Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hospital Issues for L.

One of the elderly ladies at the Foyer fell yesterday. She likely had a stroke. In any case, she is in the hospital, in the urgent care section (I'm unclear if this is ER or ICU). In the conversations that have ensued, I've learned a few things about the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

- You might just wind up sitting on the floor with your IV pole next to you because there are not enough beds.

- You might end up sharing a bed, with heads at opposite ends.

- You bring your own sheets, among other things. I *think* you bring your own food and buy your own medicine. "You just bring everything," I was told when I asked for further clarification.

- You do not wait to be given a bed. You grab the first one you see open up, or you will never get one. I don't believe there are private rooms, so this makes the scouting a little clearer. A kind gentleman grabbed one for L. after one of the sisters missed another bed right in front of her while waiting for L. to be assigned properly by a doctor.

The sister in charge of the Foyer has been over to spend time with her, but I have not yet visited. I may be able to tomorrow, in which case I may add to this post or correct it. Whatever the situation is, it isn't good.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rural Transportation


Tap-taps are public transportation in Haiti. Of all shapes and sizes, they have regular routes but are individually owned rather than existing as part of a city-wide system. Most are pickups or small flatbed trucks with a roof and fairly open sides, but I have seen a few former US schoolbuses partially repainted and put to use.

Tap-taps are brightly painted in many colors, almost always with slogans on the front and sides in capital letters. Most of these are religious, and quite a number of them are in English. I've seen "THANK YOU JESUS" and "LOVE" several times. At some point later I'll write an entry with a list of them.

Banane Bouillie or Boullie de Banane?

Yesterday I was told we were having banane bouillie for breakfast, and I thought, Wonderful!

It turned out to be boiled plaintain with liver and onion sauce.

Today we had bouillie de banane - which turned out to be pretty much the same thing we had had at the convent, only done in a blender.

Ah, terminology...

Yummy recipe for bouillie de banane (which is not boiled plaintain with liver and onion!) may be found here:

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I had finally located the rooster who was my morning alarm clock... and he stopped crowing. I wondered why I hadn't heard him. Then we had a lovely chicken dinner after church. Oh.

La Bouillie Banane

It’s a dinner entrée! It’s a hot breakfast dish! It’s a dessert! It’s good!

Cinnamon (sticks/bark if possible)

Peel, grate, and boil the plantain with the cinnamon stick till soft. Drain. Pour in milk and simmer with sugar and cinnamon till it is the consistency of pudding, or a little runnier; stir regularly. You can add your powdered cinnamon at this point if you don’t have the sticks to add earlier. Serve hot. Some like it cold as well; I can't comment on that yet.

Recipe thanks to Sr. Marie Thérèse, SSM

Sunday at Holy Trinity Cathedral

Today we went to Holy Trinity Cathedral for the 9AM Eucharist, the third of three for the day. There was a respectable crowd, though I couldn’t begin to estimate numbers; all very dressy. I wonder if all the services are like that, or if some are more casual. I will have to ask at some point.

The cathedral itself is Romanesque, constructed of beige bricks on the outside and on the inside pillars, arches, and details. The inside walls are primarily white. In front, the walls of the sanctuary behind the altars (the primary altar and the two side chapels) are covered in brightly painted murals depicting biblical scenes. The best known is the one of the wedding in Cana. I will try to post photos later this summer; obviously it was not the best time to take pictures. The altar area is decorated with large potted palms.

The action of the liturgy is Anglo-Catholic in style. Lots of incense. Three priests concelebrating, including the Rev. Fernande Pierre Louis, the first woman priest in the Diocese of Haiti. Seventeen in the altar party (the three priests plus fourteen of various ages in red cassocks and white surplices). The most precise processions and reverencing of the altar I have seen in years. Their torches are very interesting: a sort of candle-in-a-lantern hanging from a pole held at an angle; the processional cross is also held at an angle. This Sunday was Children's Sunday, and even the children reading the lessons and taking up the offering were precise.

The music, on the other hand, is ecletic. The prayers are chanted, while the hymns, accompanied by an organ, are more Baptist in style, or maybe Salvation Army – at least in terms of the content of the words. I heard the choirs practicing all afternoon for the Trinity Sunday celebration (their patronal festival) in two weeks; the bishop has asked that I be back in Port-au-Prince for the celebration, so I will hear them at that time (officially, that is).

There is no altar rail. Instead, at communion there are four standing stations. The chalices are divided - half wine, half wafers – and the priest or Eucharistic Minister (I was in Sr. Marie Margaret’s line) dips the wafer in the wine and sticks it right in your mouth. I gather that this is the older way of receiving communion by intinction (that is, if you do not drink directly from the chalice) and that this is the usual way it is done in Haiti.

One thing I liked and found interesting was that they did the announcements at the end, rather than in the middle, following the blessing but before the final hymn and dismissal. It made for a nice flow of the service. The whole thing was rather longer than I am used to: an hour and a half through to the blessing, then another twenty minutes including the announcements, hymn, and dismissal. And while my attention did wander a bit as I was trying to focus on a sermon in Creole (he did break into French here and there, mercifully for me), the service never dragged, and it did not seem unreasonably long. And this was just a regular Sunday! I look forward to Trinity Sunday: it will be quite a worship experience.

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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Liturgical Linguistic Workouts

This morning we went to the Eucharist at the Seminary. We arrived, French language prayer books and hymnals in hand, to discover that today's service was in Spanish. That's the fourth language I've used today. Apparently the seminarians are required to learn to preside at the Eucharist in French, Haitian Creole, Spanish, and English, so they rotate through the languages at the services. Very impressive!

The seminarians wear white cassocks with black sashes (for which I am sure there is a proper name...) to all services. Very sharp. I met the seminarian, Margarette, one of two women in the process here, who works weekends at the parish where I will be placed as of Monday. She seems very nice.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension Day

Today we went to the Parish of the Ascension in Thor, Carrefour, for their patronal festival. The bishop was there for baptisms, confirmation, receptions, and formal renewals of baptismal vows, and of course he preached as well, beginning in French and switching to Haitian Creole. I got the gist of much of the latter part, I think, but 25 minutes is a long time to concentrate with limited language skills.

There were eight priests, all of whom concelebrated: I'd never seen that before in an Episcopal Church. It was quite something. Twenty-five in the altar party.

Music was an integral part of the service. There were seven hymns (officially, that is - we sang others as well), a number of choral pieces, and sung prayers. Hymns were accompanied by electric guitars and drums - except when the power went out briefly, and then we just kept singing, full voice, full volume, a capella. The Sanctus, on the other hand, sounded like a sixteenth century motet and was in Latin, beautifully sung by the choir of around thirty-five. The most interesting part for me, musically, although not the most beautiful of the selections, was the chanting of the Prayers of the People with the electric guitar improvising relatively quietly underneath the chant. Because it was such a big occasion, they had printed service booklets with the words to the hymns in them, so I was able to sing along even in Creole, at least until they started other hymns when the ones listed were over! It was all very enthusiastically sung, the sort of thing for the most part that makes you nearly start to dance.

One of the most interesting parts was the offering. Along with the usual elements of bread and wine and the monetary collection, people brought up other gifts. There was an enormous basket of fruit that took two people to carry, a large floral arrangement, and a beautiful wooden bowl. One man brought an enormous bunch of green bananas. Sr. Marie Therese tells me that another man had a live chicken, but I missed that (too short to see everything). When I expressed my amazement and delight at the procession of gifts to her later, she said, oh, that was nothing - once in Canges, the procession took two hours, and even the goats came in; apparently the cow was the only thing left outside.

The children being confirmed were beautifully dressed in white. One of the sisters explained to me that confirmation is a huge deal, one of the few life occasions for which one goes all out to dress up no matter what your financial situation. The other children from the school were all there in their uniforms, and the church was packed with adults as well.

In fact, it was such a big deal that the local news videographer was there along with some others from the press and a local dignitary. Afterwards, someone from a local organization got up to thank the bishop for his help with local reforestation efforts. I couldn't quite catch the details (it was in Creole), but it sounded like quite a lot had been done in that area and that the parish had been a major part of that. Good to hear. There was also some announcement about the acolytes' soccer tournament with a trophy given out, and I never did figure out whether the plaques given out and blessed by the bishop were about the soccer or for service as acolytes.

The service was followed by a reception in various rooms of the school. I had rice, goat, plantain, banana soda pop (very yellow, very sweet), and some sort of pasta casserole. A sister said, "You're eating macaroni?" I'd been warned against eating macaroni salad and things with mayonnaise or fresh vegetables, but I had thought a casserole was safe and another American sister was eating lasagne... but so far I'm not sick! I did eat a precautionary Pepto pill with my meal, which may have helped. Wish me luck on this...

It was raining by the time we left, and everyone was crowded into the halls and under the eaves of the school to keep from getting wet; those who hadn't gotten chairs in the rooms with the food had taken theirs into the nave, which was much cooler by then, fortunately.

It was by far the most lively and musical Ascension Day service I've ever been to by many, many times. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to worship with them.

* * *

I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish Sr. Mary Michael a blessed 50th anniversary of profession. She had a big golden jubilee celebration in Boston. I couldn't be there, but I hope she knows my love and prayers were and are with her!

Colorful Haiti

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eau de Moustiques

The latest scent for people in the know. *
Don't leave home without it!**

*Otherwise known as Deep Woods Off.
**Trust me on this one. I speak from experience.

Flat Stanley Visits the Convent in Port-au-Prince

Flat Stanley at the front entrance to the convent

Flat Stanley, SSM Port-au-Prince convent porch

Flat Stanley welcomes you into the courtyard behind the chapel.
In the third photo, that is the Palais National in the background - a view from the upstairs porch.

If you are not familiar with Flat Stanley, you may be soon if you know any first graders. He was flattened by a bulletin board that fell on him, and now his parents send him off on vacation. This one is from the son of a friend from high school. The last set I did (for those who know me and remember) was for my niece. Look it up on Amazon! It's fun.

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.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

hamsters or loaves and fishes?

Having now survived final papers for the semester, I’ve been tearing around (most unmonastically) getting packed. What am I forgetting?!

Mosquito net, check.
Bug spray and sunscreen, check.
Pepto pills and malaria meds, check.
Summer habits and cargo pants, check.
Some idea of what I’ll be doing once I get there, not so much.

Into the fray comes this evening’s Gospel reading at Solemn Vespers: Luke 9:1-17.

“Jesus said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.” (9:3)

All this and the multiplication of the loaves and fishes too.

Time to stop running around like a hamster on a wheel and breathe in God’s peace as I go.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Welcome to Sr. Sarah's Excellent Adventure! I'm heading to Haiti Monday morning, and I'm planning to use this blog to keep in touch with family and friends back home.

My time in Haiti will be spent working in a rural parish. I don't yet know what I'll be doing there: an excellent adventure it will be! I hope to get back to the convent in Port-au-Prince semi-regularly to check in and update my blog.

I'm a seminarian at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge and a life professed Sister of St. Margaret. This summer in Haiti is part of my training as I study to become a priest (God and the Diocese willing).

I look forward to sharing my adventures with you in the weeks and months ahead.