Regards, le pays – 01/19/14

Today began at 4:30 when we woke up to go to church in Pacasse. Pacasse is another rural location where Père Noé wants to build a bigger church building and a school.  It took us two hours to get there. I’m not trying to be a pansy, but I really thought we were going to die. We took a pick-up truck that was manufactured in 1950, and fit 6 people in the cab, and had the entire St. André’s women’s church choir (Espérance Divine) piled on benches in the bed of the truck. Also, when I looked over at the speedometer, I discovered that it was broken. I guess that’s information you don’t need to have when you’re not driving on a road and there’s no speed limit. The only times I really got scared was when the shifter got stuck on steep upgrades, when the headlights kept going out, and when we were going about 50 miles per hour around gravelly sharp curves. I have never lived so much in a moment.

On the road, we saw people walking with machetes (to cut sugar cane), and many people in their church clothes. Church is the main event of the week in Haiti. As we discovered, some people had walked four hours to get to Pacasse. The faithfulness of Haitian parishioners across the board is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I think their heavenly reward will be great.

Today’s service featured Father Roger Bowen, an Episcopal priest who has been coming to Haiti for over 30 years, and is a close friend of Père Noé. He travelled to Hinche with several staff from Trinity Episcopal School in Miami, Florida. They spent two nights in Pacasse, sleeping in the car. Our group was originally supposed to meet them on Saturday and spend the night, but Père Noé got a flat tire, and we had to go up in the morning. We consider this flat tire to be a bit of a blessing in disguise, especially after seeing the morning faces of the Miami group.

We learned about a little boy named Oginel. He is eight years old, and doesn’t live with his family. His father is a voodoo priest, and has many different wives. Oginel mother would beat him, and he never got enough to eat. So, he ran away and lived on the street. He would go to a hospital to get food when he could. Oginel is smart as a whip, and can speak some French and a little bit of English. He made it to the Saturday evening service in Pacasse, where one of the Miami team members adopted him (meaning will send money to support him – for food, clothing and school). Père Noé found a home for him to stay until March, when his American dad will come back for him and take him to the US.

Oginel really likes taking pictures. He took me and Marie to a couple of hills where we could see everything. When a perfect panorama was in sight, he told me, “Regards – le pays.” I looked around, and that’s exactly what I saw. Sometimes when people look at Haiti, all they see is poverty. While Pacasse is one of the poorest places I’ve ever seen, I can’t write it off as just another small Haitian village with hungry people and sick children.  It is breath-taking, the people are beautiful, and everything is so full of life. There is a lot of potential in Pacasse, and I see Père Noé’s work there as an investment, not a hand-out. As I was reflecting, Oginel took Marie’s and my cameras and didn’t give them back for a very long time. When I got my camera back, I had struck an ethnographic goldmine. Oginel had gotten pictures of every passer-by, what Antoinette was cooking for lunch, his friends riding a donkey, an angry cow, a baby, and a lot of adorable selfies.

There was a celebration today because it was the day of St. Peter’s confession (two Sunday’s after Epiphany). Many choral groups from various churches (even Loranette) came to perform. There was even a brass band that led us in a procession Everyone was dressed in their best. The room smelled like baby powder, incense, and hot people. The service was about 2.5 hours long.

Antoinette killed a chicken today. We ate it for lunch. She’s a professional. Marie watched her, and didn’t run away. Champ.

After lunch, we made our way back to Hinche. Marie and I sat in the back of Père Noé’s truck, and got a sunburn. All of the pictures from today have a particular glow about them.

We had told all of our students (ESL and Teacher Workshop alike) that the certificate ceremony would start at 5:30 pm, right before evening Mass as per Père Noé’s instructions. However, we soon discovered that we would be having the ceremony after the service. The sermon this evening was about the responsibility of knowledge and the empowerment of the youth. The youth are the ones that will change the country. At around 7:30, we began distributing certificates. I said some words before the distribution, and then three students came up and gave speeches to us, about what they learned and to say thank you. At one point during the ESL classes, one of my students asked me if I had a nickname. I said that my close friends call me Hales. When he thanked us, he thanked Marie, Gregory and Hales.

Gregory introduced the honorable mentions, and Marie gave a speech for the teachers. I hope I can type it up for all of you to see at some point. Then, Evens, Marc and Shester all gave speeches as well. This was originally supposed to be a time for them to present their exposé’s and for us to grade them as a kind of summative assessment. This didn’t work out at all. Afterwards, we hung out and took pictures with a lot of people.

It was raining during of all of this. Cats and dogs, it sounded like. For me, it always rains on goodbye days. Even though we’re still in Hinche until Wednesday, this ceremony marks the closing of a chapter. To prolong the closing, we went to the Baldé’s to get a Prestige. It tastes just as good in the rain.