Sunday 2 February 2014

roads and rights

While I seize a moment on the vacant laptop there's a distant racket of female voices and laughter. It's a pleasant backdrop amidst the heat and comfort of the guest-house. The corridors echo. Distant voices - a mosaic of sounds - collide and bubble in a soup of reverberations.  Nuns in playful discourse, loud then soft, come and go, melodic and as though rehearsed. The afternoons quieten to a whisper after the lunchtime laughter.  All is well in the world within these Herculean walls.  The colossus of Rhodes guards the gates invisibly with youngsters at its feet like crabs with firearms and steely eyes. Two pairs of wide steel gates complete the fortress, possibly a thousand acres, with trees and immaculate walls and pathways and open views of a thousand hillside homes - stunning vistas night and day.

Outside this cool room the sun exterminates the foliage.  Only the tough survive.  The Haitians know to run for shade or sleep from two till four.

The days start slowly after breakfast without specific plans. Sister Gisele, displaying her customary smile, entered the room and said, Father would be here in twenty minutes to collect us.  I'm not sure if she meant twenty minutes because it was a long wait in eager anticipation.  We didn't mind - he might be running late for a whole host of reasons. He had a plan.  I welcomed it - getting out and about is why we're here - to meet the world and his wife and if we find some new purpose then great!  We watched and waited from the rooftop.

The car hurtled in to view with a cloud of chalk dust billowing in its wake, we hopped abroad and we were on our way in a flash with little explanation or greeting.  This was exciting.  Then he announced he was taking us to meet the Belgian priest.

After a twenty-minute drive through city streets and broken pathways we arrived at a cool yellow chalet at the end of a quiet street.  It was a clean, two-story building with lots of painted iron work, tropical greens and tidy paths.

By contrast, and en route, life in all its colour and chaos swarmed around us.  The car cut through fields of colour and swarms of bodies carrying on regardless of slow moving traffic. Horns pummelled the oblivious  and the deaf.  Wheelbarrows stacked with sugarcane, sharpened spears fit for battle.  Heads laden with goods - balancing acts - carriers with perfect pose.  Shoulders for balance: broad and adept. Countless people sitting and selling.  Each person, indigenous and in perfect belonging; all playing their parts as extras on a set governed by Equity and indifference.  No one is self-conscious or deviant: everyone is a collective.  Each playing their part: the consumer and supplier acting out their conviction with indifference and certainty.  A bus load of extras pass through the chalk dust on a dollar a day nonchalant and expectant.  Though this isn't a film set . . but the players walk their route cheerfully compliant.

As we passed through unguarded gates we could see an open reception area a little way ahead.  There sat a solitary figure - was this the priest, I wondered?  Our guide and chauffeur nodded and walked on through.  Then into another large 'L-shaped' room with twenty people, or so, gathered, as though in conference.  The presentation was about to begin.