They came in their hundreds to mourn the dead.
Twenty-two caskets stood in the hall, holding the bodies of victims of the Abaco boat tragedy.
Few were there to speak in their name, to remember who they were, what made them risk a journey that turned so deadly.
They were strangers to many of those who crowded into the hall – and yet still, the mourners came.
Some had to be supported by their friends, held up as they cried for the fallen. Some came to show solidarity with their countryfolk.
They came to offer comfort, they came to hear the speakers try to say something meaningful in response to so many meaningless deaths.
“We are all one… we were deposited on different islands but we’re all one,” said Rev Dr William Thompson to the congregation.
We still do not know how many died when that boat struck a reef off Abaco and tore apart in the dark.
Thirty-one bodies have been found so far – but so many more remain missing. It’s said that 83 people may have been aboard that vessel when it sank. Eighteen were rescued, leaving the fate of so many still a mystery.
We hope they found a way to shore and safety. We fear the truth is far worse, however.
The atmosphere at the Enoch Beckford Auditorium was sombre. There were tears, there were shouts of disbelief, and there were speeches that could not come close to facing up to the horror of the moment.
There was too a sense of powerlessness. So many speeches urged people not to come, not to risk that deadly journey by sea – but how many people do we think make that journey without realising it is a gamble? Who among us thinks that boarding a crowded sloop, leaving our belongings, our families and our life behind, is an easy option? Who boards that boat, with drinking water short in supply because it would take up room where another person could fit, with only the eyes of the crowd to stop one becoming a victim of crime on the journey, and doesn’t understand the danger involved?
We know the solution isn’t as simple as saying “Don’t come”, but we say it because the solution needed is so much bigger than that. The solution needs a more prosperous Haiti, a place where one does not want to leave, where a family’s future can be secured without having to resort to the danger of that sea voyage through the dark.
Elsewhere in the world, when nations have needed rebuilding, there have been global efforts to help them. Germany and France were aided by the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, Vietnam has received huge assistance following the war there and China has gone from receiving substantial aid to being one of the world’s most dominant economic forces. Where is the Marshall Plan for Haiti?
But that solution eludes us for now – whether impossible to achieve or through an inability to attempt – and so we say “Don’t come”.
For now, we mourn. We join with those who held hands and cried yesterday, who said prayers for those they never knew, who longed for a way to undo this tragedy that took so many lives.
In the end, Dr Thompson’s words are true. We are all one.