Yesterday in Port au Prince I saw something I had never seen before anywhere in the world and couldn’t have imagined in my wildest imagination: a man was sleeping on a heap of trash using for shade of the overflowing garbage bin right by a heavily used major road!
At the smaller airport for internal flights this morning, I started talking to the other obviously foreign people waiting for a flight. Their names are Peter and Hannah. They work for John whose contact was given to me yesterday by Steven, whose name was passed on by Chester that I met during a dinner in Baltimore last Saturday. Where am I going with this? Last night I received an email from John, he founded an organization called Haiti Partners, that Relief Team One and I might be able to partner with: they want to teach and create a sustainable model of vocational centers to implement in various parts of Haiti.It is almost noon, and I am writing from the Bishop’s house in Jérémie. I came in part to follow-up on my previous trip here last September when Dr . David Haddad, RT1 Team Leader, Ray Arana and I had come to consult with Bishop Decoste on setting-up a Catholic Business University. Now I am back for a scaled down version of the project that falls in the line of what Haiti Partners is doing! But who know how it will turn out and if?
Things seem to happen that way in Haiti: circumstances, chance, luck but for the majority of the Haitians, it might just be daily struggle to stay away from a heaping pile of trash!
February 14, 2011
Valentine’s Day! All the priests at the Bishop’s house jokingly wish each other a happy Valentine’s Day. It is celebrated also here in Haiti, not with cards but with sweets. I have now been in Haiti for 5 days and time is flying by. After my first night at the Convent of the Sister of Christ King in Port au Prince, where it is totally safe behind high cement walls topped by barb wires with a heavy metal gate, I took the little 18 seater plane to Jérémie. The flight follows the lovely coast line and the pilot opens his window to let fresh air in J. What could be better?
Bishop Gontrand Decoste SJ is my gracious host. The Bishop is a graduate from the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University Maryland ( Fr Kevin Gillespie S.J. had given me his name before I came the first time to Haiti last June) and his secretary Fr Janel Bourdeau is the uncle of Mildred Leonidas, class of 2010. All the priests of the town live and eat here. I thought I would start working with the Bishop on Saturday morning, assuming he would be available but when he told me he was going out of town to visit a remote parish he hadn’t visited yet, I asked if I could come.
This was an amazing weekend. The road, trail is not paved and crosses several rivers, so when the rains are too abundant, there is no way even a four wheel drive car can go there. We averaged 5 miles per hour for quite a while…..and almost got stuck several times…..but what an interesting and beautiful drive. Haiti means, land of mountains, and we were in a tropical forest setting most of the day. People live simple lives, closer to the land and the sea. The little community of Petite RIvière that was our final destination(just one packed sand street, small cement block houses lining it right on the beach) with no cars, reminded me of IIlha Grande in Brazil, except that this isn’t developed at all. No stores to speak of, no restaurant, no hotel, no official buildings except the pretty little blue and white church. We were welcomed by a band on foot and walked the last mile or so to the village with them; from then on, all was organized for the celebration of welcoming the Bishop ( and warned by cell phone J, a white foreigner was coming too, I was included in all the speeches and treated with equal distinction). Speeches, singing, performance by school children, and fantastic meals three times on Saturday, filled our day as we also went to visit a couple of other communities buried in the forest where the hurricane had destroyed the only solid structure : the church. People were dressed in their Sunday best and brought gifts of huge yams. They have a makeshift school and a school teacher that teaches all students, all grades in one classroom but no medical or dental facilities.
On Sunday, mass started an hour late to allow time for the villagers from far off communities to arrive in Petite Rivière. Since they come on foot and walk one or two hours, the priest and the Bishop adjusted the time of the service: it had rained a lot during the night and mud makes the walk hazardous and slower. During the 4 hour mass, I was honored, thanked numerous times for my presence and asked to sit with the clergy by the altar. Little did they know that the pleasure was all mine!
The celebration was wonderfully joyous, people clapping, swaying to the music and a young local musician had composed a song especially for Bishop Decoste expressing how happy the population was to have his visit. They hosted us with grace, attentive to every detail of our comfort (with no electricity or running water, we still had hot meals and a bucket of warm water for our showers). In all my travels, it is the first time that no one asked me for anything in return, didn’t try to sell me anything or ask for money. I felt totally safe and accepted with a sweet curiosity and simple delight at having a foreign visitor, the only one there. Father Prévoit took great care to make sure our visit was flawless and we left with the Toyota land cruiser filled in the back with all the gifts the population had given Monsignor: yams, salted fish ( nice smell all the way back J ), bananas, oranges, and a galette that tasted like spice bread. We got back to Jérémie after the driver had quickly and efficiently repaired the tire that blew with a loud burst just before night fall. My eyes and my mind are still filled with the beautiful visions of inland Haiti and its welcoming people.