Thursday, November 1, 2012

Haiti Trip 2012 -- Day 4

Oct. 28, 2012, 11:30 a.m.
The morning began early, getting ready for the 7 a.m. service at Pere Colbert’s church in Cayes.  Akenson, the superintendent of the Episcopal schools in the Cayes area, came and picked us up, and we got there just as the procession was assembling.  Colbert found me an alb and stole, and the service began as soon as I could get vested.  It’s always interesting serving at a different altar but even more so when it’s in a different country.  Basically, the Episcopal liturgy is the same in Haiti as in Kansas City.  But, of course, there are variations in local custom, not to mention the liturgical staging when you have eight acolytes sharing the small space with you.  At least I didn’t run into anybody.  And apparently my sermon was OK.
The liturgy today was “high,” at least by our standards – incense and Sanctus bells.  I haven’t seen incense used here before, and I’m not sure why it was used today (it wasn’t a feast day).  But the smoke certainly filled the sanctuary as the acolytes kneeled before the altar, swinging the thurible all the way through the Eucharistic prayer.  It was glorious, the prayers of the saints ascending with the smoke, connecting this worship with praise before God’s heavenly throne, as faithful people have been doing for centuries upon centuries.  An interesting juxtaposition with the “high” mass was the vibrant, rhythmic, contemporary music being offered by the two lead singers, as well as the bassist, percussionist, African drum player, and electronic keyboardist.  The room was rocking, especially when the choir came up to do their numbers.  The sound echoes through the concrete room and I’m sure the streets all around us, too.  No one nearby could have missed the fact that the Episcopalians were having church.  The musical style wouldn’t need to be the same, but I would love to hear the sound of singing filling the nave of St. Andrew’s like that.
Since we can’t go to Maniche for church today because of the height of the river we’d have to cross, we’re at bit at loose ends right now.  Lunch will happen in an hour or so; then we’re going to see if we can do some home visits, talking with the parents of children attending the Episcopal school in Cayes to learn more about their lives and to bless their homes.  This evening, we have dinner with Pere Colbert and his family, so we’ll be treated to a feast.  It’s one of those Haiti days when you have to sit back and work with the day, rather than trying too hard to manage it.  Not a bad attitude for a day that’s supposed to be God’s anyway.

9:26 p.m.
We’re back from Pere Colbert’s, and the day has been very long.  I need to go to bed, but I want to remember a few things from the afternoon and evening before they fly out of my head.
The home visits in Cayes were fascinating.  Sarah, Mary Ann, Chris, and I went with Akinson, the superintendent of the Episcopal schools in the Cayes area.  Among other things, this meant translation was even more interesting than usual because Akinson doesn’t speak English.  Fortunately, his French is good, as is Sarah’s.  Sarah, whose church in Connecticut partners with St. Sauveur in Cayes, wanted to talk with some of the parents of her school’s students.  We ended up visiting five or six homes, which was enough to give us a good taste of family life here. 
The homes are basically appointed like those out in the countryside near Maniche, and the same socioeconomic standards apply.  If you have a floor of dirt or gravel, you’re fairly poor; if you have a concrete floor, you’re not doing as badly.  The difference with the countryside, of course, is the population density.  These tiny tin-and-concrete boxes are crammed together like blocks, and you sometimes walk over one person’s front step to reach another person’s home.  One family, fairly typical, had six people living in two rooms, each about 8x8.  The atypical thing about this family was that the wall by the doorway was covered with a piece of thin particleboard functioning as a chalkboard, and one of the kids’ homework was all over it.  This child is the top student in her grade (fourth, maybe), and her family obviously values the education she is receiving.  She wants to be a nurse, and she likes math best among her classes.  With the sewer water flowing in front of the house and the conditions ripe for the spread of disease (cholera is very active in Haiti), she will have plenty of work awaiting her.  Anyway, the families were all surprised to see us, to say the least, but very willing to talk about the school and their children.  Some things are true regardless of your culture.
Back at Hosanna House, we met with Colbert and Akinson about several issues at the school in Maniche – the kids’ annual tests and the extent to which the exams reflect the mandatory curriculum, our desire for regular updates on test scores and matriculation, whether teachers should be paid more based on student performance, the efficacy of our preschool seminar (to what degree teachers were actually using what we had taught), the pressures parents put on the school to pass kids on to the next grade even if the kids’ performance doesn’t merit it.  Once again, some issues aren’t that much different from one social context to the next.
This evening, Colbert and his wife, Monese, hosted all of us for a feast at the rectory.  There was twice as much food as we could eat and an incredible variety – fried plantain, fresh avocado, sautéed conch, roasted goat, beans and rice, French fries, Haitian pizza (I have no idea what was on it), fried akra (a tuber, different from okra), macaroni and cheese with sardines mixed into it, cucumbers, and sliced tomatoes.  Tomorrow, the food quality will definitely taper off.  Lunch will be packed by Hosanna House, and the last Hosanna House lunch was hot dogs and onions, boiled until the hot dogs shriveled and then left to sit for six hours in the back of the truck, served with stale bread.  It rivals the Haiti lunch that still lives in memory – ketchup and onion sandwiches on white bread.  It’s an inconsistent culinary experience, to say the least.

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