Friday 14 February 2014

. . sampling a funeral

Today was a classic example of bad communication, but gesticulations and chest prodding won the day.  It wasn't pretty.  It was clumsy.  But I got the job done.

First I had to cadge a lift.  Then take a large case of clothes to an unsuspecting street seller.  It wasn't easy.  But I managed it!  Or at least I left them there in front of her on the sidewalk after some explanation and then hot-footed it away.  Why do I do it?  We had similar problems giving phones away to street vendors - figuring that it was a good way to help people conduct their trade.

I hate charades.  The type you're forced play at parties, and I have no problem in refusing to take part.  But when one doesn't speak the lingo there's a desperate inclination to start using hand movements and to replace the words you don't have with silly miming and hand gestures for things like sowing and washing and driving.  It's a universal habit in the absence of mutual language.  If you come here and don't speak Creole then you'll probably resort to this too in a vague desperation.  Bring a dictionary and try to learn the language as quickly as possible otherwise it simply will not do!   Besides how difficult can it be?  Well, seven weeks here and I really haven't tried hard enough - but there will plenty of time, I'm resolved to learning Creole and put it all into practice next visit.

Because of the limitations of language - i.e. not speaking theirs, and them not speaking ours - there's quite a bit of misunderstanding going - so its hard on occasion to make any concrete observations that require local knowledge and explanation - so we are a bit in the dark.  But it's not always a problem - in fact, sometimes, its more information than we need.

The car was an hour late.  We didn't know where we going.  I guess it didn't matter.  We trusted the driver, and one of the sisters was complicit in our voyage, so it was safe to go.  Woken abruptly from sleep at 4.50am by disembodied voices outside the tent - first the gardener then a sister - whispering that Father was on his way - or so we gathered. It was in French but it was pretty easy to guess what she meant.  Quickly dressed in a sleepy reluctance; we just needed the camera and a phone, some cash, and off we went.  Without the planned Mass, breakfast or the lie-in Saturday normally provides.  We headed into the dark.

It's not always easy to summarise what's going on.  On account of the multitude, magnitude and volume of it all - there's just so much to take in.  And the heat and the altitude and the indecipherable babble are the greatest limiters.  It's still fascinating but even Manhattan saturates the senses and in time one must switch to Woodstock.  When there's a mass of images, ideas, broken conversations, jagged notions, all coloured by novelty and cultural anomolies, and so, conclusions are dubious.  Faulty thinking or confused impressions abound - and this marvelling in my mind is matched by the mayhem on the street.   My curiosity with everything Haitian has become a constant occupation and so I'm noticing everything and remembering little.  I can go on for months but I'd like to digest it all in the quiet cold of Otley - eventually one needs to rest and experience the mundane again for a while. I guess most of us experience this barrage of the senses; the multitude of interactions and impulses, sounds and shapes that occur in our everyday without giving them much notice.  But when I'm in a foreign zone of novelty and anomaly I'm processing and observing all these things with equal importance.  There's often a bit of an overload - all these things competing.  Tastes collide with smells; noises and unfathomable gesticulations clash with greetings and fleeting smiles.

A young girl cross-legged on the sidewalk selling oranges from a plastic bowl.  Looks pensively at me - then after moments hesitation she smiles freely.

The intoxicating heat could kill me if were not for the twelve types of shade in the tropical garden and sweltering streets.  Trees with extending leaves give rich mottled beads of light to the roads and paths and scrub.  The hot haze mollifies or frustrates in extreme measures.

 I heard 'funeral' mentioned. And wondered if it was a place or an actual ceremony.  Then sure enough we were on our way again to Léogâne  . . and it was a funeral.  The funeral of a former teacher of his at the primary school.  We stopped en route at another church destroyed by the earthquake, replaced by a large 'wedding' marquee for services for the past four years.  Rebuilding of the new church is about to begin after a long campaign of fundraising.  The church bells and the marble altar had survived and were dumped at the side next to the main wall.  One bell had been raised on a eight foot, makeshift wooden construction so that the bell could be used, presumably on a Sunday, calling people to church.  The rope used to sound the bell was pathetically attached and somehow gave testament to the inventiveness and determination to adapt and improvise.  They do that a lot - recycling and making do.  We had a humble though delicious breakfast with two priests and two dogs - Darren and I conversing with our eyes.  Then after a short break  we continued in another car a short way to the funeral where hundreds of people were expected.  It was my first experience of a funeral in Haiti, but it didn't matter that we didn't know the deceased.  Being there was a simple act of solidarity for a good man that had clearly been very popular and had given his life to this valuable and exemplary profession.  Not unlike solidarity for all the people of Haiti - we don't anyone really.  I have no family here but a people caught up in personal tragedy or abject poverty requires some kind of response.  That's solidarity even though it's a term that can be overused or confused.  It's a show of support - a human and compassionate act - that seems to me to be the bear minimum, once one breaks through the practical obstacles of getting here and the inevitable uncertainty of one's usefulness.  When I got here, I was captivated by their goodness and quickly admired a simple beauty that was everywhere.