Port-au-Prince craftsmen try to forget earthquake

2010-01-22 11:41

Deborah Pasmantier in Port-au-Prince

THEY come on a whim to kill time, meet friends and, above all, to

try to forget the earthquake, the dead and the unbearable sadness.

The craftsmen gather each day in front of their workshop in a

street of Port-au-Prince, where the coffin maker alone still works, building two

or three coffins a day. It is a resilient effort to regain some sense of

normalcy.

There is a whiff of life in the street, now swarming again with ice

cream, rice and banana vendors, traffic jams, women washing in basins and doing

the laundry, young men watching passersby and children singing. But it is also

filled with craftsmen left empty-handed after their workshops were destroyed or

badly damaged by the massive earthquake that rattled the nation, the poorest in

the Americas, nine days ago.

“Everything was broken. I can’t do anything but I come out of habit

to meet people and joke around. We talk about everything and nothing about what

we lost, our projects. We try to erase a little bit of the sadness,” said

Jean-Jacques Daniel, a 60-year-old cabinetmaker.

Everyone he knows lost someone in the disaster or had close ones

suffer injuries. They live outside in a tent either because their houses were

flattened or out of concern for aftershocks.

Pretending to go to work gives them a reason to get up each

morning. At home there are too many people, too much fear and too many memories,

they say.

“It’s sad at home. There is nothing to do, everyone is panicked.

Here, we are passing time, having fun,” explained Alexandre Freed (34), a

mechanic.

The men speak in groups, travel from one business to another, call

out to each other in a ruckus that almost makes them forget the tens of

thousands of dead, the piles of metal and concrete frozen in place and the camps

where survivors fight once again to survive.

“It feels good to be together. We meet up with friends who didn’t

die, we greet each other: “You’re alive! How’s your family?’” said cabinetmaker

Emmanuel Herland. They also recall the horror that sealed January 12 in their

minds.

“We want to talk about it, it helps get rid of stress,” added

Herland (29).

There are no longer any clients. The time to rebuild has yet to

come.

“I work to try to forget but it’s not working. It’s engraved in my

memory,” said Charly Jean-Louis (47).

“I am very shocked by what I saw – many dead people. I lost friends

and images are going through my head all the time,” Jean-Louis added.

A series of aftershocks have rattled the Caribbean nation –

including a 4.8-magnitude tremor yesterday – a grim reminder that danger was

still lurking just around the corner.

“We can’t forget because there are aftershocks all the time,”

Daniel said.

All of a sudden, the men stop talking. The earth is shaking again.

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