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This page last updated 4 April 2014  

an essay for Anglicans Online
12 September 2010

The Rt Revd Pierre W. Whalon, D.D.

“Goudou-goudou” is the newest word in Haitian Creole. “Where were you Goudou-goudou?” they ask each other all the time.

The word is an onomatopoeia, recalling the sloshing sound the earth made during the great earthquake of January 12. All who heard it on that terrible afternoon will, I am well assured, never forget it. A heretofore-unknown fault line running beneath the city of Léogane —where the Diocese of Haiti began—fractured. Buildings conceived to resist hurricanes but not earthquakes came crashing down, crushing hundreds of thousands (the exact toll is still not known) to death, and amputating arms and legs of thousands more. Despite the dreadful roar of falling concrete and the screaming and wailing of terrified people, everyone heard the low, unearthly sound of the ground slopping back and forth, temporarily liquefied by the quake.


56 seconds later, the earth once again became solid. The screams died down, only to be replaced by the keening of grief and shock. As night fell, survivors gathered together, trying to organize rescue parties, or just to hold each other up.

In July, I made my second trip to Haiti since the earthquake. This trip, I found myself seated next to the country’s Minister of Commerce, Madame Josseline Fétière. A well-spoken cosmopolitan woman, elegantly dressed, we struck up a lengthy conversation. Eventually, she told me her Goudou-goudou story. As her ministry building had only one story, she and all her personnel were able to get out unscathed. (The government was otherwise virtually decimated, with some thirty percent of functionaries killed in the quake and most buildings destroyed.) Finding her home destroyed as well as those of other family members, Madame Frétière returned to the courtyard of her ruined ministry, where a crowd had gathered.

“We began to pray,” Madame Fétière said. “But we had no words, other than to cry ‘Jézus, Jézus’ for we had absolutely nothing left but him.” Tears ran down her face, unwiped, as her eyes looked off into the distance of memory. A few dropped onto her tailored suit.

Just as Americans can tell you where they were on September 11, 2001, or November 22, 1963, Haitians each have their own January 12, 2010 story. And now they have a new word, their own private word, to express their solidarity. And it must be said that the word has an amusing sound as well, which helps Haitians get some handle on the horror that haunts them.

What struck me in July was the difference in the country from my earlier trip in March. Progress was being made, despite the media reports to the contrary. Where was the Gulf coast six months after Katrina, in the richest and most powerful nation in the world? Goudou-goudou was much, much worse, and Haiti is probably the poorest and, certainly one of the least powerful countries. The president is a lame duck, the government is trying to organize despite hundreds of NGOs doing basically what they want, and a million people are still living in tents. And it is now hurricane season.

The other part of my experience was to witness the work being done by the Episcopal Diocese, which calls itself “l’Église Épiscopale d’Haïti.” Led by Bishop Zaché Duracin, whom his clergy refer to as “Le Sage”, they have methodically been setting to work rebuilding their nation. Engineers proceed to the poorest regions, building small but solid homes for the dispossessed. When I visited the village of Mathieu, a community living in a tropical forest, I visited several and spoke with the families and building teams. “How do you pick the first people to get a house?” I asked. “We ask the community who are the worst off, and they get one first.” Through donations, Episcopal Relief and Development supplies the $2300 each house costs, and the Haitian Episcopalians provide the design, materials, and construction. Each house also is provided with an outdoor latrine and a shower as well. “We want to add a little porch for $300 more, so the families can sit outside when it’s hot,” said Bishop Zaché.

It’s always hot in Haiti.

The 254 diocesan schools have re-opened, using improvised shelters of various kinds. In March, my first visit, I saw only wreckage and corpses at the site of the École Sainte-Trinité, next door to the cathedral, which had been obliterated by Goudou-goudou. Now 600 children in uniforms study in temporary classrooms. Haiti’s first woman priest, la Révérende Fernande Pierre-Louis, is the head of the school. She talks excitedly of the future. “As Bishop Duracin says, Haiti died on January 12 and now we await the resurrection. For me, resurrection means better than before. I want our school to produce excellent students, ready for the world. We will not settle for less!”

What was the massive pile of rubble that greeted me at first is now cleared. The lone remaining mural of what once made this church a UNESCO World Patrimony site sits under a frame to keep it dry. Seeing the 1924 building now only in outline, I realized how small it was. The new cathedral will have to be bigger, as befits the Episcopal Church’s largest diocese. Resurrection indeed! (See for information about the cathedral rebuilding project.)

My last Sunday in Haiti, August 1, I began by celebrating the Eucharist for a good-sized crowd at St. Martin de Tours Church, under a huge tarp stretched between the buildings of the parish’s once-large school. Later I went to the Cathedral site, where the Eucharist was just ending in what Bishop Zaché calls “our fresh-air cathedral,” a shelter with open walls. (It has been reinforced since March.) A television van was setting up for a concert. Despite the loss of their season, and many of their musicians, the Orchestre philharmonique Sainte-Trinité was going to give their final (and only) concert for the year.

“Why the television truck?” I asked. The answer was that the concert was to be broadcast live on national television. Haiti’s only philharmonic orchestra belongs to … the Episcopal diocese.

They showed off. First, a fifty-voice men and boys’ choir sang several numbers. Then a young person’s string orchestra played several pieces. A wind symphony band followed, concluding with some jazz. Finally the whole came together, an 80-piece orchestra and the 50-voice choir. The repertoire was classical for the most part, with some Haitian music.

In a former life I was a trained classical musician, an organist and composer, and I still have the critical ear I was trained to have. Musically, the long concert showed all the enthusiasm of a good amateur orchestra, no more. But Goudou-goudou was never far. The program listed the members killed on January 12, to whom it was dedicated. Most of the instruments were new, donated by American Episcopalians. I wondered what kind of determination it took to practice viola or bassoon in the tent you live in. They were making a statement.

“We Haitians know how to survive,” Madame Fétière had told me. “We have our faith. And we have l’espwa.” That is Creole for “hope.” You see it written everywhere in the country. Leading in the way of hope is l’Église Épiscopale d’Haïti. I am really proud to be an Episcopalian, when I see what they are doing. What our people are doing, with the help of their sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church and from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.

There is so much more to do. The Episcopalians of Haiti are doing all they can, and it is amazing. They have needs they cannot meet, however. They cannot pay their teachers, as parents cannot pay school fees for now. The clergy go unpaid as well. The diocese needs an experienced administrator to manage the crisis. They need an experienced construction project manager as well. And Bishop Zaché, in the nine years I have known him, has always needed an assisting bishop—never more so than now. There are plans to raise the money to pay for these. Later on we will raise funds to build the new cathedral, new schools and churches.

The Orchestre philharmonique performed the Haitian premiere of a piece by Jean Jean-Pierre, a prominent Haitian composer, called Terremoto. It is a fairly conventional tone poem depicting the Goudou-goudou. After a lot of pyrotechnics depicting the quake and collapsing buildings, there was a moment of silence, interrupted only by an old musician playing a large Haitian drum, the only native instrument being used. He tapped out a quiet beat, punctuated by a little slipping sound he made by sliding his thumb along the drumskin. A pall fell over the faces of the more than 180 musicians. As Madame Frétière had done, they all stared into the distance, or else at the ground, reliving the aftermath.

Seeing their faces made my throat seize up. I looked at Bishop Zaché sitting next to me. He too was seeing his Goudou-goudou. Haitians will be sharing such moments for decades to come.

And the Episcopal Church will be there to minister healing and restoration, in the power of the Spirit.

Bishop Whalon welcomes comments or questions about this article. You can write to him at

THE RT REVD PIERRE W. WHALON is Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.