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Le Petit Paradis Pousada in Joao Pessoa

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The Gunfight

April 27th, 2009

Thursday night was choir practice night in our church. We met at 8.00pm in the church grounds and sat in a big circle. There were about 50 people present to practice the hymns for Sunday. Even at that time of night it was hot, about 28c.

The church was surrounded by a 2.5 metre high wall topped by a fence of about the same height. You couldn’t see what was going on outside but you could certainly hear. There was a great combination of sounds. You could hear different types of music, people shouting, children playing and other churches with the loud speakers on full blast trying to get everyone to listen to their message. Then there was our little group rehearsing the hymn over and over again until the Priest was happy.

Out of this cacophony of sound, of mesmerising heat, I heard a distinct, loud crack. We all continued singing but we were looking at each other more intensely. It was if all the sound had been turned off in an instant and only the now rapid fire of gunshots remained. The shots came from the street on the other side of the wall. Only a few weeks ago, 21 people were shot dead in a church in Vidigal Geral not a million miles from where we were. Books and chairs were scattered everywhere as people ran for cover into the church. The great doors were slammed shut. There were seven people in our room but with the loudness of the praying we might as well have all been in the same room.

I thought about putting cabinets up against the door for reinforcement and then I saw the big windows, heck what if they came in through the windows? How would we get out? And the gunfire when was it going to stop? It just went on and on.

I never knew when it was over. There was a lull and I heard familiar voices outside. It’s easier when you watch a film. The door was opened and when I looked outside, I saw the Priest going up some stairs to the first floor. I went up alongside him where we both hunched behind some railings. We looked up and down the street. I had time to take one photo before the Priest told me to put my camera away. Slowly we stood up. So far we could only see one body.

On the street corner opposite, a crowd had gathered. “Come on, lets have a look” said the Priest. I asked him why we had to go out and he said he had to check to see if it was one of his congregation. I thought it was crazy, even crazier when he said we had to be careful because it was likely the gunmen were still near, possibly in the crowd.

We took our time walking up the street to where the corpse of a young man lay, riddled with bullets. I had never seen a dead body before. He was face upwards and looked very peaceful. I remember too that his chest had sunk in, nothing like a TV dead body. We kneeled and said a prayer over the body and when the Priest stood up he shook his head from side to side and tut, tutted. By now other people were coming up, looking and walking away. I asked him what was happening. “I am telling everyone that I don’t know the person”. “Anyone else who acknowledges the body will probably be in serious trouble”.

So the body lay there for two days in temperatures of 100c+/- until finally, when no one claimed the body, it was dumped into a cart and taken away, I know not where.

Some days later I found out that the young man was a drug dealer who was working someone else’s area.

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