Haiti Singer Plans Life After Earthquake

Haiti baby

Christline Bellcombe, 4 months old, lives with 10 people in her family’s tent at the Petionville Club, a massive displaced persons camp in Port au Prince. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

– By Lane Hartill

I hadn’t seen Exeline in two weeks, and I wondered how she was doing.

The last time I’d seen her, she was in her family’s humid, fly-blown tent in the massive displaced persons camp, nursing her daughter, Christline. Her life’s trajectory had shifted dramatically since the earthquake. She had gone from one of Haiti’s up-and-coming singers to a stay-at-home mom, eating boiled bulgur wheat, taking bucket baths and trying to figure out how to jump start her life.

I met Exeline by accident. I ran into her mom, Pierrilia, and her mom’s cousin, Louis Wilson, who were struggling down a hill with a 90-pound bag of food that CRS had just given them. Pierrilia was barefoot and hobbling on a swollen ankle she’d turned days before. She flashed a toothless smile at me and lisped a bonjour. I grabbed a corner of the sack, and Louis Wilson and I trotted down the hill to their tent.

Exeline, 23, was sitting there, nursing her 4-month old daughter, Christline, when I walked in.

Exeline and I chatted about her life in the camp and her music career. For barely escaping a house that crashed down around her, and now living in a tent made of bed sheets with 12 people, she was remarkably cheerful.

Her joie de vivre touched me. Here was a new mother, a fledgling singer without a trace of arrogance (she had been on Haiti’s version of American Idol), a woman who sang at weddings and funerals but also sold ice water in a rough part of town to make ends meet. And now she’s living in a makeshift slum. But she wasn’t grumping about her plight or demanding food.

Over the next few days, I went back and saw Exeline whenever I could. I’d go down to the family tent, and Pierrilia would do her best to chase the flies out of it. All the family members would shake my hand and greet me like one of their own. They even offered me some bulgur, the food CRS had given to them. Exeline would play with her niece, Made Michelange, who, like any 5-year-old, loved drawing pictures of flowers and whispering secrets in my ear.

We’d flip through photo albums, admiring her past life, all dolled up and vamping with friends. We also looked at pictures of Christline as a baby. Exeline, who was washing clothes in the courtyard of her family’s house when the earthquake hit, didn’t have time to grab Christline’s baby book before the house collapsed. But she’s wasn’t going to let it rot in the rubble. So she went back to the flattened house with some young men, pointed to the buried living room and paid them to dig straight down through the rubble and unearth it.

When I didn’t stop by, she’d call me during the day just to check in. I think it was a mental reprieve for her to talk to someone outside her family, outside the ocean of tarpaulins and mud and crush of humanity that she lived in.

Today when I saw Exeline, she looked different. She wore stretchy black pants and had a hip twisty hair-do. Her friend Fabio was visiting, and she was painting Exeline’s fingernails and they took turns singing to Christline, who was more pudgy than the last time I’d seen her.

Exeline updated me on life in the camp: Their neighbor had moved out (they moved back to their home province), and Exeline’s family had expanded their tent into the neighbor’s space. She said she is getting out of the camp more and seeing some friends. Her most recent mission: get a loan from a friend so she can start a catering business and hair salon in the camp. She’ll have plenty of competition; it seems like every other tent in the camp has started a business, from wig shops to an internet kiosk. But Exeline wants to be different. She wants to do take out. People can call her and she’ll deliver right to their tent.

Other things haven’t changed in her life: many of the latrines are still gross, she says; they’re full of flies and stink. She doesn’t use the camp showers either. She prefers to hang a sheet up and bathe in an adjacent shelter rather use the shower spaces in the camp.

When we ran out of things to talk about, we amused ourselves trying to make Christline laugh.

Exeline would motorboat her lips. I made absurd, embarrassingly feminine, noises. Christline sat stone faced. We kept up our silly antics. And then, unexpectedly, as if she’d finally realized how ridiculous we were being, she lit up, curled those lips and unleashed a smile, all gums and cheeks.

That’s how we entertained ourselves on that hot afternoon in the camp.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to Exeline. Who knows if her music career will take off or her catering business will be a hit?

But one thing is clear.

She’s going to be an extraordinary mom.

-Lane Hartill is a CRS regional information officer reporting from Haiti.

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One Response to “Haiti Singer Plans Life After Earthquake”

  1. Debbie Page Says:

    This is a beautiful story and extremely well written. Thank you for sharing this with the world. I am blogging about this story today and will link over to this post. Thanks so much!


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