Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bienvenue a Port-au-Prince

Port-au-Prince: crumbling, colorful, hot, noisy (doesn't begin to cover it!), alive, trashed, utterly unlike anywhere I have been or imagined. Hope and despair collide here, I think.

I had imagined that the crumbling concrete, glassless windows, trash everywhere, and cobbled-together structures would be what they are - but not everywhere. I had imagined that there would be a section that looked more like what I tend to imagine as a city, if poor. If there is such a section, I haven't seen it yet. Holy Trinity Cathedral (the Episcopal one) and the convent are blocks from the National Palace and from the enormous Roman Catholic cathedral, so I am where I thought such a section might be. I hear there is a rich section of the suburbs - I doubt I will go there.

* * *

I arrived yesterday afternoon. The flight parked far away from the building, and we walked through the sprinkles (not quite rain) that already felt good in the heat. I was soaked by the time I got through customs. Not by rain. It's a little warm here!

Customs was not thorough, but it did take time: when I finally got to the front of the line, I was asked for a form I didn't have and sent somewhere else. No signs anywhere suggesting that there might be a form or a first stop - needless to say, I wasn't the only one heading back for the form.

When I got to the front of that line, there were no more forms for foreigners. Shrugs all around. Fill out one for Haitians and just make do. It didn't seem to be at all problematic when I got back to the front of the original line.

My suitcases were among the last out, so when I finally made it out to the sidewalk, the sisters had been waiting, peering in, for quite some time. We drove back to the convent through narrow, crowded streets, past roaming pigs, open air markets, and the huge cathedral. No stoplights that I can see - you just get through the intersections as best you can, moving around people and vehicles as you go.

I will write later about the convent, but a few words: open air, concrete slats, lots of green and flowering bushes. Buildings all very close together (cathedral, school, others), with lots of grillwork and gates. I have one of the few rooms with screens; otherwise, it's all open. You walk out on the porch to get to the bathroom, which is open at the top (early morning bathroom challenge: remember to use your bottled water for toothbrushing - do NOT rinse it from the faucet!). I may smell permanently of bug spray on my return, but I can tell you that fewer wall openings would be a big mistake in this heat.

* * *

Today the roosters started up conveniently at 5:15. I don't think I have ever heard one before! I went to the 6AM Eucharist at the cathedral, followed by Morning Prayer, breakfast and conference back at the convent. I spent the morning visiting Holy Trinity School (more on that later) and St. Vincent's School. Noon office, lunch, various business of sorts, then a collapse on my bed, melting right into it, I think. Prayer time. Evening Prayer, supper (with conversation, rather than a silent meal), Compline, and now computer time before doing some washing. I think this will be the shape of my days when I am at the convent. When I go off to the parish, out of town, it will be completely different.

In the days to come, I'd like to write about the architecture, the tap-taps (colorful public transport vans), and most certainly about the schools.

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