Last evening one of the young Brothers from the house in Carrefour, a “suburb” of PAP (the word itself means "crossroads"), showed up and said that he was taking me to stay at the house at Carrefour for a couple of days. Now, I had not been previously told about this, but whatever, I wanted to go there anyway, and things had been getting a little dull around Canado-Haitian, so I jammed my only clean clothes into my backpack (no electricity and no soap most of the weekend, so laundry has been interesting lately, like “wearing the same pair of pants three days in a row while sweating like a racehorse all day” interesting) and off we went.
So I have mentioned in previous posts that driving in PAP scares me to death, but I should add now that doing so at night is a whole new ball of wax. The good thing is that the passenger (me) can’t see how close we are to getting in a wreck every 5 seconds, so that might take the edge off the terror factor, but the bad thing is, the driver can’t see any of that stuff either. In defense of the drivers here, I should mention that, despite all the crazy driving and the apparent absence of any kind of traffic laws, I haven’t seen a single car get in a wreck, nor a single pedestrian get mowed down, but sometimes it has been a matter of millimeters. Anyway, we made it in one piece and were welcomed by some teenaged security guard carrying a rifle (yeah, I feel safe now) as we drove into the complex. This place is HUGE – high school, grade school, kindergarten, and enough grounds around it all to build all the buildings again. I met the Brothers here, chatted with them for an hour or so, had a ridiculously large meal, and went to bed.
The next morning, today, Br. Robert showed me around the place. Quite impressive, and not just because of the size (although that didn’t hurt). He told me that the auditorium holds 2500 people, and seeing the place, I believed it. On a slightly different note, it’s still a little funny to me to see barnyard animals running around school campuses, but they have plenty of them here: chickens, at least 7 goats, 2 peacocks and a peahen. I accidentally spooked the goats and they all blazed off through a little hole in a concrete wall on the edge of the property, but one of them kinda got stuck. I was going to be nice and pull her out to help her across the wall, but she squeezed through before I could get my hands on her. Sorry, goat. Switching gears, I can understand why the ancient Greeks incorporated peacocks into their mythology because, despite having seen peacocks plenty of times before, they are still fascinating to me. First off, the birds here are very tame, presumably because they have a zillion kids running around them all the time; I could walk within 2 or 3 feet of them without them really reacting to me at all. Second, and I didn’t know this before today, these things make the coolest noise. There was a thunderstorm this afternoon, and apparently the thunder spooks them, because every time there was a thunderclap, these things would make this crying/wailing noise that at first I thought was babies crying, but really really loud. Of course, I haven’t mentioned their plumage, but what can I say – amazing. Whenever one peacock would fan his plumage for the peahen, the other guy would do the same thing, but she didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with either of them. They probably leave their dirty socks lying all over the place and expect her to clean up after them. Still, they are impressive animals. I could almost imagine Hera plucking Argus’ 100 eyes from his corpse and placing them on the tail of her favorite bird. The fact that the French word for peacock is paon, which is pronounced like pah(n) doesn’t hurt either, because I just think that’s a cool word. Paon paon paon.
I do want to mention that the issue of garbage removal has come to mind numerous times since I have been here. The issue is this: there’s no garbage removal. People take it for granted that bottles, cans, paper, plastic, whatever is simply to be tossed in the yard, in the road, in the ditch, wherever. In the bidonvilles, there are huge piles of garbage in the streets, some of which are perpetually burning. Here at the school, the grounds, the soccer field, even the cemetery are half-covered with soda bottles and aluminum cans, and the school itself has that scratchy-throat burning-plastic smell about it from where they burn the trash. We certainly have problems in the U.S. with the amount of waste we generate, but at least we don’t bury our streets or our yards in it (not generally, at least).
Today also happened to be Br. Robert’s birthday, and I’ve already mentioned how big a deal birthdays are here, but I should add that the last party, the one for Br. Norbert, had nothing on this one. Between Brothers and colleagues, there must have been 60 people who showed up for the lunch we had, and there was food to spare. All kinds of people were bringing gifts, and not just some little junky knickknacks – shoes, a cell phone, real stuff. Apparently Br. Robert has been here forever, though, so everyone and their grandmother knows him and loves him (and rightfully so – he is gracious and gentlemanly).
I will be on the road for the next couple of days, and the computer at our house is on the sick list at the moment, so this may be my last post while I am in Haiti; so, although I will certainly keep up the blog with other stuff after I get home, I will offer a few parting shots on my time here. Although I am looking ahead to my time at Notre Dame this summer (and looking forward to getting back to the Brothers, my coworkers, and my students in StL), I’m not really looking forward to leaving Haiti. Apart from the amount of French I have learned in three weeks, which is huge, I sense that there is a lot of life here, that if I were to come on a longer-term basis I could find a real home here with the Brothers. I am struck by their continual graciousness and hospitality and their real love of community life. I wish my language skills were more than they are, but the Brothers have been endlessly patient with my halting French and my nonexistent Creole.
Finally, a few thanks. My thanks to the Brothers at Collège Canado-Haitian, especially the young Brothers there who drove me places, worked on the language with me, and haggled with old ladies over Haitian shirts for me. Thanks to Brs. Bernard Couvillion and Paul Montero for encouraging me to come here in the first place and for preparing me for what I would find. Thanks to Br. Joseph Alexandre, the Haitian provincial, and Br. Francis David, my provincial, for being so open to making this kind of exchange possible. Lastly, thanks to my mom and dad for their support (despite not necessarily being crazy about me going to a place like Haiti), especially my dad pushing and pulling to get my passport from wherever in the ether it was floating all that time. Thanks Dad, thanks Mom, thanks everyone.
Mercy within mercy within mercy...