I’m writing from within the gates of the Palm Inn Hotel in Port-au-Prince. It’s lovely in here, with small, tended gardens complete with sculptures; an attentive inn-keeper; and a buffet awaiting us. Just outside the gates, of course, it’s a different story. Driving back into Port-au-Prince this afternoon (blessedly on a Sunday, with light traffic compared with Thursday’s insanity), we all noticed the trash. There is some minimal attempt to deal with the trash that fills the gutters. Earth-moving equipment was scooping up trash as we passed by, presumably to take it to some collecting point. But there are countless plastic bottles and wrappers that the equipment misses. Someone needs to make a lot of money figuring out how to collect the recyclable plastic and sell it to some processor. It would be perhaps the greatest gift anyone could give Haiti – right up there with a system of clean drinking water, which would eliminate probably half the plastic bottles.
More positively, the day began with worship – wonderful worship. We started at Pere Colbert’s church in Cayes, St. Sauveur, where they were celebrating the second anniversary of the parish children’s association as well as several children’s first Communions. The kids sang like there was no tomorrow – and so did the adults, for that matter. Singing in Haitian worship is one of the most heavenly things you’ll ever hear – not because of the musical quality but because of the full-throated praise. When these people thank God for their blessings, they are thankful in a way I wonder whether I ever approach. And the offertory procession – complete with tomatoes, okra, mangoes, sugar cane, pineapples, and bananas (no goats or chickens this time) – it literally danced “thank you” to God’s altar.
Dancing “thank-you” – that’s not a bad way to look at how my perceptions and attitudes might change following this trip. That was the question for our group in our discussion last night. (We’ve had a reflection time each evening, followed by praying Compline. It’s become christened “Culligan Ice With Spice.” Some experiences don’t translate so well….) We talked about how we might come home differently than how we left. I always come away from Haiti with deep respect for the people’s orientation of gratitude, and this trip was no exception. When people in Haiti are grateful, it’s not lip service. When they praise God, they do so as if their lives depended on it … because they do. Of course, so does mine. But in a world of convenience and privilege, gratitude easily becomes expectation, and expectation can easily slip into entitlement.
The image of the offertory at St. Sauveur became complete for me in a little girl who wasn’t supposed to be part of the official procession. She was moving about through the service, clearly at home there. When the dancers brought forward the produce of the land, she came into the group, too, bearing what she had been carrying around throughout the service: a can of Pringles. As it happens, I love Pringles. So she is my patron saint today, bringing forward what she had been given and joining the company of saints in praising God, because their lives depend on it.