Eric’s Note: “Waiting For Haiti” is a long-term photography project by photographer Robert Larson that aims to help raise awareness and money to support smaller charities in Haiti. Read the story of Renaldo Fevilien, one of the friends that Robert befriended while in Haiti- and the horrific atrocities that he suffered. *Note that many of the photographs in this post are incredibly graphic and may not be safe for work.
Robert: This is Renaldo Fevilien.
Renaldo and I met during my last trip to Haiti. Our mutual friend Jeanmary Michel introduced us the night I arrived. We were watching The Boondocks and drinking whiskey. I remember looking at Renaldo sitting there with this I.D. card / bottle opener around his neck, and wearing his sparkly clean Lugz. My first impression was “damn thats a big son of a bitch!”.
Jeanmary and I had a busy two weeks planned. I had received a grant that month to return to Port-au-Prince and continue photographing Haitian society in the aftermath of the earthquake. The goal that trip was to spend time with the Michel family. To document their day to day life. Jeanmary had a mind full of adventures planned… he had made a list of “Haitian things” that he wanted me to see and photograph. One thing we also planned was to visit some of the same locations we had seen a year earlier; days after the earthquake. I wanted to see what had changed. One place that we really wanted to get back to was the morgue at the central hospital. It was in a horrible state after the earthquake, as you can probably imagine.
An estimated 300,000 Haitians dead in the surrounding city. It was a far more shocking sight to behold during this second trip, fourteen months later. There were fewer bodies… but many of them were familiar faces. The freezers were not doing a very good job keeping the bodies preserved long term. In fact, the actual conditions in the morgue were much more apparent during the second trip because with fewer bodies came a better view of the floor. A large portion of the floor in freezer number one had an inch thick layer of blood and decomp on the surface. The bodies on the floor were clearly stuck to it, and a few of them appeared to be simply pealing away. Layer by layer. It left a very strong impression on Jeanmary and I.
The rest of our two weeks were much more upbeat. We went to church, local restaurants, the market, cock fights, etc. The big guy… Renaldo, he came with us most of the time. Jeanmary and I were best of friends at this point, but Renaldo was his number one best friend since childhood. I began to realize that Renaldo wasn’t so much hanging out with us, as he was keeping Jeanmary’s new white friend safe from harm.For instance: If I had to pee, Renaldo would walk with me, turn around, cross his arms, and glare at any group of men walking by who looked too long at the camera around my neck. Renaldo came out with us most every night. We often walked from one street cart to another, drinking beers, and me taking pictures of the dark city. By the end of the trip, we were like the three amigos.
I eventually returned home to Los Angeles, and two weeks after I got back was when I received the message from Jeanmary that Renaldo had been murdered. Four gangsters and a crooked police officer came into Renaldo’s store. They tied him up to a chair, stabbed him repeatedly in the face with a knife, then shot him in the back and through the mouth. But Renaldo was tough, and did not die right away. He bled out on the sidewalk waiting for an ambulance that was called, but did not arrive in time. They did this to Renaldo because he slept with a woman that one of these men was either “with”, or wanted to be “with”.
After Renaldo’s body was finally picked up off the sidewalk, he was taken to the morgue at the central hospital. The same morgue that Jeanmary and I had visited twice before. When Jeanmary went to see the body that next day and begin the process of retrieving Renaldo for burial, he found his friend sprawled out on the floor in the morgue hallway. Not in a freezer. His Lugz boots and his jeans had been stolen.
Jeanmary asked the morgue staff to please move his friend into the freezer. They said they would, if he paid them. Jeanmary had no money. Renaldo’s mother did not have enough money to pay for his body to be released for burial, and Jeanmary did not have enough cash on hand to have him temporarily preserved. There was plenty of room in the freezers; the workers were using his body to extort money. Jeanmary returned two days later to check in and continue pleading with the staff to release his body or at least keep him out of the heat. Renaldo was still in the hallway. Now there were fresh bodies from a car accident stacked on top of him. Jeanmary asked the morgue staff to please move the bodies off of his friend. They said they would, if he paid them. Jeanmary moved the bodies from on top of Renaldo himself.
Renaldo was left laying out in the morgue hallway for just over a week by the time the Fevilien family finally received enough money to claim and burry him.
I am telling you this story because I want you to know why it is important to us that we are able to complete this first project. It is personal. Waiting for Haiti is a long term photography project about Haiti. The goal is to document the country’s progress over a span of time. We want to tell important stories, each one significant on it’s own, but part of a greater mission. The common purpose of each project is to shine a light on largely unknown stories, and to build awareness of the smaller organizations working in Haiti to solve specific problems.
This first story will be focused solely on the dead in Haiti. Jeanmary and I will document how human remains are treated in both private and government morgues, where and how they are buried, what needs to improve, and what organization is doing the best job of actively making these improvements. In this story, the organization we hope to introduce more people to is called Compassion Weavers. Compassion Weavers is part of the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti, and operates a special project called Paper Coffins. Each Thursday, a team of volunteers collect and bury 60-100 of Haiti’s destitute dead in the Titanyen cemetery. If we are able to surpass the funding needed to complete this story, we will donate the money to the Paper Coffins project.
Please consider helping Jeanmary and I complete this project. Below you will see a budget proposal for this trip, and a PayPal link to donate. Any amount will help… even a simple “share” on a social network will be greatly appreciated. If you are a foundation or private donor interested in giving a grant or large donation to the Waiting for Haiti project, please contact me directly to view our long term budget proposal. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Support Robert Larson & Waiting For Haiti
- Phone: 310.702.6215
- Email: Robert@WaitingForHaiti.com
- Website: www.WaitingForHaiti.com
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WaitingForHaiti
- Blog: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/waitingforhaiti
Would you like to support to “Waiting For Haiti” but have questions about the project? Leave a comment below or send Robbie an email using the contact above.