Monday, November 16, 2009

Several Days in Haiti

Sorry for the delay in getting these trip reports started. We're all fine; Internet access has just been more of an issue than I'd hoped -- surprise, surprise. Here are logs from the first few days here. More later tonight, if I'm lucky.

Nov. 14, 6 a.m.

I didn't get to update the blog last night because I can't pick up the wireless signal at Hosanna House. And their internet service is fairly hit and miss, it seems, so I'm not sure when I'll get to post.

We arrived safely in Port au Prince about noon, and met Colbert at the airport without any trouble. Then we snaked through the streets of Port au Prince to see the Episcopal Cathedral before heading south on the highway to Les Cayes. Driving through the capital was fascinating – primarily the incredible numbers of people out and about, doing little bits of business – selling everything from tires to soap to ancient photocopiers to cooking oil to charcoal to computer components. It is amazing the effort and time it must take to eek out such a small living.

The drive was a bit cramped – six of us in a truck designed for five – but that's nothing by Haitian standards. On the highway, we passed one tap-tap that seemed like it wouldn't be able to climb the hill, or clear the rocks on the road, because its back end rode so low from the crush of bodies inside. But Colbert's truck is air conditioned, a tremendous blessing in the 95 degree heat, and one not enjoyed by the three of Colbert's assistants riding on our luggage in the bed of the truck.

After four hours or so of Haitian landscape and villages, mountains and ocean, we came to Cayes and Hosanna House. Franchette's dinner (stew of beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and possibly goat) was hearty and wonderful. Afterward, our group had our first of what I hope will be a nightly time of theological reflection on the day just spent.

From that, what sticks with me is the dilemma about how to imagine what it is that we, and any missionary in this kind of a setting, are here to do. It's tempting, for us and for the people who support this mission back home, to ask the question, “Is it better now?” That's especially poignant for Kathy Shaffer, who's been at this more than 20 years. Even after that kind of time, the answer seems to be, “Well, no, not really.” Work here and money from back home don't make much of a dent in a setting largely driven by forces beyond our control – government ineffectiveness, hurricanes, endemic poverty, etc. Of course, on the micro level, the work has a huge impact. The children of Maniche would not have a school without it; and because they do, they have at least the possibility of high school, further training, and some kind of life other than subsistence agriculture and reselling household goods.

But I also think, in a sense, the outcome isn't the point. We aren't doing or funding this work because it will change deep structural problems on a large scale. We're doing this work to enflesh the reign of God where we're given to do it, as well as to serve as a witness of that kingdom to whatever part of the world might care to look and be transformed. That's no small accomplishment on its own.

Nov. 14, 5:10 p.m.

We arrived back at Hosanna House after a long day at Maniche, doing some painting at the school. It's been instructive, to say the least.

The good news is that we, and probably 40 children, youth, and adults from Maniche, got the majority of the painting done today. Six classrooms look much cleaner than they did. With the addition of the concrete roof to the school last year, walls had to be reinforced, and plaster was ripped out and sort of replaced, etc. The result were walls in need of a lot more than simply painting. Had I realized this, I would have prepared differently, bringing many more metal scrapers. Colbert intended for us to smooth these walls with sandpaper, which resulted in a great deal of sound and fury in the small concrete rooms, but not a tremendous amount of smoothing. Also problematic was what seemed to us a highly variable standard of acceptable preparation, which at one point resulted in several painted walls being scraped to get down deeper through peeling plaster to concrete. This wasted a fair amount of applied paint (a scarce resource for this job) and resulted in a fair amount of frustration for those of us who didn't have a clear sense of just how professional a job was expected. In addition, I made a poor choice in buying lots of inexpensive foam paint “brushes,” not realizing just how rough the surface was likely to be. The brushes are now a thing of the past, so we'll have to buy more (real brushes) in Cayes before we finish painting on Wednesday. Finally, I was frustrated by the completely predictable failures of communication and leadership in getting the painting done. Being neither a painter nor an manager of work crews, I didn't plan the progress of the job well or direct firmly enough to keep the right work (i.e., painting the proper color in the proper place) flowing consistently. Probably par for the course, but frustrating, nonetheless.

On top of all that, it rained. This made the situation messier (and everyone much damper) than would have been convenient. It also swelled the river, which the 4WD pickup must cross to reach the school. This afternoon, it would be fair to say the truck swam the river, which was much higher after the rain than it had been earlier this morning. In retrospect, I should have taken pictures of the crossing, but honestly I was too busy praying to think about a photo. It's a great example of the need for a bridge across the river … a long-term desire among the Haiti Committee at St. Andrew's. It's a fitting symbol, too, as we seek to be a bridge from illiteracy to literacy, from poverty to sufficiency. The crossing is always difficult and often impossible – whether you're talking about getting across the river or crossing the divide between our their present and their future.

And finally, from the sublime to the incredibly mundane: Here's an example of a difference in Haitian and American definitions. There is one toilet at the school in Maniche, as well as three privies. As we looked around the school, someone asked Colbert, “Does the toilet work?” He said, “Oh yes.” Later, when the moment arrived, I discovered that everything in the empty tank was completely out of commission. In this case, “works” means that the toilet flushes if you get a bucket, fill it with water, and pour it into the toilet. Both perspectives are accurate – but each only in its own context....

Nov. 15, 8 p.m.

We've had a wonderful and exhausting day. It began at 7 a.m. with Eucharist at St. Saveur in Les Cayes, which is Pere Colbert's “big” church. It was a moving experience despite the heat (at least for the one in vestments), particularly the singing. Listening to it, and to the singing later at the service in Maniche, brought to mind the descriptions of the throngs standing before the throne of God in Revelation, so full of the presence of God that they can't help but burst into songs of praise at every turn. Worship in Haiti is like that. Perhaps it's an example of the fullness of less, the ultimate expression of the truth we fleetingly see as “less is more.” When you have as little as the people of Haiti have – especially in a fairly remote mountain location like Maniche – then what you have means everything. These folks have the presence of God, intertwined in their “secular” lives like the woven branches that create walls of houses here. In Haiti, there appears to be little separation of “sacred” and “secular”; instead, it's all of a piece. And even though that piece may seem ragged and tattered to us, it's theirs, permeated with the presence of God. And when they stand as part of that great congregation, singing praises to the One at the center of the throne and to the Lamb, they reveal a glimpse of the fullness of God's kingdom that John of Patmos would have envied.

Anyway, we worshiped at Cayes and then traveled up the mountain to Maniche for the second service. In both places, I served as deacon, proclaiming the Gospel and setting the altar; and at Maniche, I preached. It was good to be able to laugh with them at the fact that we at St. Andrew's, who had paid for them to replace the roof of their school, now find ourselves needing to replace our own roof. And it was even better to be able to remind them that our showing up was yet one more way God was saying to them, “I love you.”

We returned to our guesthouse about 1 p.m. for lunch and then to visit Maison de Naissance, the birthing center. Three women had given birth there yesterday, so we were blessed to see the place well in use.

After MN, we spent the late afternoon and evening at the beach at Port Salut, something of a resort town about an hour away from Cayes. The weather was perfect – none of yesterday's rain – and the water was warm. The location is simply beautiful, and the meal was heavenly: fresh lobster grilled on an open fire, fried plantains, and “pikli,” which is cole slaw so hot you have to wash it down with Haitian beer. Darn.

Just as dinner was about to arrive, we stood on the beach, looking at a glorious sunset, and we prayed the daily devotion for the evening from the Prayer Book, which includes this perfect narration of our moment: “O gracious light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in Heaven; O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed: Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O giver of life, and to be glorified in all the worlds.”

And so it was as we dined at the banquet table of the Kingdom of Heaven, both this morning and at the setting of the sun. Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks be to God for your wonderful visit, and for the hospitality y'all have been blessed to receive. I continue to pray for y'alls endeavors abroad.