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One month later, Haiti's despair deepens Add to ...

The last 30 days have been the longest of little Emma-Joseph Cherbin's short life.

Since Jan. 12, the three-year-old has been trapped inside a half-body cast that has immobilized her from bellybutton on down, to heal a broken femur. While her brother and sister explore the terrain at their new tent-city home, Emma-Joseph can only follow them with her eyes. At night, outside her tent, you can hear her cry out. She's itchy under that oppressive cast.

"These are difficult days," said Jacqueline Cherbin, Emma-Joseph's mother, propping her daughter up on her lap as they sweated out the noon heat.

With her family's cardboard-box beds spread out behind her and mounds of food garbage buzzing with flies a few feet away, the woman's understatement was clear. While thousands of Haitians dressed in immaculate church clothes to mark the passing of one month since the earthquake that demolished the country and its government, many could barely muster the strength to feed and wash themselves.

In Jacmel's Pinchinet - the soccer field/tent city that aid workers estimate is home to more than 6,000 people - a few hundred residents gathered to sing hymns and dance wildly in an effort to forget their troubles. Even more remained by their tents, quietly observing the constant squabbling over food handouts and water.

Many said they were mourning for the past, but also for the uncertainty colouring their future.

"This month was devastating and I don't know what tomorrow will bring," said Jean McFins, the 55-year-old matriarch of a 13-member family living at Pinchinet. Having lost everything in the earthquake, she moved her family to the tents - including her eldest daughter, who has a broken right leg - and got herself a position on the neighbourhood watch group that is trying to control the compound. Her job is to cook for as many people as he can feed. But it's not an easy one.

"We don't know where our next meal is going to come from. We're in God's hands, right now," she said in a way that suggests it's a somewhat uncomfortable place. "We're leaving everything to God."

Across the country Haitians spent the afternoon attending multi-faith ceremonies to mark the national day of mourning.

In Port-au-Prince, a prayer service near the shattered National Palace attracted a stream of people wearing black arm bands, as well as religious leaders and President René Préval, who wept during the service as his black-clad wife attempted to console him.

"The pain is too heavy - words cannot describe it," Mr. Préval said in one of the first major public addresses he has made since the quake. He explained that he had attended the service not as the President but as a father - but urged people to keep supporting the government.

Although he didn't address them yesterday, calls for his resignation were made this week.

Since the earthquake, the country has been spiritually transformed. People from a whole variety of religious backgrounds, including voodoo, one of Haiti's two official religions, are pledging to devote themselves anew to Christianity.

They're doing it by making daily trips to worship services, most of which are being held outdoors because the churches have been damaged or destroyed. Throughout these, people sing at the top of their lungs, wave their arms overhead and dance themselves into a trance-like state in an effort to reconnect with the Lord.

The prevailing worry is that if they don't, God will further punish their country, the world's first black republic, founded in 1804 following a slave rebellion.

The earthquake killed 200,000 people and rendered thousands homeless. Many Haitians are wondering how they'll endure the rainy season in their porous, temporary outdoor shelters.

In Jacmel, the cost of living has soared and families are having difficulty making ends meet. The price of food in the outdoor markets has doubled since the quake. Rentals and hotel rooms are scarce - and expensive - due to the reduction in supply caused by the quake and a surge in demand due to the influx of aid workers.

Few seem to know how to start cleaning up the wreckage.

"It's time for Haitians to put their heads together to do something for their country," said James Jean Baptiste, a 22-year-old self-described Christian crusader living in the tent city. Mr. Baptiste has become a Robin Hood of sorts for his neighbours, showing up at food and water drops in hopes of winning a supply he can distribute for free to the less fortunate. He's fed up, he said, with the cadre of people who have taken to hoarding the aid so they can sell it back to their own people.

"When you come here, you don't know how to survive," he said, adding that the lack of nutrition and sanitation makes life challenging.

"When you sleep at night, it gets cold. In the afternoon, it's very hot. You have to fight for everything," he said, moments before a fight broke out behind him between two men - one wielding a sharp piece of metal - over a small bag of drinking water.

With a report from Associated Press

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