Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Foyer Notre Dame

Yesterday I went to the Foyer Notre Dame for the first time, a home the Sisters run for indigent elderly women. At the moment there are eight residents. There are also several employees who live there, along with an orphan girl who attends the school next door. The sisters moved into the storage rooms a few years ago during a period of violence, converting them into a temporary convent, but now that it has settled down, they are back in the main convent behind the cathedral.

The multi-level house is built around a long central courtyard. A sapotilla tree is growing right through the porch roof (see photos). It’s the end of the season, but there is still fruit on the tree. The ones within reach are not yet ripe, though the ones above are; I am hoping to try one sometime this weekend, as I have been told they are very good.

Recently a guest apartment was constructed on the site, as there are often visitors to Port-au-Prince, volunteers who need housing but who do not wish to stay at one of the pricey hotels downtown. Sr. Marie Therese gave me the tour (see photo of SMT unlocking its front gate). It’s quite nice!

One current issue at the Foyer is the well. Sr. Marie Margaret has been consulting with engineers this week because the water is coming up with sediment in it. We are hoping it is not a leak in the pipe below ground; it is definitely more than just a filter problem. Nevertheless, it is good to have it, period: before that, they drove water over from the convent (which was a real issue during times of violence when you really didn’t want to be out some days). Imagine not having enough water to wash up an elderly lady who has an accident… They were so grateful to get a grant to dig the well a few years back.

At the Foyer, there are two large dormitories with the beds in them. I wondered about the privacy issue, as I know I would find that hard. Sr. Marjorie Raphael explained to me that at the previous location everyone had had a private room, and the ladies, who had never been alone in their lives, found it very upsetting. The Sisters finally had to cut holes for windows in the walls between the rooms so the residents could see each other. When the Foyer moved to its current location, they made the large dorms in order to make the ladies more comfortable. This never would have occurred to me. Just goes to show that cultural assumptions are always there. It’s also interesting in such situations to realize that the Golden Rule only goes so far: do unto others as I would have done unto me only works if the others actually want the same thing I want.


  1. That's such an excellent point that the Golden Rule only goes so far when what other people want is radically different from what your own preferences are.

    However, I guess another way to look at it is the first step in doing unto others as you would have them do unto is making the effort to get to know others well enough to have some idea of their wants and needs. It just takes a lot more effort in some situations than others.

  2. AnonymousMay 30, 2009

    I like the rewritten rule.... definitely makes you think!