PORT-AU-PRINCE -- When night falls, the 20 young men gather the megaphones and begin patrolling the rocky soccer field in the Marie Therese neighborhood, keeping vigil over this makeshift village of 1,500 mothers, fathers and babies, all earthquake survivors.
They walk this field where the dead rest in the shadows. As the day slips into night, others sing spiritual hymns. Oh Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder. Consider all the worlds, Thy hands have made . . .
Five days after the earthquake, Haiti is surviving mostly on faith, fortitude and self-reliance born of years of war, hunger, political corruption and a series of natural disasters.
"The entire system has been hit, " said Evens Exantus, 32, one of the self-made soldiers of the camp. "The people who usually give help are homeless. We are doing what we can with what we have."
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Here in Marie Therese, on the outskirts of Pétionville, where the soccer field sits in a valley surrounded by cinderblock homes, the men have organized themselves into a brigade that governs, polices and protects those living in the camp. They have collected the equivalent of $12 to help pay for water and fuel to operate a tiny generator.
And they took charge of finding help. The top priority now is moving the 50 decomposing corpses from the yard of a closed hospital shouldering the field. Already the stench is heavy and smothering, but the fear of disease is even more powerful.
"In Creole, there is a proverb that says, 'Grés kochon ki kwit kochon', " said Exantus, "that is what we are living by."
The saying, popularized during the era of the Duvalier family dictatorship, means "the pork has to cook by its own fat."
Translation: "We have to do it for ourselves."
THE WILL TO ENDURE
Years of tragedy has forged Haiti's national character.
"Our strength, our drive, our spirit comes from our history, " said Jean Lot St. Gervais, who heads a Miami-Dade-based Haitian education foundation. 'We will die trying, so if you ask us, 'Will Haiti come back?' The answer is absolutely."
Less than two years ago, a staggering string of hurricanes and floods gouged the island -- already economically and socially frail -- leaving towns cloaked in water and mud. Some 800 people were killed and tens of thousands were left homeless -- living in the streets, on rooftops, and in some cases, back in their own broken, muck-encased homes.
Over two months, Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike ravaged the country and washed away precious livestock and rice, corn and plantain crops -- followed by collosal food and fuel shortages.
But once again, Haiti began its march back and within a year boasted of millions in investments in hotels and businesses and infrastructure.
Now, Haiti has nearly crumbled.
The backbones of society are gone -- churches, hospitals, schools and businesses, the institutions upon which life is built.
Yet from this wretched landscape, the stories, maybe even miracles, are emerging of self-help and personal responsibility and resourcefulness.
"The country has been in a very dire condition for a very long time yet has managed to survive and, in fact, culturally thrive, " said Pierre-Michel Fontaine, a University of Miami visiting associate professor of International Relations, Africana Studies and Latin American Studies. "We Haitians are accustomed to living in harsh conditions but still have a tremendous degree of optimism."
Evans Paul, former mayor of Port-au-Prince and political leader, said Haitians have been steeled by their 200-year history.
"Don't forget this is a people that was formed out of exile. We came from afar, another continent, Africa. They brought us here and we worked hard as slaves, and we took our independence, " Paul said. "All the time we spent fighting for our independence, fighting against dictatorship, gave this people a capacity to resist."
And endure. Across this dust-caked city, as makeshift encampments and tent cities spring up and survivors await the basics that the world has pledged will come, Haitians have taken matters into their own hands, providing their own security, bartering and rationing what little they have.
Those lucky enough to still work head for the marketplace in the daytime hours. Others spend the day scrounging for food and water -- some returning to their damaged homes with food to share with neighbors. Still others stand guard over the meager belongings left behind in the camps.
"At night, we sleep bundled up, one up against the people, " said Wandy Charles, 26. "With so many people, you cannot stick a needle between us."
At another sprawling camp of thousands formed at the Plaza St. Pierre public square in Pétionville, there is no brigade after dark, but the young people sing throughout the night.
"We don't sleep; you can't close your eyes, " said Jimmy Ludor, 22.
Mildred Michel, a mother of five, said she walked three hours with her children and two sisters in tow to the plaza from downtown. She's still unsure how she made it out of her poorly constructed home alive. It collapsed.
For now, this is home.
At another camp in Port-au-Prince, the women braided one another's hair; some cooked up vats of spaghetti with tomato ketchup and steamed plantains, even rolled out dough on wooden boards.
"I have nothing. From time to time, I find something to eat, " said Thelusma Adrien, 25, at Plaza St. Pierre. "I am not afraid because I am sure once a few months go by everything will be all right. By Monday, I am sure they will come."
Others aren't so sure. Jasmine Pierre said she and 10 members of her family have been camped out in a Port-au-Prince park since Tuesday. She has not seen any food deliveries, rescue workers or signs of international relief.
Some 700 miles away in South Florida, Haitians frantically worked the phones to find loved ones but also to mobilize their own relief campaigns.
Gisele Dessources Pean, 57, of Pembroke Pines sat motionless as television broke the news. First, she called Haiti for her brothers and sisters. Then she called friends and colleagues to start a circle of giving that would be headquartered at her church, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Miramar.
"I saw the palace go, I saw the cathedral go. I had my first communion there and was baptized there, " said Pean, a registered pharmacist. "I was just there in July and remember thinking how things were finally coming back from the hurricanes. I knew I had to do something."
When the quake hit, Jeff Policard, 30, was with his mother discussing their family business, Food Express, which allows Haitians here to pay for food in Miami for family members in Haiti.
"We were talking about how we could be more involved in the country. After our last trip, we had noticed the efforts being made in the country, " said Policard, who lives in Doral. "This past December celebration was one of the best people have experienced in years. No violence or drama. The country was feeling good!"
When flights return to Haiti, Policard plans to be among those going, joining his father who is safe but staying outside the family home in Pelerin. For now, Policard and friends are walking house to house collecting canned goods in his neighborhood.
Somewhere amid the anguish of losing parents in the quake, Martine Poitevien still saw rebirth rising from a homeland in ruins.
It had been only a few hours since a brother called with the news that the bodies of their parents, Frederic, 75, and Innocent Poitevien, 70, had been found in the family home in Carrefour. Still, there was an exquisite mix of light and dark in Poitenvien's thin voice.
"I have cried and cried and will go home as soon as the airports allow, " said Poitenvien, a Miramar mother who left Haiti in 1986. "I have to go home for them and for my country. It is suffering and needs our help. We must rebuild. And we will."
Miami Herald staff writers Alena Lowenthal and Frances Robles contributed to this report.