The paradoxes of Haiti continue, though in a more amusing way than usual tonight. We pulled through our guesthouse gates this evening to find a raucous party, complete with a band, dancing, and a bouncer wielding a club that looked like a medieval weapon, with spikes on the end. This took place at a guesthouse that’s part of a huge Baptist mission here, Bethanie Ministries. The party was a wedding reception, and I feared for a while that this might be the first Saturday night ever when a Baptist party kept a group of Episcopalians from getting their rest before going to church the next morning. Thankfully, the good Baptists starting heading home about 8:30, and we should all sleep soundly as we await the morning Sabbath.
As I said, because we postponed the preschool seminar scheduled for this morning, we spent much of the morning organizing materials for the seminar and shopping in Cayes. We went through the streets of downtown on a Saturday, so we saw the city in the midst of market day. The streets were lined with people who had set out books on card tables or hundreds of shoes on the ground, or who had simply made a fire and cooked something – trying to sell whatever they had that someone else might buy. The Haitian economy basically produces no goods. Almost nothing other than food and alcohol is produced here, so whatever commerce there is happens with goods that come into Port au Prince on container ships and then are distributed to the outlying regions by truck and car along the few roads that run from one end of the country to the other. There is a great entrepreneurial spirit – it’s amazing what people can do with used and seemingly junked goods to get more life out of them and convince other folks to buy them. People are certainly not lazy here. However, they have almost no opportunity to find capital, or materials, or production facilities, or anything that might lead to economic development.
And yet, while all this is true, we found a sign stuck to the cashier’s window at the “office supply” store we visited this morning. In bold-face letters, it proclaimed (in French):
In all things, God works for good for those who believe and are called according to his purposes. – Romans 8:28
So the paradoxes continue.
At the other end of the paradox spectrum from Romans 8:28 in an office-supply store is the national near-monopoly in cell-phone service, Digicel. Digicel is everywhere – its signs show up along even the most remote roads, its towers reach up from mountains you’d think only a goat could access, its marketing materials (t-shirts, umbrellas, tote bags, you name it) appear on the streets everywhere. Today, we saw Digicel’s influence taken to a new level. The company has begun placing street signs at intersections in Cayes, which is helpful given that there’s no functioning government to take on tasks like this. Not surprisingly, the street signs are in the omnipresent Digicel red, and the jaunty tops on the poles carry the Digicel logo. The billboards all over the country might as well say, “Haiti – sponsored by Digicel.” I believe that if a group oriented toward the kingdom of God bought out Digicel, it could gain the resources to become the operative national government and completely remake the nation. “Episcocel,” here we come.
After our seminar planning and shopping, we visited Pere Colbert’s church in Cayes, which is in an ongoing capital campaign as it simultaneously adds a large room onto its school and expands its worship space to accommodate another 150 to 200 people. These are good signs. Our only concern had to do with design and construction: Adding floors to existing concrete buildings is very common in Haiti, but let’s just say the stability looks a little dubious, especially given the results of the 2010 earthquake. Pere Colbert assures us that building standards have changed for the good following the earthquake. OK. But I also know that this is a culture where you’re surprised to see a building ever be completely finished, or with its floor tiles laid all the way to each corner of the room….
We ended the day with a lovely Saturday activity – a late afternoon and early evening at the beach at Port Salut, about an hour away from Cayes. The day was perfect, the beach was glorious, the grilled lobster and fried plantains were exceptional. And we ended our time there sitting in a semi-circle, at sunset, praying Compline. Sarah Kieffer – who comes from an Episcopal Church in Connecticut that partners with Pere Colbert’s church in Cayes and who joined us in Ft. Lauderdale as part of our group – had brought an alternate version of the Lord’s Prayer, from the New Zealand Prayer Book. It seemed particularly fitting for prayer on a beach, as we watched the wonder of sun and clouds and sea. It’s a good way to end this day, too (though traditionalists no doubt will cringe):
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
Sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
Now and for ever. Amen.