Wednesday 12 February 2014

populated peaks

Port-au-Prince is very hilly.  If you travel north or eastwards it is even more dramatic.  West, to the Dominican Republic, is flat and uneventful.

Travelling by car this morning, as soon as we left the gates of the convent, it struck me again how beautiful it is here.

I could see a long way into the distance through breaks in the palm trees.  The rich greens and yellows, the rich blue sky and the sea completing the view.  Houses are stacked precariously on every hillside - fascinating for their sheer impertinence.  Amazing: defying convention and reason.  And yet there's an order than seems to belong - no one will say, 'I told you so'! If they should all fall.  They were built there out of necessity and lived in for expedience.

Port-au-Prince is a series of basins interlocking.  A district of peaks and troughs.  Valleys and hills of trees and roads and thick forestation where I thought there were none.  All this has grown in a short, critical time of trauma; serial traumas and events - natural and political.  The boiling Haitian sun beats down regardless giving the place such drama and colour everywhere.  I surrender to the sweltering heat.

Clothes - yellow, orange and green: brilliant and radiant.

Walls whitewashed, brands, logos and slogans hand painted precisely.  Then weathered.  All the way out of town the pavements are dotted with

people sitting and selling, walking and carrying.  Everyone toots - especially the driver I am with.  I realised the horn means: 'caution - I am passing'.  And everyone seems grateful for the advance warning.  At home it's a rude outburst.  But everything is back to front at home.  Before, it was here.


The pace is picking up now.  With fourteen days to go - just twelve in Haiti - I am forced to acknowledge the departure that draws ever nearer.   Two weeks is a short time with lots to do - and yet it's still ample time to soak up all that I love about Haiti.  There's lots to cram in, yes!  But also the time feels ample to repeat visits to favourite places and meet again impressive people that might set me on course for the next year or so - I feel strangely committed to work for Haiti full time.  And yet, that realisation is somehow incomplete, slowly infiltrating me . . like tanning; it's a gradual process -  can I can be useful - can do a job of some value and meaning here?   I'll be at Sister Eveline's school from Monday to start and finish the mural in the playground.  Plus I'm working on three pictures for various people who've asked for them.

So the things I'm doing here are not any grand scale.  No big ego trip.  In fact, bringing material goods was only one aspect to the work that can be done by outsiders.  Being here as a simple act of solidarity for the poor or sick is worth a thousand containers or suitcases of stuff.  I knew that when I painted the mural in the technical college a year after the earthquake.  I sensed that those around me might wonder why I was here - why would I want to come to Haiti?  The tiny scratch marks I make by giving away dollars to drivers and cleaners, students and beggars - and shoes to parents or children - primitive and puny gestures of support, are far outweighed by walking alongside them in the street or standing with them in church.

The hourglass doesn't lie - we've had so much good fortune here and time is racing . . Despite this we still have ahead of us many moments of reflection and peace and pleasure . . the nights are easier now, my exhaustion defeats the night terrors of dogs and bikes; crashing out on the hard ground and the need for sleep blocks out the night din and the mechanical eruptions flooding in from busy road on the perimeter.  There's a digger two clicks north.  A party, loud voices and laughter to the south . . . all noises that haven't kept me from sleep.  Then the shrill alarm sounds tugging at me - and another full day in Port-au-Prince begins.

Sweeping out of the drive mid-morning, Fr Desca speeds downtown to Carrefour.  Taking one of the main roads out of Port-au-Prince to a school he needed to visit.  One of his cousins attends this school, and he wants to discuss a problem with the head.  When we arrive at the school everyone knows him, several people offer him handshakes and there are greeting noises and smiles exchanged all round.  "K√≤man ou ye?" How are you, in Creole.  The school is vast.  Its concrete walls with primitive portholes for windows survived the earthquake.  There are over a thousand children here - and they were on their main morning break when we arrived.  Most of them we're seeking out areas of shade, drinking and eating, and talking in big groups - they all seem so playful and free.  If you entered a playground in Britain most of the children are mood and sultry - they'd spy strangers with suspicion and cynicism.  why are we like this.  The Haitien children are dirt poor - their parents all struggle to pay the expensive fees and the children are glad to be there, I'm sure.  Knowing so well that it is all so fragile.