Sunday 9 February 2014

.. then the car sweeps left for the hills

With fourteen days left I have lost all sense of urgency and yet there is so much to do and think about.  I'm still on track to get all I want to achieve - but I do wonder how quickly the next two weeks will race by.  I do want to meet a few more of Father's contacts.  A business women and two other priests have been mentioned by him.  Plus a visit to the orphanage at Jérémie (on the south east tip of Haiti - the only on I haven't been to), another home run by the sisters.  In addition I'm painting one mural at the big school in the playground and two canvases, one for the sisters and the other for parish of St Teresa. 

The parish of St Teresa in Petionville is a big parish run by Father Desca.  The building was destroyed by the earthquake.  And for four years there has been a campaign to raise money for its reconstruction.  A German charity and an American organisation have so far offered two thirds of the estimated cost.  In Father Desca's words, 'We're not ready to build . .'  It's a huge and tireless undertaking - and spoken of with real enthusiasm and conviction.   But many projects in Port-au-Prince are ready, and re-building is about to begin in many churches that were demolished that January day.  57 Catholic churches were destroyed.  There are about 300 Catholic priests in Port-au-Prince. The church here is strong and the bishop of Port-au-Prince was recently made a cardinal.  Pope Francis, I know, feels greatly concerned for countries like Haiti where the problem of poverty is in crisis.

Two visits to the mountain district of Léogâne and I love it.  I've decided I'd love to camp there on the next visit.  The trip is about two hours each way by car.  Down from Petionville, the road continues downtown flat and congested. The road narrows slightly and clears as you exit Port-au-Prince.  Then it's a clear run for the last forty minutes into the town of Léogâne.  Then the car sweeps left for the hills.  After a long climb with striking views down and across, Haiti looks beautiful.  The trees seem to growing with great urgency and potency.  There vast plains of green, great swathes of plantain and banana.  When one really gets into the hills the only traffic on the steep roads are bikes and walkers.  They all know Father and call out to him with smiles and waves.  He's helped build a small school on a hilltop that desperately needs support.

We pass huts for homes along the way that are artfully constructed with precious materials.  Immaculate yards with red polished earth - dotted with urchins and washing bespangle - and the car engine children stand to attention.  Then cry out, 'mon père. . ' and mothers with wide grins and mules moving urgently away from motor.  The sky is blue, the sun is hot - ' . . these are peasants', Father tells me.  How that doesn't translate into my language!  The school was closed and we dropped off rice and beans for next week's school meals.  Then we shot off back down hill for a slightly easier return than the bouncy climb up.  The breeze through the now open window carries sweet and dry smells of hot soil and baking caramel . . from somewhere and no where.  I feel such a peace here mixed with a burning affection for such simplicity and plainness.  And humility.


surprise, delight, dislike, or pain

Sometimes it feels like riding the rapids, with such force and such velocity.  Sometimes I can hardly pause for  thought, at times there's such a rush of adrenaline, a surge of emotions as one simply tries to compute, to go along with it all, to understand the extremes that people know everyday.  Extremes, that for them, there's no escaping.

The rapids then give way to calm and warm; floating in reef pools in a dream-like oasis of crystal blue and stillness.  The noise of Haiti evaporates for a moment.  This place gives me such peace and contentment, the likes of which I've rarely experienced.  And how can that be amidst so many extremes, drifting from the din there's music, weird and irrational?   And there's been five weeks of it.  The comforts of staying here, the good food, the swims in crystal waters each strike a discord with each new picture of poverty we see from the air-conditioned safety of each trip.  The theatre and drama of Port-au-Prince never grows dull - I'm never going to acclimatise - I wish I could do something that eases this great 'lack'.

From the rich to the poor; the secure to the disappointed . . I want to understand and make some sense of the great diversity here.  And yet why should I stare and gawp and not just accept what is here and my position in it all?  Every country has great diversity, with a complex order of things - with so much variation one cannot hope to see things simply and consistently - and this is true especially in Britain - I travel that country with indifference and acceptance.  Though here I can't look at things with indifference, everything is upside down and inside out.  There are hilltop villas overlooking Port-au-Prince with jewels for eyes. White symmetry, sweeping opulence.  And downtown, close to the waterfront, the anachronistic splendour of festooned timber peeping out of concrete and corrugated metal work.  Industry and commerce now bullies its way through to its relentless goals.  At one end of the scale I see grime and sweat, firelight and filth.  They have their stress and comforts.  At the other extreme there's a bloated excess and great relief not to poor. I must stop looking for the harsh contrasts that exist . . just like only knowing Haiti for the earthquake is a rough approximation. There are harsh contrasts but there are great swathes of the unexceptional and acceptable.  Masses of normality and contentment.

I've seen empty river ways filled with rubbish.  Commonplace for them but horrible for me.  The market days are swarming with horrendous riot and energy.  For them its just a Saturday.