Monday, May 31, 2010

We went to church in Clairville, a tent city that is just a minute or two walk, a walk that on a sunny, humid morning like Sunday will soak your clothes with sweat before you've made it out of the front gate of home. It is difficult to maintain a look and feeling of freshness. For those of you familiar with my normal appearance you may be thinking that is not a significant difference in my life. The main problem is the hair. I finally just gave up. The curls are free again. Imagine Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on the most hot, humid day of a decade or maybe a century. That's everyday in Port au Prince.

Yet on the way to church, and in church, worshippers walked and worshipped with us. Women in beautiful dresses, not a single hair out of place, moved gracefully down the stony roads and negotiated with grace the network of tent ropes hidden along the path that leads to the tent city church. Men in suits, most in long sleeve shirts and ties, walked along as well, directing others to open seats in the army tent sanctuary, and when the seats were filled, disappearing for a minute and coming back with another chair from somewhere in the maze of tents and lean-to's. The little girls wore frilly fancy dresses with those poofy skirts and lacy socks and black patent shoes. The little boys looked like their fathers.

And they all looked fresh. And cool. And all of them had just got up on Sunday morning and prepared for church in a camping tent.

The church meets in an army tent about the color and size of the tents in M*A*S*H. The side panels of the tent were rolled up to allow air to flow through. Early arrivers filled the chairs under the tent. As others arrived, chairs were placed on the outside end of the lines of chairs, resulting in worshippers sitting outside the tent, but clearly being part of the congregation. A church without walls can welcome anyone and everyone, even if they don't fit under the roof of the church.

I ended up sitting on the back row with the eight to ten year old boys. Some things are universal. We poked and gouged each other during the service. One of the boys sang the songs in a fake high voice, making fun of the lady singing too loudly at the front. All the boys had new Bibles and proudly found the scripture being read by the preacher, but then quickly began to flip through the rest of the book looking for something more interesting.

A church lady came to me and took me by the hand and demanded I move. It was like being back in Sunday School when the teacher had to separate you from your best friends. Anyway, she led me to the front of the sanctuary and had me sit in a chair where the preachers are supposed to sit. Seemed a bit odd, but I could see the service better, and I could not refuse her gracefully, so I sat down.

Then Reginald, a church leader sitting next to me, leaned over and said, "I will translate your message to the congregation."

More later. got to go work. Time is short.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

If it were just three times I could get some sleep . . .

The sun is coming up in Port au Prince. One would think that is the most obvious sign of the beginning of a new day. But for newcomers there is another. The roosters. They crow indiscriminately around the clock, but apparently that is just to keep their voices in good shape so that when the Creator taps on the horizon with his blazing baton they will be able to join the symphony without hesitation.

I haven't noticed any hesitation.

It is irritating when the cock crows.

It is irritating when the cock crows and light is shed on things that I don't want to see, things that I can deny in the dark.

But it happens every morning. Some of the roosters sound as if they have very little voice left. They strain with urgent call as if to say, "surely you will be able to hear us this time, surely you will not keep your eyes closed any longer."

It is getting more difficult to say I didn't know.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

No interpreter needed . . .

For the past few days I have spent all but a few hours in a relatively small area. The guest house where I sleep is a nice concrete block structure where work teams can stay and where artisans work at their crafts on the first floor.

Then about a half-mile up the road is the house where we have been doing some work. Not repair work, generally, but work to assist the ministry of the missionaries that live there. Among other things, we built a chicken coop from start to finish, including fencing in part of the small back yard. It is such a fine chicken coop that we already have several on a waiting list just to get in. No, not really. It was a fowl joke.

Anyway, we have walked that road now a million times, it seems like. So we have quickly come to know some of the folks in the neighborhood. For instance there's Edward. Edward is a small, upper middle age man who salvages scrap metal and makes it into useful things. Like bedsteads and flower pot holders and huge gates. Right there on the gravel and rut road. There are always younger men helping him, running a grinder or a torch. Edward enjoys helping us with our Creole. When we pass him we throw up our hand and yell "Bonjour." If it is close to noon he yells back, "No, bon soir," shoots us an ear to ear grin and laughs. Sure he is laughing at us, but in a good way, the way I would do if I were him. As it turns out, almost any Haitian is glad to help out with learning the language, and they really love hearing an American butcher it up good. Broad smiles and unrestrained laughing. No matter how tired or nasty I've been on my way home down that road, I always feel better after meeting a few folks like Edward on the way.

I wanted to write more but I am suddenly tired. We are going to church tomorrow, probably the one in the big tent that serves the tent city in our neighborhood. It starts at 7:00 a.m., ends about 11:00 a.m.

Better get some rest.


Sweet Home

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

But I am in Port au Prince, Haiti, on this particular Saturday morning. From where I am sitting on the sofa, drinking my coffee, looking out the window at the mountain that stretches up toward the summer hazy blue sky, it feels amazingly similar to a summer Saturday morning in Alabama.

But when I stand up, I see the difference. From the window the piles of concrete rubble that were formerly concrete blocks become visible, outlined by blue tarps and rows of tents, stretching for miles and miles all across the city, all across this part of the country. I don't like to imagine what will happen when the heavy rains of hurricane season come. The tent cities and the makeshift lean-to shelters use every bit of available open space. The paths that criss-cross these densely populated temporary suburbs are barren of vegetation. Just packed dirt that with a heavy rain will become a huge mess. And help does not seem to be on the way any time soon. There are an estimated 650,000 people still displaced. Most of them are back in Port au Prince, with no permanent shelter.

More on all that later.

Many Americans talk about how open, loving and inappropriately happy the Haitian people are, even now, after the earthquake, and how different that is from us. They often express that they wish we Americans could be more like the Haitians.

But for me it's different.

For me it's just another way it's sort of like Saturday morning in Alabama.


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