Monday, June 30, 2008

Final Notes from Port au Prince



well, kids, my time here is pretty well up. i leave the mountain tomorrow morning at 6 (gulp) to get to the airport by 7. a dozen plus hours later i will have gruelled my way home, if god wills it, as the saying goes. if on the other hand it is a normal cross-u.s. trip i will miss at least one connection and be back in a few days, ragged and worn but none the worse for wear.

the first week i was here, a few of us wandered down to visit bertine and some other people. as we scrambled down the hill to cross the stream we spied immanuel, a serene-looking man, father of the boy
s who started the youth intellectual and cultural development group, and mentor to that organization. he was standing patiently on the bank while his great black hog lay passionately happy in the cooling water, snurfling and lapping at it, grunting softly, flipping occasionally from side to side or rubbing his back against the bank, twitching his pleasured toes in the running stream.

a lot of people in this world, and more usually here than at home in canada, have not much interest in the contentme
nt of animals. it was lovely to see his affectionate smile as he regarded his pig--and of course to see the self-absorbed grin of the hog himself as he lolled.

i had thought in my final missive i would talk to you about restavèks, the children who are kept as unpaid and often badly treated domestics, a relic of the slave trade that is still extremely common in haiti.

or about the professors from a highly esteeme
d university and a well respected seminary who came to plan an exciting immersion program for seminary students with carla and ari next summer. (the program includes a face to face with youthful gang members from cite soleil, conversations with women victims of the last coup, discussion of the implications and repercussions of international adoptions, a visit with haitian seminarians, etc.. these on top of creole language classes and possible homestays, discussions of haitian history, foreign impacts on haiti, and local production vs the current import-based economy, as well as visits to the eighth wonder of the world--the Citadel of Henri Christophe, a beach hotel for downtime, and travels through the countryside to get a feel for haiti outside of the urban centers.)

or maybe, i thought, i would discuss some of the small, daily, local events of the last couple of weeks, or my trip to croix-des-bouquets to visit a world famous
metal sculptor and be blown away by his work. (that sounds more violent than the actual experience was for me. there were no explosions that i noticed.)

but i am feeling kind of quiet and peaceful today, a little sad because i am leaving, a little happy because i've once again had the am
azing privilege of being here, and a little anxious about stepping back into the rough, running river of events that will tow me back to vancouver and a stressful home situation, and a lot of work to be done in a short time. i am looking forward to the work itself, though, even if i am slightly daunted.

so today i think i will just tell you about a butterfly, a few books and films, and a pig, and be done with it till next time i come to haiti.

the pig i've already told you about. the books and films have helped shape my thinking while i've been here, giving me grist for the mill and laughs for the belly,

the books: All Souls Rising, by madison smartt bell, previously mentioned, about the revolution in haiti. excellent. Lydia Bailey, by kenneth roberts, from an american perspective, post-revolution, before the
french betrayal of toussaint louverture. fascinating but marred by racism. Morality for Beautiful Girls, by alexander mccall smith, a blithe departure from sombre themes, set in Gabarone. Their Eyes Were on God, moving and beautiful writing by zora neal hurston, about the flowering of the spirit of a poor black woman in the jim crow era, usa.

the films
: Life & Debt, about the economic destruction of jamaica at the hands of the world bank and imf. Tales of the Deep North, about the consciousness raising of descendants of the biggest slave-trading family in u.s. history. the Simpsons Movie, about uh, um... Zonbi, a greek documentary about the zonbi cult in haiti. Juno, a funny and serious movie (filmed in vancouver) about a pregnant teenage girl. Favela, a film about AfroReggae, the AMAZING group in rio who made it their mission to restore hope to their violent neighbourho
od through music. and last but not least, John Safran VS GOD. an exceedingly daring and hilarious venture into world religion, straight to us from australia. (chris and jen, you guys would LOVE this.) (JS vs G is a tv mini-series.)


finally, the butterfly.

i stood on the gallery of the guest house one afternoon looking over the choukoun, the thatch-roofed seating area downslope, and the grove of pines, figs, kashima and other trees that provide shade and beauty and a home for zandolits and parrots and six-legged friends.

the butterfly flitted by just below me, its impossible straight wings unusually shaped, like diffuse isoceles triangles joined at the base, black and yellow horizontal stripes like a football jersey. just one moment of that butterfly, juxtaposed against clusters of oval compound leaves and the frowning drip-tipped foliage of the weeping fig, tracing a languid, indirect, apparently purposeless path before disappearing from sight.

i love this land. i love looking up at the pale edge of the galaxy at night, the sparks of stars and the still blackness between them. i love the breezes that wind through the hills, lifting the sweat off my skin and raising a few hairs gently, and lett
ing them rest again. i love the people i meet on the path whose solemn troubled faces mellow into wide, kind smiles seven times out of ten, and i love the ones whose faces do not soften when they look at me, and never will. i love the old woman washing her breasts beside the stream, her neighbour dancing jokingly with friends beneath a giant fig-tree. i love the donkey who was so offended when someone tried to mount him that he screamed and lay down on his side, the children who came to sing me happy birthday, the man who laughed when i bought a Toro drink from him because it is known to make men more powerful in bed.

i don't know what will become of haiti. a missionary in limbe was known to say that haiti is not a backward country--it's ahead of the rest of the world. whatever is going wrong here now will be happening everywhere in times to come. and he is right. in the meantime people are suffering in ways many of us can't even imagine, and creating in ways most first world people have long forgotten, and working with patience and diligence that wipes me out just watching it.

i'm offering no great conclusions here. just a postcard from a pocket of our world that is so different from, and so exactly the same as, every other part.


sweet blessings, and thanks for being with me on the journey.


1 comment:

C. June Wolf said...

amazing Haiti notes... I tried to leave a comment but it didn't seem
to work. so I'm emailing... thanks for taking me along on bits of
your trip.

psim.