Korem: A word with no meaning, that means so much

By Ron Wozny

This past February a group from St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church set off for the fourth pilgrimage to Haiti. As in past years we visited several operations that are helping the poorest of the poor. At each orphanage and school there was one thing consistent among the people we met – they were eager to communicate with us, though few spoke any English. The children sang songs for us and were thrilled when some of the pilgrims taught them our songs. B-I-N-G-O was a great hit!

Our visit to an AIDS hospice was dramatically different. There were no songs or laughter from young children. The common thread, though, was that the patients were happy to see us. A simple touch let them know we cared. Many patients extended their hands and smiled broadly. Others could only look up at us as we stroked their arms or forehead.

But no matter where we visited, we were communicating. Not through words, but through touch, through handshakes, hugs, laughter. Through tears.

The young men and boys we met had an interesting greeting among themselves which they shared with us. It took us a while to catch on, but it goes something like this … the boys came up to us, holding their fists out toward us. We did the same. Then they hit their fist against ours, then strike their chest twice.

So we adopted this as our ministry’s “secret” handshake. What we didn’t know at the time was that this “handshake” has a significant and powerful message behind it. While heading back home on the plane a few of us were practicing this ritual which caught the eye of a Haitian woman traveling to Miami. She beat her chest twice and said “Korem!”

We visited with our fellow passenger for sometime, trying to understand this greeting and the meaning of Korem. She said it meant respect or support. Guessing there might be a deeper explanation we turned to Philippe Calixte, a native Haitian who works for Food for the Poor. He was our tour guide in Haiti.

Philippe writes, “Korem means nothing, in fact, but means so much at the same time. Let me try to give you an explanation. Touch me with your hands and your heart and let me feel that I have somebody by my side to support me. The verb kore is used when you have a car sliding down, so you find a big rock or piece of wood to put behind the tires to stop it, you KORE it. In other words, you do not let it slide or fall. I hope this explanation can help.”

Philippe, indeed, this does help. To our brothers and sisters in Haiti… Korem.

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