PETIONVILLE, Haiti — A momentary calm fell over the Petionville Ward Chapel grounds as homeless Haitians raised their voices in song and prayer to close another day.
Strains of "Where Can I Turn for Peace" in French filled the cloudy night sky followed by Stevenson Laurent's heartfelt petition in Creole to awake to the sunshine of a new morning.
The nightly devotional calms the restlessness of what amounts to a village that sprang up around the church after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Petionville was one of the hardest-hit areas in the country. About 600 tent cities or makeshift communities are sprinkled throughout the region. About 1 million Haitians, or 1 in 9, were displaced by the earthquake.
Petionville Ward Bishop Harry Mardy estimates 600 people — some members of L'?lise de Jesus Christ des Saints des Derniers Jours (LDS Church), some not — call the meetinghouse grounds home for now. He said his biggest need at the moment is a larger bathroom.
People drifted to sleep Wednesday night in tents, under palm trees and on the concrete courtyard. Mattresses covered nearly every inch of open space, causing anyone moving about to tiptoe.
Barking dogs, crowing roosters and the occasional coughing child broke the night silence, sometimes in coincidental chorus. The church's generator hummed in the background. A shooting star appeared just before dawn.
Thursday morning seemed to come quickly. Many people were up and about before first light and heading to the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. Some filed out the large metal gate for work or other business, most, if not all, without breakfast. Food is not plentiful, so one meal of rice and beans a day must suffice.
Bishop Mardy led members in the hymn "Scatter Sunshine" and morning prayer. And another day for Haitians without a home began.
For a hint of what life is like at the Petionville chapel, think Boy Scout jamboree — with mom, dad and all the kids — minus the playing with fire.
There was food, games and entertainment. A group of girls sat in a circle tossing and catching smooth goat or cow bones in a game of roslet, which resembles jacks. Several boys kicked a ball around. Some kids blew up long, colorful balloons.
Stories were continually swapped around the cooking pot. Young people and cell phones were inseparable. Laughter was not uncommon.
A group of children singing and dancing took center stage for a moment. Even Justin Timberlake made an appearance — on a laptop music video.
It's a nonstop block party.
"The children are happy," said ward member Emmanuel Exilus, adding his house isn't damaged but he's staying at the church to help. "Here is as a camp for them to play and to spend their time."
Though most people appeared to be in good spirits, the evening was not without a couple of minor skirmishes. Local police walked through the grounds to keep them from getting out of hand.
"It's not too good. It's not too bad. But it's better," Jean Baptiste "Doctor" Richardson, the 21-year-old ward clerk and seminary teacher, said of life in the camp.
Richardson does a security walk-through himself each night he is not pulling a 16-hour shift at the U.S. Embassy as a custodian. He also is known to do a little doctoring two nights a week. His medical training consists of watching physicians the past two weeks change bandages and give shots, and then doing it himself. One doctor allowed him to tie a suture, but he hasn't had to do it since.
Clad in blue scrubs, he opened his "clinic" in a church classroom Wednesday night and with two "nurses" cleaned and redressed leg wounds on two elderly men.
Two medical people — Dr. Corey Ericksen and physical therapist Nylin Johnson who just showed up a couple of days ago — treat people around the church in the morning before heading to one of the numerous tent cities around town. Ericksen said babies are dealing with diarrhea and fever right now.
Bishop Mardy is charged with keeping things in order. He has served as bishop all of two months. He lost his mother and sister in the earthquake. His 3-year-old nephew was kidnapped in December and hasn't been heard from since.
The bishop often seems deep in thought. He said he is concerned about his entire flock. But it's the people not staying at the camp that he worries most about.
"It's really hard to know what's happening with all members," he said.
Bishop Mardy also looks for the silver lining. Prior to the ground shaking, it had rained a lot in Haiti, he said.
"Since that happened, no rain at all," he said. "That is a miracle for me. God is watching over Haiti."25 comments on this story
On Wednesday evening, young men strung blue tarps over the camp, forming a canopy of protection from the sun and any rain that might fall.
People also are accumulating more possessions. Suitcases and laundry baskets piled with clothes are stacked around the tents. The earthquake is never far from their minds when they retrieve possessions from their homes.
Yves Champagne's house is upright but cracked. The stake high council member said he prays each time he steps inside to get clothes.
"It's risky because if there's an earthquake, it might just crumble," he said. "You never know."