One of them, a woman with braided hair perhaps in her 30s, has her hands in a rigor mortis embrace, as though she had been trying to cling on to life and never let it go. A few feet further in, we come across a hand-wagon. Inside about six bodies are stacked in jumbled postures. One of the bodies has its hand outstretched and when a car passes by, bringing into the cemetery yet another corpse, it hits the arm and makes it swing like a creaking door.
Every five minutes a new body is brought in, most in simple coffins, fashioned out of rough bits of salvaged wood; one has been made out of old cupboard doors. Suddenly, six men rush by, carrying on their shoulders a fancy lacquered coffin, heading for one of the tombs of a wealthy family.

Poor Haitian families don’t enjoy such luxury of mourning. A tomb on the right side of the walkway has been opened to allow the body of a 14-year-old girl, swaddled in white cloth and laid out in a pick-up truck, to be added beside the remains of her parents. Above the opening, the word “reparation” has been scrawled.

We ask the cemetery workers standing nearby what that signifies. “It means the family has no money,” one worker tells us in ­broken French. “They cannot pay.” A truck with the young girl on board later drove off, her body unburied.How much money are we talking about, we ask, what are you charged to lay a teenaged girl to rest? A hundred dollars, the workers say.

Officials from the city council in charge of the cemetery tell us that the bodies dumped along the path were all brought by families who couldn’t afford to pay.
Everybody in this city has been touched by death. Many thousands are now struggling with a ­double challenge: to keep themselves alive in a city without water and food, and to give their loved ones who have died merely the basic, lowliest goodbye.

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