Post Mortem

January 8, 2011


Joegodson and Paul

On Thursday, December 30, Deland called Jhony from Bon Repos. He told him that he needed to get back to Simon immediately to be with his children. Jhony went to Bon Repos and brought Deland back to his home in Simon.

Joegodson was at church in Delmas 33 when a premonition came over him, directing him to Simon. There was Deland. They spoke for the last time. Deland asked Joegodson how Antonia was feeling. Was she carrying the child in good health? When would it arrive? Joegodson told Deland that the baby seemed to be anxious to get into the world. He didn’t know why, given the situation that was waiting for the newborn. Antonia was fine but, like everyone else, she was not eating well enough for one person, let alone two. Joegodson returned to Antonia in Delmas 33.

Just before midnight, Jhony called his brother to tell him that their Dad had passed away. Joegodson returned to Simon. Jhony and Joegodson are the eldest of seven children. The others are dependent on them. The two sons vowed to make sure that Deland had a proper funeral.

They following morning, New Year’s Eve – the eve of Haiti’s independence – a neighbour came to see Jhony. He organizes funerals in Simon in Cite Soleil. He offered his services to Jhony for 6,000 Haitian dollars (henceforth, divide by five to arrive at the approximate Canadian or American equivalents). Jhony panicked since he and Joegodson had no more than a handful of change. They weren’t prepared for life, let alone death, which is much more expensive. They decided that Jhony should return to Saut d’Eau where Deland still owned a piece of land. Now, it belonged to the children. Jhony would need to sell their heritage in order to pay for their father’s funeral. There was no other way. On Saturday, Jhony left for Saut d’Eau.

Meanwhile, Deland’s body remained in his home in Simon. It was unsettling for the children. Joegodson took over the arrangements. The main obstacle was the lack of money and the price tag of 6,000$. The husband of Deland’s sister, who owns a furniture-making business, said that he had a coffin already made in his workshop. Moreover, he claimed to know the manager of the morgue at the General Hospital. He would be able to negotiate a good deal.

Joegodson accepted the offer of help. He should have known better. His uncle is a notorious operator. When Joegodson’s mother died in 1998, he had to leave school and begin his apprenticeship as a furniture maker in his uncle’s shop. Although he was only sixteen, Joegodson came to realize that his uncle was exploiting him and the other employees. He organized a strike. The other workers caved in but Joegodson held firm and, consequently, found himself homeless and unemployed. His uncle knows that there is always a profit to be made when money changes hands.

After Jhony had left for Saut d’Eau on Saturday, Joegodson and his uncle went to the morgue at the General Hospital. The uncle negotiated with the manager apart from Joegodson. The price for the funeral would be 4,500$, but the uncle told Joegodson that because he was supplying the coffin, he had arranged a price of 1,300$. Joegodson and Jhony would pay the uncle the 4,500$ while he paid the 1,300$ to the manager of the General Hospital. In any case, Joegodson didn’t have any money yet and so was forced to accept the uncle’s intervention in order to get the body transferred to the morgue. Meanwhile, the manager explained that the body would have to go to a private morgue if there was to be a funeral. Every three days, the bodies that pile up in the General Hospital morgue are cleared and placed in a mass grave in order to make room. If Deland’s body was brought to the General Hospital, then there would be no guarantee that it would still be there for the funeral. The funeral date had not yet been set.

So, the ambulance was dispatched to Simon and Deland’s body was taken to a private morgue awaiting the funeral.

Meanwhile, Deland’s seven children had to be prepared for the funeral. None of them had anything presentable to wear, a cruel irony since Deland had been a superb tailor. A neighbour who had worked with Deland over the years as an assistant agreed to go to the Marche La Guérite in downtown Port-au-Prince to buy clothes for all the children. Joegodson was able to pay her, in part, out of a donation from a reader. He went to the orphanage where his youngest brother has lived since the death of their mother. He is now sixteen years old and Joegodson scarcely knows him. But he wanted Stanley to know that his father had died and that he still belonged to a family.

Joegodson prepared for the funeral. The ceremony would take place at Deland’s church. The pastor was shaken to learn of Deland’s passing. He is old and infirm. Together, they set the date of Wednesday morning. Deland would arrive at the church at six o’clock in the morning so that the parishioners could view the body and say good bye. There would be a service. Then, the body would be taken to Saut d’Eau and laid to rest in the mausoleum that had been built when Cécile died in childbirth twelve years ago. Her husband Deland would now be placed next to her. Deland’s sister in Saut d’Eau was making those arrangements so that the peasant side of the family should assemble for the interment.

Back in Saut d’Eau, Jhony had managed to sell Deland’s plot of land to an agronomist for 14,000$. The buyer was able to pay 9,000$ cash. A road passes by the plot and it is valuable. Most of the outstanding balance will go to cover the notary costs.

The uncle’s carpentry workshop is located not far from Saut d’Eau in the local market called Tutayan. He had the coffin brought back to Simon where Joegodson saw it for the first time. It was old and rotting, wholly inappropriate for Deland’s funeral. Joegodson called his friend Claude who does decorative carpentry work. He works in the uncle’s shop and has known Joegodson since the days of the failed strike. Understanding the situation, he agreed to come and assure that the coffin was both repaired and enhanced to befit the occasion. His time and expertise he offered as a friend. He wanted no money.

On Tuesday afternoon, the real price had to be paid for the uncle’s machinations. Joegodson arrived at the morgue to see the manager about organizing the transfer of the body the following morning from the private morgue to the church and then to Saut d‘Eau for the interment. The manager told him that the 1,300$ that the uncle had given him covered the collection of the body and its storage in the private morgue. Nothing else had been negotiated with the uncle. And so no arrangements had yet been made for preparing the body for the viewing and church service the following morning, and its transport to the church and Saut d’Eau. Joegodson called his uncle who arrived at the General Hospital and engaged the manager in a superfluous and acrimonious debate about the substance of Saturday’s negotiations. Clearly, Joegodson realized, his uncle had misled everyone about the costs to get rid of the coffin and profit, once again, from the penury of his in-laws.

Joegodson was now in a delicate position. His uncle was arguing only to save face, to proclaim loudly that he was being unfairly treated whereas it was clear to any sentient being that he was profiting from the tragedy. Worse, Joegodson realized that the manager had the body of Deland in an unknown location. The uncle was pushing him to the brink where he could easily decide to wash his hands of the affair and expel both the uncle and Joegodson from the hospital. At that point, the funeral would proceed the following morning without Deland.

So, Joegodson intervened. He thanked his uncle and told him that he had been far too helpful already. Joegodson would take it from here. Soon, the manager had returned to a civil discussion about the needs. Joegodson would simply have to bring clothes for Deland and the staff at the morgue would prepare the body for the scheduled funeral. As relations improved, the manager explained to Joegodson that he would need a pass to transport the body. The police were vigilant that bodies that succumbed to cholera not be transported around the country. For a price, he filled out and signed a form that would allow Joegodson to transport the body.

However, there was now no hertz available for the morning. The uncle had misled him into thinking that he had arranged it. Joegodson called the neighbour from Simon who had originally offered his help. He was back on. Could he find transportation? He said that he would be able to do it. Later, he called to say that he had made a deal with a taptap driver who would take the body to the church and then Saut d’Eau for 600$. Deal.

At five o’clock the next morning, Wednesday, Jhony and Joegodson, along with two friends, arrived at the morgue to collect the body. The service was planned at the church for six o’clock. The two brothers waited until the transportation arrived, almost an hour behind schedule. It was an old taptap that had somehow evaded the junk heap to participate in its last hurrah. It had a smashed windshield and it loudly protested the incline to the morgue. “It’s only barely survived Dad in this world,” Joegodson told Jhony. “There’s no way it’ll get to the church, let alone Saut d’Eau!”

The brave driver got out and leant a hand placing the coffin in the back of the taptap. Two of the pallbearers sat up front and Jhony and Joegodson remained in the back with the coffin. Time moved at a much faster pace than the old taptap that, even without a coffin in the back, would have attracted the attention of the pedestrians that overtook it. Inevitably, a couple of police intervened. They presumed that this must contravene a number of by-laws, precisely which ones they weren’t yet sure. Joegodson took out his pass, duly signed by the director of the morgue at the General Hospital. Even with that evidence, they refused to let the funeral party proceed while they ruminated. Joegodson protested, honestly, that they were already ninety minutes late for the funeral service. After another short wait, the police decided to let them proceed.

At the church, hundreds of people were waiting as the taptap chugged up the final hill. The boys descended and prepared to take the coffin into the church for the viewing before the ceremony. Some of the men came up to mock Joegodson and Jhony about the pathetic state of the taptap-hertz. Joegodson immediately understood that they were using ridicule as a shield to deflect their own shame at having contributed nothing to the funeral. Everyone knew that Deland’s family was ruined financially. But Joegodson forgave them their mockery. He knew that they were all just as poor and had nothing to give anyway. Everyone wanted to save face and make someone else pay for their shame. However, the church is supposed to rest on the principle of solidarity. If everyone comes together, then they protect each other and share their poverty. When they don’t, poverty becomes shame that everyone wants to avoid.

Meanwhile, Joegodson was relieved to have managed a funeral, such as it was. The church had never been so crowded. There were the normal church brothers and sisters, a great number of neighbours from Simon, and family from Saut d’Eau and Bon Repos. The church was too small. There was nowhere to place the coffin for the viewing. Some people put chairs together to make a stand so that it could be propped up adequately. They opened the casket so that people could pass by and say good bye. Then the pastor performed the service.

Outside the church, Joegodson and Jhony were confronted by the next crisis. There were no vehicles to transport people to Saut d’Eau for the interment and suddenly everyone came up to the boys saying that they wanted to go. Joegodson started to sweat and tremble under his new clothes. He was at the edge of tears, not for the loss of his father, but for the situation. But he steeled himself, vowing that they would get to the end of the funeral in dignity. The easy way out was to get into the small taptap-hertz with Jhony and the casket and just leave everyone behind. But that would have been too clearly a sign of weakness.

He and his brother were nearing the end of the money that Jhony had collected from the family property sold only days before. They had to keep some in reserve for the peasants in Saut d’Eau who had prepared the interment. Joegodson walked over and spoke to a cousin from Croix de Bouquets who owned a minibus. How much would he charge to take a load of people to Saut d’Eau. He agreed to take eighteen people for 250$. Joegodson handed him the money and counted out eighteen people. The cousin soon re-appeared with the bus that was of the same vintage as the taptap-hertz. The taptap driver was relieved to no longer have the worst vehicle on the road. Joegodson asked Jhony to leave with the taptap-hertz along with their cousin and the first load of mourners. He would remain behind and somehow arrange for the others to get to Saut d’Eau, where Deland’s sister was organizing a celebration for the interment.

They putted their way out of the churchyard. Joegodson turned around to face the mob of mourners. People were waiting to see how he was going to get out of this one. He called his old friend and fellow cabinet-maker who works in his uncle’s shop in Tutayan. They know each other from the old says when Joegodson tried to organize the workers against his uncle-boss. Tutanyan is coincidentally the location of a big market not far from Saut d’Eau. There are taptaps that run to the market from Port-au-Prince. Joegodson asked his old buddy to see if he could arrange some kind of transportation from Tutanyan to Saut d’Eau. He would be arriving with a couple of taptaps full of mourners that need to get to Saut d’Eau. His friend replied that he knew someone with a truck that is normally used to carry merchandise. He soon agreed that, for 150$, he would make the trip there and back.

So, Joegodson loaded up two passing taptaps with thirty-two mourners at 3$ each. When they arrived in Tutanyan, the mourners were transferred into the truck, a huge box-like affair made of iron with no seats and nothing to hang onto. So, thirty-two Haitians, in their funeral attire, were at the mercy of every pothole and crater between Tutayan and Saut d’Eau, jostling to and fro, grabbing each other to avoid being tossed to the floor.

Joegodson was worried that the funeral party may have begun the interment in Saut d’Eau without them, assuming that he never would have resolved the problem of transportation. However, those fears were soon laid to rest and replaced by others. Along the craterous road, they came upon the taptap-hertz that, it turns out, had given up the ghost just outside of Saut d’Eau. There had been a battle of wills between the road and the taptap-hertz. The casket sat at the side of the road with Jhony and the others while the driver tried to repair a flat tire. The container-truck now loaded up Jhony and his mourners along with the coffin. Soon, they come across the minibus that had also surrendered to the mountainous road. The minibus passengers loaded themselves into the container-truck. Now, it was so crammed that the passengers were kept from being jostled by their shere density.

The container-truck managed to make it closer to the cemetery but eventually was too large to proceed. So, the casket had to end its long journey carried on the heads of peasants. The refreshing and wonderful thing about peasants is that nothing ever goes right for them. There is no shame in adapting to everything that inevitably goes wrong. Two peasants, one in the front and one in the back, carried the casket on their heads.They quickly organized a system of replacements depending on the strength and endurance of each. Some would have to give over their place after only a couple of minutes of supporting the coffin. The mourners sang as they carried Deland to his final resting place, next to Cécile. Joegodson found that you could make the peasants work harder by accelerating the tempo of the song.

When the crowd of peasants at the crypt saw the casket arrive, they began crying. A chorus of shouts and cries, accompanied by rivers of tears, welcomed Deland. This is their customary way to welcome to his or her crypt a person whom they had respected and liked in life.

The peasants who had carried the casket on their heads laid it upon the gallery of the home of Deland’s sister. They opened it once again and the peasants passed by, each one crying at the sight. Then they presented the food for the mourners who had come from Port-au-Prince. After that, they all proceeded to the tomb. There were six places in two floors. Joegodson gave the peasant responsible for sliding the coffin into place 200$, according to custom. Then, they presented him with the bill for the food that had been served at Deland’s sister’s house before the ceremony. They wanted 4,000$. Jhony exploded! “What is this, a funeral or a coronation?!” They settled with the peasants for $3,000.

Since many of the mourners had to return to Port-au-Prince for work the following day, they could not stay any longer. With both the taptap-hertz and the minibus out of commission, everyone piled into the big container-truck. They filled it beyond capacity, even without the casket. As soon as everyone was in place, the driver informed Joegodson that he was not moving until he was paid. He said that the original deal had not included the return trip. Also, he said that the number of people had increased and he wanted to be compensated accordingly. Joegodson protested that the deal had been for the trip, not the number of people. Moreover, it had included the return. They were at an impasse. The driver refused to move the truck and everybody in it unless he was paid $1000. In any case, Joegodson had only $600 left. Finally, he offered that to the driver. He balked, saying that for that much, they could all stay in Saut d Eau. So, a neighbour from Simon (the same who had found the taptap-hertz) agreed to lend Joegodson $100 in order to get moving. The driver agreed to carry on for the $700.

Finally on the road from Saut d Eau, the mourners all sang. The road was so dusty that it turned every Haitian white. Every mourner, clad in sombre black, turned white from head to foot. In no time, the driver had arrived at Tutayan, not far from Sau d Eau. Okay, he said, everybody out! This is the end of the line.

Joegodson had given the driver his last money, assuming that they were going to Port-au-Prince. The driver just took them down the road.

Soon, someone explained why the driver refused to go any farther. In the countryside, you can drive without a license. But if he were to get close to Port-au-Prince, the police would ask for papers. Tutayan marked the border between the two Haitis.

Joegodson borrowed another 100$. He divided the mourners into two groups: the Simon neighbours would go with Jhony, the relatives and church friends would go with him to Bon Repos and then on to Delmas 33. He loaded up two passing taptaps that carried them home, filled to the brim.

Finally, Joegodson arrived home, too exhausted to talk. He thought of how nice it must be for Deland, tucked into eternal sleep next to Cécile. Peaceful. Deland had gone to heaven; Joegodson had been through hell. But he and Jhony had kept their vow. He was happy.

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