Friday, March 4, 2011

Oasis in Port au Prince

The internet has been down.

Raise your hand if you thought I would ever live in a convent!  AND if you thought I would actually love it! The convent is run by Sister Benoite, Sr Bee for her friends, a tiny Canadian nun that has lived in Haiti for the past twenty some years, always busy making sure the facility runs smoothly and everything is in good repair. The earthquake damaged the square shaped building and RT1 came to repair the condemmed structure with its construction trainees: they reinforced pillars, the roof, and fixed all the cracks until the convent became livable again for the nuns. 
At the suggestion of RT1, Sr Bee has started a guest house which has two long term resident: Pilar, a cheerful Spanish brunette who works for Foi et Joie and yours truly.  We wake up to the lovely voices of the nuns singing the morning prayers in the chapel at 6 am and meet at 6.30 for mass and 7.15 for breakfast.  At  6pm supper last night, around the table were Canadian, Indian, Haitian, Spanish, Italian, French, Burkina Faso, Congolese nuns, priests and lay people and we all speak some kind of French J  The group from Quebec has an intensive week long program to deal with post-traumatic syndrome and offer sessions to Haitians in distress. The intensive format appears to be really helpful.
The convent is shaped around an inside garden filled with trees (mango  J ) and flowery bushes.  Galleries close up the square with all the rooms opening into them; from the outside it looks like a fortress and one would never guess at its simple green peaceful lovely comfort.  The grounds surrounding it will soon have a goat herd and the chicken coop is under construction. When I painted the floor the other day, Louis the guard and “homme à tout faire”= handyman, couldn’t stand it; was it the way I was holding the paintbrush? More like a red pen than a tool? At any rate, he was pretty soon kneeling by my side and we were done in no time. The last time that Sr Bee bought a chicken, hoping for badly needed eggs, she kept waiting for it to do its job: lay an egg! After a while she thought she wasn’t feeding it the right stuff, so she went  searching for egg-laying special chicken feed…..nothing seemed to help……until one morning she heard “cockle doodle do!”
Rt1 ‘s goal of  helping  her with her guest house project, vegetable garden ( we have eaten beets, lettuce, tomatoes and the first carrots) and with building  the fences and outbuilding needed for her goats and chicken mini-farm is coming along nicely (  yesterday   Sr. Bee  was finally able to find and purchase the wire for the fence, not always available).  She is hoping to make the convent self-sufficient and even confided , that at some point in the not so distant future, not only would they not depend on their foreign mother house but their micro-enterprise would help sustain the other convents of their order in Haiti.
Next project: a small gift shop with local arts and crafts that visiting guests attending the retreats  or conferences hosted by the convent will be able to purchase. What fun it will be to help select items to stock the shop!  We are going to go explore an artist coop in the next few days, depending on car availability and driver and….whatever else is going on.
At 6 pm the convent doors close. The rooster is put under a box so he won’t wake us up like all the other roosters of Haiti, around 3 am (they must be on mid-Atlantic time), the large metal gate is padlocked,  and the watch dogs are freed to roam ( and barkL) in the fairly large garden surrounded by the  7 feet walls with barbed wires on top that are doing a good job at keeping us safe for instance from the serious gun fight that kept us awake most of the night a few days ago.
So life in the convent is good, it is very good …and it is a lovely and peaceful oasis.

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