Commentary: On the ground in Haiti

The Cayes depot swirled with dust and noise and chaos, and frenetic earthquake survivors clamoring to get the hell out of Port-au-Prince.

Crowds teemed around doors of buses, pushing their way into cabins already so jammed that adding more passengers appeared impossible.

Children were hoisted overhead and passed into the buses through open windows.

Overflow passengers, if such a concept was possible in the Haitian version of mass transportation, climbed onto the roofs and claimed space in the luggage racks.

Six buses were cramming more passengers than seemed prudent Tuesday morning, all bound for the southern province of Cayes, where Haitian rural life,for all its desperate hardships, has become preferable to a ruined, stinking urban hell.

Empty buses waited further down the street for their turn to pull onto the trash-strewn expanse dedicated exclusively to Cayes passengers.

Other lots, not far away, were similarly besieged with earthquake victims bound for Saint-Marc or Cap Haitien and other provinces away from the cascading afflictions of the capital.

"My house . . . it fell down. I have nowhere to go but the country," said Milcy Pierre Faril, 22, sitting on suitcases that contained the total of her possessions.

"My auntie lives in Cayes. At least we will have mangoes and garden vegetables," said Aieula Sylne, 32, waiting with her daughter Genny Mergina to brave the miserable, suffocating three-hour drive. "In Port-au-Prince, there's nothing to eat. We got no house. We were living on the street and the streets are terrible. Terrible. So much death. I was afraid. Life here is so bad."

Just a half block down the street from the Cayes depot, the city cemetery serves as a gruesome reminder of the city's descent.

A pile of six bodies, limbs twisted and bent into an unnatural tangle, a jarring reminder of the devaluation of human life since the earthquake, had been discarded by the wall. Inside, a new corpse, inadequately shrouded in a black plastic garbage bag, had been stuffed into an ancient crypt. A yellowed old skull, displaced by another of the squatter corpses, had been tossed by the edge of the walkway.

When even the long dead have no dignity in Port-au-Prince, it's easy to see why the living are clambering onto buses.

"This is no place to live," said Hassot Latry, whose 15-year-old son had disappeared when the earthquake took down his school. "But I found him by the love of Jesus," Latry said, raising both arms and waving his hands in demonstration of his gratitude. Latry, though, has become terrified of the social unraveling of Port-au-Prince these past few days and was at the depot Tuesday to send his kid to Cayes.

Those buses, in contrast to the grim circumstances of so many passengers, are rolling exhibitions of Haitian art, painted in bold oranges and greens and reds and blacks and yellows, with flowers and trees and religious icons and Bible verses.

One bus featured John the Baptist painted on every window. On another, a large man was attempting to climb through a window with a painting of Jesus with outstretched arms, as if to welcome the interloper sneaking aboard.

Latry gave his son the 100 gourds -- less than $3 -- for the bus fare and placed him on a bus festooned with references to particular passages from the Old Testament.

All the verses came from the Book of Exodus.