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Story Publication logo February 13, 2010

Haiti: Spontaneous Song at the General Hospital


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The people of Port-au-Prince will forever measure their lives in two parts: before and after the...

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Multiple Authors
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Haiti, 2010.

The General Hospital in Port-au-Prince is guarded by American soldiers with dark sunglasses and frighteningly large guns. Most of the buildings are damaged, so the patients lie outside in large white tents—makeshift wards.

This is where volunteer surgeons work to save limbs, where the sick and bandaged lie, waiting to heal, and where mothers labor, their legs up in hard metal stirrups, to bring their babies into the world. Under the noontime sun, the tents are torrid. And then there is the oppressive smell of death from the collapsed nursing school, where over 100 nursing students were killed when the building fell.

The hospital, in many ways, is a place of pain and suffering, where people must learn to live with newly missing limbs, where parents sleep and eat and wait for days on end on the floor beside their children's beds. The blue tent at the top of the hill is for those infected with tuberculosis. And there are also places for those who suffer from the other diseases that regularly plague the poor, like HIV/AIDS and typhoid fever.

Some of the people here seem close to death. An old man, Samuel, lies motionless, eyes to the ceiling, mouth wide open, a cluster of flies settled on his IV line. Another, with very thin arms and a bloated belly, has "cirrhosis of the liver" written on his chart, but a doctor says that based on his complaints and symptoms, it is more likely that he has TB or AIDS.

Given everything, the hospital is not a place of levity, save for in the pediatric tents, where children continue to color pictures, play and laugh, unaware that because they're sick, they should be more morose. But today, those in the tents at the top of the hill were serenaded when an unlikely cast of characters spontaneously began to perform. Dustin, an American solider originally from Arkansas, Delphonse, a Haitian man with his forearm bandaged due to an earthquake injury, and Julian, Jeff, Guercin, Gaston and Andre, who either worked at the hospital or were there to visit relatives, began to sing Akon's Ghetto:

Cause you gotta be willin' to pray
Yea, there gotta be (there gotta be) a better way, oh
Yea, you gotta be willin' to pray
Cause there gotta be (there gotta be) a better day (ay)

Whoever said that this drama would stop today
A lot of n----- dead or locked away
Teenage women growing up with AIDS

Cause that's the life when you're
Living in the (ghetto) oh…

They were joined at the end by a doctor who rapped about keeping people healthy.

People gathered around. They laughed. They danced. For a moment, the soldier forgot to be formidable, the patient forgot his aching arm, and everything seemed normal.

Video shot by Andre Lambertson and edited by Carla Ruff

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