Weddings, Funerals Reflect Haiti’s Lives Lived Intensely

Communications Officer Sara Fajardo is traveling in Haiti reporting on CRS programs and sharing her experiences with us.

Haiti church

A little girl listens to the all girls choir at the Ascension Catholic Church in Ouianaminthe, Haiti. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

A brass band dressed in black performed a range of joyful yet melancholy songs as pallbearers marched a gunmetal silver coffin from the Ascension Church on to Ouianaminthe, Haiti’s main street. From our perch on the Juanista Sisters’ second story balcony Rosalba and I watched as the music greeted the departed.

Uniformed school children took their place as the lead marchers in the procession, followed by friends, the elegantly etched coffin, and a family shivering with grief. Everyone was dressed in black and white finery.

The Caribbean heat makes white the more obvious choice for mourning. I could see a young girl’s lip trembling as she walked, her perfectly crisp white satin ribbons glistening in the mid-afternoon sun.

Funerals, sister Nidia explained, are always a lavish affair. In a country of almost 9 million people, doctors are a scarce luxury. Rough estimates show that there is only one to every 20,000 Haitians. Needed specialists such as gynecologists or oncologists are even more rare.

Even when doctors are an option, the medicine required to return health to the sick is prohibitively expensive. Only 20 percent of Haiti’s population lives above the poverty line, 54 percent lives in abject poverty.

“And so,” sister Nidia, tells us, “people will save up for funerals, will risk losing their homes to debt, in order to send a beloved one off in style.” In a country gripped by poverty, the grief-stricken want to guarantee a family member leaves with some of the pomp and luxury that eluded them in life.

As the funeral procession faded into the next block, a different type of music swelled within the church. The sweet sounds of an all girls choir floated up to the balcony and beckoned us downstairs.

Inside we saw that the pews had been decorated with crepe paper flowers. A set of four bridesmaids in lime green shifts and groomsmen wearing matching cummerbunds had formed at the church entryway. The choir fell silent, a D.J. queued a small chrome plated boom box to play a Celine Dion number. The wedding party began gliding on tempo towards the altar. The music faltered, the D.J. ran to fix it, watched the wedding party from the corner of his eye, and signaled with a flick of the wrist when the music was back on track.

Haiti church

The maid of honor and best man make their way down the aisle at a wedding in Ouianaminthe, Haiti. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

Three of the bridesmaids and all the groomsmen were chewing gum. They chewed in synch to the beat of the music. I began to think of it as the chew-step, chew-step formation.

The church was dark save for a few beams of light that streamed in from the church’s side windows. When the bridesmaids and groomsmen reached the final pew they faced one another like a military wedding and lifted their arms for the bride and groom to walk beneath. The D.J. turned the music off, and the Ascension girl’s choir began to wrap their mouths in perfect o’s in a song about saying, “I do”. I marveled at how only minutes before I’d watched another girl their age, chest heaving with grief.

The bride and groom took their place at the altar. A row of finely dressed women turned towards them. Clinging tightly to her beau, the bride, ready to recite her vows, looked to the priest.

“People in Haiti live intensely,” sister Nidia told us later, “This is a country of marked contrast. There is such poverty here, and yet they rejoice in the moments they have, life here in Haiti is loss, but it is also song and dance.”

In the ten-block ride home we took tonight, Rosalba and I counted two more funeral processions, both with the same elegant bands, finely dressed mourners, and elaborate coffins.

– Sara Fajardo

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2 Responses to “Weddings, Funerals Reflect Haiti’s Lives Lived Intensely”

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