Saturday 1 February 2014

out and about

After weeks of broken communication and lots of light-hearted misunderstandings it was refreshing to speak with someone that could speak English so precisely and have such insight.  I know I was enjoying the bubble of being abroad and living without the constant stream of language, but there comes a time when we long to have some explanation of the way of life here.  Some reasoning of the unique behaviour here; a reasoning of the patters and shortcomings of Haiti. Father Desca's friend, and remarkable man and a priest, with a great insight about Haiti, its personalty and problems.  He sat with us for about half an hour and I really hope we get chance to talk again.

Meanwhile, Father Desca took us around in his comfy pick-up truck with its formidable traction and air conditioning.  We visited Delmas - a great expanse of districts stretching to the airport.  Dusty roads, undulating with numerous obstructions and bends in the road.  Then onto to Cité Soleil which was our main destination.  Father agreed to take us to a school in this extremely impoverished district - an area well-know not least because Mary's Meals do some of their great work here.

fracture and splendour

The media drives home a particular message.  I can see how tempting it is to endorse the views of the press, to repeat them, reiterate and perpetuate ideas that are widely accepted.  Like rumours that have a long shelf life, ideas that are often quite pertinent and salient.  But these headlines don't always reflect the real character of a place or event.  Many died as a result of the earthquake, yes! Though many more - millions, in fact, survived the earthquake!

They get stronger each day.

And although I read everywhere that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere . . and true it may be quite the poorest . . but there is so much more to the place.  The headlines are shorthand but unless you can witness the longhand, the backstory and the detail, then one can miss the true meaning of the Haitian character.  Haiti is phenomenally rich in culture.  It has a complex history of turmoil, feuds and revolution.

The place has a deep and striking complexion.

I realised a few days ago how much we view Haiti through the devastation of the earthquake.  It's understandable but rather superficial.   I do it too; afterall, my first visit was itself a (crude and naive) response to that natural disaster and it was all I knew of Haiti.  The effects of the earthquake were the beginnings of my empathy for the place and its people - not sympathy, but a simple and human compassion .  I became personally 'drawn here' because of that event and subsequently 'captivated' once I'd experienced the place and spent some time here.  But to think of it now only in terms how the character of Haiti was altered after that awful event is only a fraction of Haiti's great story.  Its recovery since that January four years ago has been itself a remarkable episode but I am fascinated by the failings here and the endemic attitudes towards wealth, the white man, justice and corruption that is, at best, held in abeyance.  Reprisals are common towards the police and so they act with great caution, if at all.  The government operates in a way I'm only beginning to understand.    One story in particular, a shocking demise for a high ranking judge that questioned and tried to change the endemic nepotism or financial corruption here.  This despite the relatively positive reports one hears about the new leader.

Many people have followed the fortunes and failings of this 'lawless' place.  They have labelled it as a failed state: suspicious of the voodoo and the mystique of black Haiti with its slave origins, ignoring the cultural and historical foundations of these.  There is a western ambivalence about a black country that seizes (or steals) its independence from France or Britain or a civilised state.

Last Saturday Piere Desca talked to us across the breakfast table.  There were two Haitian priests joining the sisters for early morning breakfast - one was a priest that had said Mass earlier at the convent and Father Desca.  Fr Desca was warm and cheerful and we quickly got chatting about our visit and our interest for Haiti.  He quickly invited us to join him one day, out and about.  He is the parish priest at St Teresa's in Petionville and the Justice and Peace director for the diocese.