Tuesday 28 January 2014

painting rocks . .

Haiti is in the dry season at the moment.  So it's typically hot and arid, and hasn't rained for months.  There have been a few brief showers - one or two at night, that have reverberated on the tent walls - which have only lasted for a minute or two but that's all.  No real rainfall so the ground is hard and parched.  I was here in the rainy season once and it's common for dramatic bursts of rainfall several times a day - even during this time of year the ground can't cope with the sudden and torrential downpours and the streets turn to rivers of mud, rippling currents, carrying rubbish and anything else in its path.

The mosquitoes are out in abundance then too.  Breeding and biting.

January is the best month to be here to avoid the extreme heat of Summer and the biting mosquitoes.  The temperatures now are between 25°C - 32°C, dropping to about 20°C at night.

Earlier today the thick cloud seemed to promise heavy rain.  It was cooler.  And when a smattering of rain did come it didn't last long.

I realised today how nice it is to have a break from the constant flow of noise; my own mother tongue and the relentless sea of words and sound bites - which are normally a constant, so pervasive, and is hardly noticed until it has suddenly be silenced.  It has now been replaced with French that I hardly understand and yet the sounds and vowels aren't so alien to me after all.  I had French lessons from the age of about six yet it didn't stick.  I have French words in my vocabulary that I didn't know I had, like sacre coeur, notre dame, gauche and chauffeur.  I'm shrouded here in a kind of muffled, partial deafness.  Even at meal times as the constant, albeit pleasant, chatter bounces around the taverna walls I can opt out and wallow under the surface of the strings of vowels and semi-vowels that flow and undulate just above the crowded table top of soups and powders, crockery and elbows . . . punctuated with the international noises of approval.  Most of the sounds can't be decoded anyway so I let them pass me by dissolving and fading. Firing from mouths and rolling off tongues, if I do listen I'm left interpreting gist and mood from volume and cadence.  Often getting it wrong - someone sounds angry but then a final smirk and laughter from another betrays the playful bickering and the friendly jousting.

I'm left listening to the patterns of song, nasal interjections and throaty banter.  Processing the sing-song melodies of communication without the code to make sense of it all.  I feel so comfortable here, so relaxed at that table that it's heavenly to feel so accepted without needing to keep up and speak up.  I'm a mute member of the family - enjoying my food and accepting the extra helpings that the sisters take in turns to dish out.  Washing up and placing back on the table in complex configurations is fun too.

The singing in the church, too, is similarly emollient at 5am or 5pm.  The French is foreign yet the hymns they sing are immediately recognized but unknown.  Mass is understood and followed fairly precisely because of my own indelible mental map of the precise order I hear every day at home.  Each word or phrase can't be registered with the English words I know so well but there is an approximate registration that tells me where we are in my cognitive sequence and map of the Mass.  Precisely the same moments of extreme reverence, sorrow, hope and gratefulnesses that the Mass inspires are repeated now as I witness this great Sacrament translated in French.  It might easily be Creole or Swahili but French as it happens is beautiful and intrinsic.

There are few barriers where you might expect them.  And words of wisdom and gestures of kindness are in abundance: just when I least expected an easy time; prepared myself for a terrible ordeal of discomforts and hostility, as a reasonable cost of carrying and delivering to a hard place: this instead.  Still prepared for challenges and adversity; I wonder if this is some good fortune before bad . . or will we simply get things done and sail homewards, swiftly.  I hope so.