Friday, June 15, 2007

Vendredi le 15 Juin 2007 – La Fête du Sacré-Cœur

I want to preemptively apologize at the start if this posting is too sarcastic for people’s tastes. I am really tired as I write, and I’m at the end of a day full of weirdness, and those two factors have conspired to bring out my sarcastic streak. So today’s our feast day, but it is also graduation day for the high school where I am staying. (*Before I go any further, for those who didn’t already know, I am currently in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.*) I didn’t sleep terribly well last night because the malaria medicine I am taking has been giving me dreams that are vivid enough for me to wake myself up from laughing in my dreams. (*Weird, I know. More on that some other time.*) Anyway, we had morning prayers at 5:00, the usual time here, and then I went back to bed for another half hour or so. After a Brother came to get me for breakfast, one of the nuns who works here, a tough little Colombian sister named Hermana Gloria came up to the Brothers’ place looking for some guys with muscle to help set up for the graduation, which was going to be in the courtyard of the school. Of course, I’m too dumb to keep from biting that hook, so down I went and got right into it, lugging potted plants, setting up displays, securing decorations and so on. We were quite an odd crew – three sisters from Colombia, another from somewhere in Africa, assorted Haitians, and “le blanc” (that is, me, the name that some of the locals have given me because I’m the only white guy they have seen in a long time). Anyway, we sweated our butts off setting up for the graduation until I had to get ready for the meal the Brothers were having at our house for the faculty. Before I went back up, I noticed a one-eyed worker wearing a shirt that said “I *Heart* Bagels.” Yeah, I know, weird. I asked him if he knew what a bagel is, but he only spoke Kreyol, and I have no idea how to say “bagel” in Kreyol, so I didn’t get an answer.

OK, before I go any further, I just want to say something, and I preface it by saying that I am a Francophile and I am extremely happy that I am here: Spanish is so much easier to understand than French, it’s just silly. I only know a tiny bit of Spanish, but the pronunciation is so much simpler, and they don’t cut half the sounds off their words like French does. Hermana Gloria speaks French, but much prefers Spanish, so she ended up using mostly Spanish with me for the two hours she had me under her thumb, and despite the fact that my Spanish is even worse than my French, I did ok the whole time.

OK, end of tangent. Sorry. Anyway, I went back up to the house and was almost at the shower when I remembered that we still don’t have running water. (*Did I mention the water hasn’t worked for two days? The water hasn’t worked for two days.*) I ended up going to the house next door and using one of their showers, and I get back and get ready in time for the lunch, which was actually extremely nice, but, like so much of what I see here, it would be a little awkward by our standards, even if in a genuine and disarming way. (*Mercifully, our standards do not and should not prevail.*) They played come up-tempo Caribbean music and had a gigantic cake shaped like a heart; it looked more like a wedding cake than something for a faculty luncheon. Some older gentleman who spoke French very clearly but very slowly acted like I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and when the wine started flowing after the meal, Hermana Gloria started dancing with anyone who couldn’t squirm out of her grasp in time.

After lunch Hermana Gloria somehow roped me into working again, and I ended up helping to pin pennants on the graduating students. Of course, they had no idea who I was, but they were very pliable about it, so whatever. The graduation began with a mass, and the Brothers were going to go together as part of the feast day, so I went back up to the house to meet them, but the time kept changing (*How do you repeatedly change what time a graduation ceremony starts? Anything is possible for people whose God does not hang on a wall and tick.*).
So anyway, the mass starts and all’s well. Apart from the obscene heat, the only thing that really strikes me is the cheesy keyboard music that accompanies every song we sing. Finally, it’s getting a little boring, so one of the musicians passes out in right around the gospel. (*I should mention that it’s so hot that the balloons are popping spontaneously; in one grouping of balloons, they all popped except a random “Walt Disney World” balloon. I’m trying to picture one of those in the decorations at a Catholic High graduation…Um, no.*) Well, Hermana Gloria wants to help to take care of this guy, and she tells me she wants food and alcohol, and I’m thinking I could use some alcohol at this point too, but she meant smelling salts – who still uses smelling salts?! As fate and this weirdo day would have it, we had three little bottles of peppermint spirits in a random cabinet, and I don’t know if that’s what you use this stuff for, but it sure smells (more on that in a minute), so I brought it. As we’re going down to revive and feed this guy (in that order), one of the bottles crushes in my hand. These bottles were positively ancient, so this thing basically crumbled to pieces. Naturally, this peppermint stuff spills all over my hand, arm, and chest, and not only does it make me stink to high heaven, it’s got a tingly sensation, like Ben-Gay or something like that. We get this guy put back together enough for him to go throw up, and then I go back to mass, reeking of peppermint spirits and sweating like a racehorse, just in time for Communion. Just then one of the Brothers comes up and tells me to go up and help distribute Communion – is this them trying to be welcoming toward a guest, or did they not plan out who was going to be Eucharistic ministers? Either way, my slow-speaking bodyguard from lunchtime takes me by the arm across the courtyard to distribute Communion, and everyone is looking at me like I’m handing out poison. Finally one woman came up, but that was it, so I gave my bodyguard the paten and sat down. (*To be fair, just about no one went to Communion, so I don’t think it was anything against me, such as the fact that I smelled like a candy cane.*)

Mass finished relatively uneventfully, and then someone decided that we needed to move a bunch of chairs, pronto, so students and teachers started bustling around, getting nowhere fast, and I decided that my peppermint burns are becoming genuinely uncomfortable, so I made an exit and came back up to find that the water has somehow miraculously come back on, but that stuff doesn’t wash off easily, so I figured I’d come write all this stuff down and go try again. So here it is. Happy feast day, Brothers. Ametur Cor Jesu.


Paul said...

Hello, Patrick; and warm greetings from Rome! It's nearly 10 pm; our local community returned this afternoon from our anual retreat together outside of Rome; and I have an obscene number of e-mails waiting to be answered. Soooo, this quick note will be in English rather than in French or even Spanish. I just read most of your recent blogs (I guess I'm about a month late) and wanted to wish you a belated "Happy Feast Day." Mine was clearly far less eventful than yours, having spent it near Lake Albano, directly across from the Pope's summer residence. Your experience in Haiti is obviously a marvelous belssing for you-and I feel certain, for those around you. Thanks for sharing. Stay great. Love, Paul

Gaston said...

As I’m seeing, you are realizing now and old dream you shared to me 9 years ago when you were asking me every night to speak French when I was studying English in New Orleans.
Je comprends un peu ta situation de « blanc » dans ce monde haïtien.
Continue tes écrits, ils m’intéressent.
All the best for you in this new world.
Br. Gaston Lavoie, s.c.
From Rome, Italy