I have a friend I met in Ravine Seche last summer. His name is Noah and he is 20 years old. He has a “wife” who is 18 years old. Her name is Berlin, and together they have a child who is 2 years old.
Last summer when I met them both in the village, he and his wife weren’t seeing eye to eye and were separated. For several weeks Noah even lived in my home. I remember oftentimes walking across the stream to where his wife and baby were to visit. Berlin, for her part, wouldn’t make eye contact or acknowledge Noah’s presence, but would allow him to spend a few minutes with their child.
On many occasions I encouraged Noah to be reconciled with his wife, even later after I left the village and he would come visit me in Port-au Prince. I especially pressed he take the lead in reconciling because I knew he was the primary person at fault in their separating, as I had gathered both from his personal acknowledgment of guilt as well as other people having exuberantly retold me of past altercations (or one in particular).
Eventually the two of them did reconcile, and once again began living together. In fact, Berlin was now pregnant with their second.
Two weeks ago I heard the news Berlin had suddenly died. “Wow, that is crazy,” I thought. Just recently I had seen her and the baby when driving Noah back home, and she had seemed healthy. In fact, Berlin apparently showed no signs of illness right up until the day before she died She became sick on a Monday and died on Tuesday, along with her unborn baby.
I asked many questions trying to determine cause of death. Her symptoms were: 1) a stabbing pain in the middle of her chest that went through to her back – as if a knife were being plunged in, as it was described to me 2) pain in one of her legs 3) complaint of being cold and they put blankets on her.
Berlin herself ascribed the sudden illness to voodoo, claiming she had been bitten by a zombie. Her last words to Noah before passing were, “Why did Jeanette do this to me?” Jeanette being a previously close friend of hers whom she recently had a falling out with. I was told their last interactions took the form of a public shouting match interlaced with profanity. The topic of controversy being unknown to Noah, or perhaps he was unwilling to tell me. Jeanette’s husband is a known voodoo practitioner, and Jeanette herself was also known to dabble in the black arts, or so I was told.
Another anecdote was relayed to me as an omen of import:
On Sunday night, the day before she fell ill, Noah and her were lying in bed preparing to sleep when they smelled a foul odor. Getting up to investigate, they found a dead and decomposing dog at their front door. The two of them decided to go out in the dark and dig a shallow hole to bury said dog. As they were digging the grave, Berlin felt something pass in front of her, like a cold wind, and became frightened. She told Noah what she had felt, and how she was scared, and he in turn told her it was nothing and she was merely frightened of the dark. The next day she fell ill, and the following day she passed.
Did she die of complications with the baby? Did she die of an appendicitis? Did she die of a blood clot in her leg that caused a pulmonary embolism? As there was no autopsy done, we will never know what natural causes may have been at work. What about the supernatural? Could she have died of a zombie bite? Did Jeannette have a voodoo doll she was poking pins into? What was with the dead dog and the cold “spirit” Berlin felt in the night? Nothing? Or something? I defer judgment to the reader.
The mysterious aside, Noah is now left with the challenge of arranging funeral expenses. Here in Haiti, funerals are expensive events. Berlin wasn’t dead 24 hours before Noah was down in Port-au Prince looking for money from myself and other relatives to help cover the costs.
He has not yet been able to raise the money he needs to satisfy the morgue, so….. they in turn are not releasing the body until he does. Today is the 14th day since she died, and still there is no scheduled day for the funeral.
I offered a few dollars towards the cost, more of a token gift than anything. Berlin’s family was apparently upset by my stinginess, and asked Noah, “What is wrong with your Blan, that he’s not paying up?” Referring to me.
Yes, if Noah didn’t know me, or more importantly, if the morgue and everyone else didn’t know that Noah knew me, I think the funeral would have long been over by now. But since they know he has an “in” with a white man, they are holding out for the bucks.
Ahh, such is life in Haiti, a complicated and enigmatic place to be sure.
If you think of it, please pray for Noah, and especially for his young son, that arrangements will be made for the toddler to be taken care of. Noah is unable to care for the child himself.