By Mary Jane Buchanan
All Saints Outreach Committee
Editor's Note: All Saints Outreach Committee members Mary Jane Buchanan and Syd Walker traveled to St. Cyprien, Haiti, from May 22 to May 29 to deliver funds for the ongoing construction of an Episcopal school which was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. They also traveled with and set up a manually-operated sewing machine which will help members of the community to raise funds as they create and sell uniforms required for school. This is an ongoing relationship between our parish and the people of Haiti which is the current "Focus Project" Outreach effort. The following is a first-hand account of this trip.
Haiti is vivid. All the senses are excited by Haiti. The warm, humid air has the mystery of far away places, the food sensuous and earthy, landscapes dizzy with color and, best of all, the voices of Creole, a soft percussion of words and rhythm.
The people are possessed of great personal dignity. Perhaps, the tradition of carrying bundles atop the head has imbedded a genetic memory in Haitians of impeccable posture. There is an aspect of modesty in dress and manner that defies both arrogance and servility.
The first person we meet at the airport is Sonson, our go-to person in Port-Au-Prince. Serena Beeks, our volunteer guide and experienced Haiti traveler, had arranged for him to meet us. At first, his role was confusing. But as we made our way through a funnel of red-shirted bag handlers that moved us from man to man, father to son, friend to friend, Sonson negotiated tips earned and deflects unneeded assistance from ambitious, self-appointed porters. Our 4-wheel drive vehicle was at the ready when we exited customs.
Dropping off Sonson with much gratitude, $20 and a new soccer ball, we drive through what feels like the center of Port-Au-Prince. Everywhere people are busy in the street selling mangos, plantain chips, loaves of bread sweet with star anise, shoes, piles of shoes, live crabs wrapped in palm spears, sugar cane, charcoal, water, Coca- Cola-no-Pepsi, Haitian sweet tea in pocket pints, and children, school children in uniform, two and three sitting behind a parent on the back of a motorcycle, waiting for the tap-tap, girls talking, boys teasing, and people moving, moving, moving. We took very few pictures while driving through Port-Au-Prince: It seemed to be an extremely rude thing to do. People living on the street in houses made of tarp, sticks and cast off sheet metal deserve privacy too.
We leave Port-Au-Prince along the Windward Passage side of the island over the mountains to the southern shore into Jacmel and the Hotel Kabic Beach Club for our first night. Most of Haiti is rural and mountainous. Corn is hand planted and tended in a patchwork of plots dispersed between clusters of banana and mango trees on steep hillsides. Small goats, donkeys and an infrequent cow are seen tethered along the road. Everybody walks everywhere. Motorcycles are the second most common way to get around. The sight of four men convincing a rather large and angry hog to remain tied to the rear seat of a motorbike was a committed endeavor we will never forget, and second only to the felling of a palm tree with a machete, a rope and 10 men friends.
After a restful night in "Villa Up" at Hotel Kabic Beach Club and breakfast of coffee black, peanut butter, honey, toast and eggs, we meet Pere Wildane who is the Episcopal priest administrating the schools and churches of Jacmel. Pere Wildane is young, about 26, energetic, passionate and prophetic. He lives next to the church in Jacmel with his brother and sister who help with maintenance and housekeeping. We visit the church that looks like a barn by the field where Pere Wildane's vision of a school is detailed and exact, but for which he has no idea where the funds to build will come.
His cheerful demeanor does not hide concern in his eyes. Most of the teacher salaries come from a private education fund whose benefactor and trustee recently passed, leaving the continued existence of the foundation in jeopardy. Pere Wildane desperately wants a partnership that does not seek control, but gives based on trust, respect and love. Relationships made on these three principles are rare anywhere in Haiti and yet deeply treasured.
We briefly tour another school administered by Pere Wildane built before the earthquake. The entire structure including the roof is made of cracked cement bricks and crumbling mortar. Heavy wood beams support the interior spaces.
It is deeply disturbing to think of the possible consequences of another quake.
But, it is the children that leave us breathless: Beautiful, shy, curious, silly, aloof, sweet, bold and silent. An iPhone video of a life size mechanical dinosaur taken at FAO Schwartz in New York last Christmas at that moment was your Outreach Team's greatest asset. Everybody loves dinosaurs.
We host Pere Wildane to lunch at a hotel above Jacmel. Down on the beach, fishermen prepare their boat for launch gather, fold, spreading their net.
Lunch is exquisite. Fresh fish poached and panfried with onions, seasoning, no sauce, colorful and tender. Plantain peeled, cut, boiled, pressed and fried served with a pepper chili cabbage slaw, the coolness of the chili cabbage moistening the crisp heat of the banana. Peanut butter in small cups is ever present with sliced white bread at the table.
We deliver Pere Wildane back to the church. It is with affection that he says goodbye, reminding us one more time that he prays for a partnership like the one we share with St. Cyrien. As we rumble down the rain rutted street to the art shops of Jacmel, the potential for the miraculous from the humble is apparent everywhere.
To be continued ~ The Road to St. Cyprien ~ Bainet and Beyond