We’ve arrived back in Port-au-Prince after a four-hour-plus drive from Les Cayes this morning. The “plus” was the time spent alternately sitting, creeping, and zooming in Port-au-Prince traffic. Here, driving isn’t about safety; it’s about survival. We made it after only a couple of close calls. Par for the course.
We’re blessed to stay at the beautiful Hotel Montana for the next couple of nights. It is in Haiti, but it isn’t in Haiti. I’m sitting in the bar overlooking the city and harbor below, with clouds playing at the tops of the mountains on the opposite side of the basin. Even with the deforestation and the troubled city below, the view is stunning. The Montana also has the advantage of being high enough to catch the lovely breezes that never seem to blow through the city.
|The view from the Hotel Montana|
Here, in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville, life is good. It’s where the local elite and wealthy travelers enjoy Haiti as one imagines it could be – with (mostly) clean streets and dependable plumbing, even air conditioning and hot water. It’s a place where you can enjoy “a feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isaiah 25:6). Looking down on Port-au-Prince, you only see that the buildings are crammed next to each other. You don’t see their condition from here; nor do you see the trash and stagnant water in the streets. This kind of contrast between rich and poor is typical for developing nations, I know; but that doesn’t make it easier to see. But it’s a good thing you have to drive through the city to get to Petionville from the airport.
The people here at the Montana for this Haiti Connection conference know the reality of rich and poor. All of them are involved in work on the ground, far below Petionville. The conference brings together Episcopal development efforts in education, health care, economic development, construction, and work with special-needs populations – and it includes the Haitian partners involved in those projects. Roughly half the 200+ attendees are Haitians (though I don’t know that they’re all staying at the Montana). Partnership is the theme, in terms of collaboration both between Americans and Haitians and among development projects. It’s amazing how limited our scopes can be. For example, St. Augustin’s School in Maniche might be a good candidate for solar power. But what experiences have other partnerships had with solar? I know of one (which wasn’t very positive), but that’s hardly a good sampling. I’ll just bet we can find more over the next few days here. We’ll also be sharing some of what St. Andrew’s has learned. Carolyn Kroh is one of the presenters on educational partnerships, talking about her work to train early-elementary teachers in engaging, creative ways to teach concepts typically memorized in Haiti through recitation. She has been a great blessing to our teachers in Maniche and all the Episcopal schools under Pere Colbert’s stewardship.
Stewardship … there’s a divine call that challenges me as I sit here in the Montana’s bar, enjoying the view. Stewardship and justice, actually. I believe there is huge value in gathering these people to learn from one another, Americans and Haitians from across both countries. There is huge value in having these conversations onsite here, where the context is every bit as much part of the curriculum as the presentations. And truly, the context’s chasm between rich and poor, in which we are clearly participating, is also there on the table for our consideration. I don’t have a clean and satisfying way to reconcile why I get to sit here atop the cliff in Petionville, overlooking the beauty and poverty below me. The poor will always be with us, Jesus says (Mark 14:7), and they are blessed in that God chose to come, and become human, among them. The reign of God is about the miracle of us stewarding what God provides so that all may eat and be satisfied (Luke 9:17). In our time in this place of poverty and abundance, may we help bridge the chasm both through what we give and through what we take away.