Today was my first chance to really venture out of my zone or neighborhood, and it was quite an eye-opening experience. This afternoon, we drove from the school over to the Brothers’ postulate/novitiate, which is on the other side of town. Now, I was a little nervous when Br. Joseph drove me from the airport to the school last Sunday, but there weren’t many cars on the road then, and Br. Joseph is a decent driver. Today, we had a long drive, the streets were crowded, and the Brothers who drove were simply not very good behind the wheel. The traffic laws here seem to be reducible to this: whoever can hit their horn first has the right-of-way. People hit their horns constantly, as a way of telling cars at intersections not to race out (which they still do half the time) and telling pedestrians to move. Anyway, truly a harrowing experience. Driving between here and there, though, we had to go through what they call a bidonville, which apparently translates roughly as shantytown, and, speaking as a person who has had the privilege of traveling to some genuinely poor places, I still was not prepared for the squalor of this part of town. There is a sort of base-level poverty that pervades the city, and I expected that, but I did not expect the piles of garbage on the side of the road, the dilapidation of kilometer after kilometer of “shops” and houses. Perhaps it was not that the poverty was worse than that in, say, Zimbabwe, but that so many people were crammed into it so tightly.
Arriving, then, at the novitiate, was a study in contrasts: the sprawling grounds, the two huge houses (one for the postulants and the other for the novices), the partridges and ducks and geese and even a peacock around the garden, it was like entering a totally different world from the filthy, smelly, noisy street we left two minutes earlier. The mango trees were dropping mangoes on us (literally!) – walking around, eating a perfectly ripe mango that was on the tree twenty seconds before, I had to laugh at the idea that I was “roughing it,” but I also had to marvel at the contrast of this place with the city outside those walls.
I will need to come back another time to write about the religiosity of this place, but a couple of examples will serve for now: driving to the novitiate, we passed a series of signs posted by one of the local banks, signs commemorating the feast of the Sacred Heart. On all the roads we see taptaps, which are Haiti’s answer to the concept of public transportation: somewhere between vans and trucks, but rainbow colored and decorated to the nth degree with religious slogans and pictures, everything from pictures of St. Andrew to “In God We Trust” and Kreyol translations of Bible verses.
Oh, the water is back on for now. Apparently being without water three separate times in a week is unusual even for the Brothers who are from here, so perhaps I shouldn’t ask how long it will be on this time.
Mercy within mercy within mercy...