Monday, May 21, 2012

last days of preparation

The consecration is almost here!
before the 9AM Sunday Eucharist at the Cathedrale Ste Trinite, Port-au-Prince
semi-temporary worship space under construction
storing the cement for the construction in the carport of the convent on the cathedral grounds
The convent didn't make it through the earthquake, but the carport did and is in daily use.
time to polish the thurible!

gathering for the rehearsal for the consecration

beginning to decorate for tomorrow

Thursday, May 17, 2012

celebrating May 18

Haitian flag flying over the Parc de la Canne a Sucre
Tomorrow, May 18, is Flag Day in Haiti. 

Three years ago tomorrow, I arrive for the first time in Haiti. One of the sisters explained the holiday to me as we drove away from the airport past the rows of fluttering flags. 

That was a ride that marked a change in my life and in me.  It's impossible to come to Haiti without being changed as a result.  I have a lot of changing to do yet - and always will - but I'm pretty sure May 18 will always be one of those dates worth marking as a turning point.

Tomorrow, give thanks for Haiti.

seeking boots


Ki kote krab arenyen an?
Where is it?
Is it dead?
Do you know what this is? 

This is someone looking to see if the tarantula on which Sister just threw Clorox is dead.  Unfortunately, this is not someone finding the answer.

Ba'm di'w: Combat boots. I'm telling you.

I should have another photo of a staff member laughing at me as I informed them that if that thing came into my room, I was on the next plane to Boston. 

Chere Soeur, she said, it can't come into your room. It can't get under the door. And there is nowhere in there for it to hide.

So I named a few places.

More laughter.

Chere Soeur, they only come out at night.

Good, I said.  I will get in bed under my mosquito net before dark and not get out till midmorning. 

Chere  Soeur, it has to be dead.  She threw Clorox on it.

Good. I hope it doesn't have family.

No, chere Soeur, it has no family at all. And if it does, they're outside by the trash.

Where they need to stay, I said. They are not welcome here.  (In this case, the Episcopal Church does not welcome you.)  Have I mentioned that I take out the trash after doing the supper dishes?  If I put my bug spray on a carabiner hook from my belt... hmmm...

So - mes cheres Soeurs in Boston, if the doorbell rings about 3AM, you will know who it is.  Meanwhile, I'm going to go look for some combat boots.  And my camera, of course.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

meditating on moustiquaires


moustique from Darbonne, Leogane, Haiti 2009
Yes, I really did take a picture of a mosquito.

Moustiquaire:  not to be confused with Musketeer or Mouseketeer

pastel mosquito nets for sale in downtown Port-au-Prince
I believe my choices in the US were black and standard tent green. Clearly someone here has recognized a real opportunity in a certain niche of  the moustiquaire market.

Every night when I climb under my mosquito net tent, I give thanks. And then sometimes I think, "Where is the cupholder in this thing?"  Ice water is a must in the heat. Some enterprising soul with extraordinary engineering and sewing skills will certainly figure out a way to put in a water bottle pocket without ripping it.  Think of the possibilities.

Which I have been doing.

If I'm back here next year, I may have to see about sewing myself a mosquito net poncho or hoodie so I can go outside at night to enjoy the breeze and the stars without getting eaten alive.  It can be so beautiful at night.  When there is no power on a clear night, you can see the satellites.

Ben's Eau de Moustique, my perfume of preference

Now that they make pastel nets, just think, I might have to make sartorial decisions.  Or, as with my mosquito net, I could just go with a basic black.  Add a strand of pearls along with my Eau de Moustique, and I'll be all set for a night out.

Monday, May 14, 2012

today's progress

We stopped by Holy Trinity Cathedral today while out doing errands, and I got to watch some of the construction.  We had to pick our way over the piles of rock and around patches of wet concrete when we came in because the car gate is to the left and everything else is to the right. 

mixing concrete for the new interim worship space at the Cathedrale Sainte Trinite, Port-au-Prince
 One group was finishing up the floor of the raised area in front, while another group was working up in the rafters.

finishing up the concrete floor of the sanctuary

That welder must be hot. It is not a cool day in Port-au-Prince.
I also enjoyed seeing the music students from Holy Trinity School.  The cathedral's grade school and music school hold classes on this campus, and this seemed to be a cross-over group. The children gathered under the pavilion, sat in the pews, and then broke up into groups by instrument.  I think they were enjoying the construction underway as much as I was, but they were clearly enjoying each other's company even more.

Holy Trinity School music students
construction in progress on the temporary cathedral space
 Hard to believe the consecration is so close at hand!  I'm really looking forward to it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Hmph.  And it's only May.

At least we supposedly have no weather tonight.  Or at least not weather which is applicable.


janitor and classics scholar

I just read an article I hope will be widely shared:  Ivy League school janitor graduates with honors

Gac Filipaj is the kind of person who really impresses me.  He would be worth knowing - and what an interesting person he must be with such a varied background.  A longer version of his story would be a good read.

It might also inspire some who fear that the education they hope for is out of reach.  I think of people both in the US and here in Haiti who have a long, hard road ahead of them if they hope to stay in school.  One or two classes at a time means a great many years even when tuition can be found.  I think of people I know in the US who would like to go to college or to return after many years away.  I think of mothers with small children studying amidst chaos or in the wee hours, late at night or pre-dawn. I think of others I know here in Haiti who got a late start and are in grade school or middle school as adults.  They, too, impress me.

As an aside, I'm also glad to see that Columbia offers classics to its non-tradional cohort as well.  I remember looking up philosophy and religion degrees available to part-time non-traditional students and discovering that, even in Boston, such things were nearly impossible to find.   I remember hearing about difficulties in the sciences, also, from one in a similar situation.  I wonder if the universities here are as flexibly organized as the grade schools and high schools seem to be in terms of older students.

 An excerpt from the article linked above:

 NEW YORK — For years, Gac Filipaj mopped floors, cleaned toilets and took out trash at Columbia University.

A refugee from war-torn Yugoslavia, he eked out a living working for the Ivy League school. But Sunday was payback time: The 52-year-old janitor donned a cap and gown to graduate with a bachelor's degree in classics.

As a Columbia employee, he didn't have to pay for the classes he took. His favorite subject was the Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca, the janitor said during a break from his work at Lerner Hall, the student union building he cleans.

"I love Seneca's letters because they're written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family — not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life," he said.

...he cheerfully described encounters with surprised younger students who wonder why their classmate is cleaning up after them.

"They say, 'Aren't you...?'" he said with a grin.

His ambition is to get a master's degree, maybe even a Ph.D., in Roman and Greek classics. Someday, he hopes to become a teacher, while translating his favorite classics into Albanian.

For now, he's trying to get "a better job," maybe as supervisor of custodians or something similar, at Columbia if possible.

Just imagine if we all had Mr. Filipaj's tenacity, humility, work ethic, and thirst for learning for its own sake... What would the world be like?

Some fine university needs to give this man a full scholarship for graduate work. They can't do better. 

pouring concrete today

before Sunday morning Eucharist
Cathedrale Ste Trinite
short-term worship space under construction
Last week I posted something about the new temporary building that is going up in the former cathedral parking lot (  La Cathedrale Sainte Trinite congregation and the Orchestre Philharmonique Sainte Trinite will have a new home for the next few years while the cathedral and schools are under construction.  The big push this week, of course, is for the upcoming consecration. 

When we arrived at church this morning, we could see how much they had accomplished over the last week.  Today's project seems to be the completion of the altar area (sanctuary).  I thought you might enjoy seeing the current stage of construction. 

The raised area for the altar is now filled in with rubble and ready for the cement. Here they are starting work after the Eucharist today - time is getting short!

They mixed the cement in the old convent yard next door. Here they are carrying it into the work area in buckets.

cement-pouring assembly line

pouring concrete for the altar area

Happy Mother's Day

Merci, Manman - Thank you, Mom.
I love you, Mom! Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, May 7, 2012


So remember I said something about being cautious while taking out the trash?

Tonight I took out the trash as usual.  There was an enormous snail, looking for all the world just like the ones in the drawings that I never have seen in real life. I don't think we have snails that big at home. Naturally, I went in to get my camera. (-:

I just downloaded the photos - one last thing to do before bed.

Do you see what I see?  Behind the snail in the space under the wall?  Waaaaay too close to me?

I took photos of a huge snail tonight.
Look to the right, under the wall.
Have I mentioned that I don't like tarantulas?

I need a teddy bear and some combat boots.    And an oversized can of Raid.

Paul Farmer at Yale Div

An article for you about Paul Farmer's recent talk at Yale Divinity School:
Doctor teaches a divinity school about corporal works of mercy
Paul Farmer's organization does amazing work in Haiti.
An excerpt from the article:

According to Tracy Kidder's biography of Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, Farmer's interest in Haiti was inspired by a Belgian nun, Sr. Julianna DeWolf, who was working with the United Farm Workers not far from the Duke campus.

"Through Sister Juliana, he came to know many farm workers, including a number of Haitian migrants," Kidder writes. "Farmer was fascinated by their stories and began to learn everything he could about Haiti, studying the Creole language, interviewing migrant workers and reading scores of books about the island nation's tragic history."

Farmer took these lessons with him as a first-year medical student in Haiti.

"I never understood why it was important to think about the corporal works of mercy until I went to Haiti," he told the crowd.

But it was a lack of mercy that first motivated Farmer. In his first assignment in Haiti, he witnessed poor people paying for inadequate care and ineffective medicines.

"It was a total nightmare," Farmer said. "I didn't even know how to talk about it."

In 1983, Farmer traveled to another part of Haiti called Cange, where the construction of a dam had forced residents to settle on a barren hillside. The site was notorious for its high levels of illness and death. It became one of Farmer's greatest teachers.

"The best place you could ever start to work in public health is in a squatters' settlement of landless peasants," he said.

By 1985, Farmer helped to establish Clinique Bon Sauveur in Cange. What began as a two-room facility developed, room by room, into a full-fledged hospital. The clinic came at a crucial moment. By 1986, AIDS began to emerge in the Haitian slums.

By treating his Haitian patients, Farmer became an expert in drug-resistant tuberculosis. His knowledge led him to the prisons of Siberia, where doctors were overwhelmed with inmates afflicted by TB. "Visit the prisoners" is one of the corporal works of mercy that taught Farmer one of his most important medical lessons.

Farmer noted that his method of learning medicine paralleled the ideas of Gustavo Gutierrez, the liberation theologian he befriended while working with the sick in Peru. Gutierrez taught Farmer that learning theology should "lead you into the slums and squatter settlements and prisons and back waters."

..."I learned a lot about the corporal works of mercy in Haiti, but I believe these lessons are applicable in the U.S. In the shadows of the great teaching hospitals like Harvard, you'll find people living in poverty," Farmer said. "You always find that diseases run together with social pathologies. In Haiti, it's hunger; in Russia, its alcoholism; in the U.S., it's homelessness. But in every case, what I see is that we are way too quick to give up on people who are marginalized by poverty."

To read more about the work done in Haiti by Paul Farmer's organization, Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante, go to I know I've said so more than once, but if you haven't yet read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, do so.

 If you would like to donate to this work, click on the button on sidebar to the right.  You can't do better.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Good Things

merci Jesus - taptap, Port-au-Prince
The power, which had gone off, has just come back on.

power this week much more than usual

no tarantulas today

hot chocolate - I recommend adding cinnamon bark, star anise, real Haitian vanilla, and condensed milk to your mix.

being warm and dry during a rainstorm

a mosquito net

peanut butter M&M's - I love my mom!

Mom herself

...and Dad, sisters, Sisters, nephews, niece, godchildren

friends - and such good ones, too

a day off tomorrow - restful even if I do plan to spend much of it working on altar linens

ice water (see "power this week" above)

today's laughter

May you have an even longer list of Good Things and the awareness to enjoy them.

semi-temporary worship space

Things are afoot at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.  We have been worshiping under a pavilion in the former cathedral parking lot, located between the old cathedral and the old convent.  It is bordered by a building which is still standing (1st photo below, left; 2nd photo, right). 

However, we have a big event coming up later this month: the consecration of the Diocese of Haiti's first suffragan bishop. After 150 years, this is a big deal.  We are the biggest diocese numerically in the Episcopal Church, so there is a lot of territory to be covered.  The cathedral already needed a more solid worship space, something with doors and walls (I heartily concur as I listen to the downpour outside), and Holy Trinity Music School needs a place to hold concerts since the destruction of the Salle Ste Cecile two years ago.  With the upcoming consecration and the need for space for the guests, this new, much larger pavilion is going to be a real blessing.  If I understand correctly, the sides of the building will not go on until afterwards, which will leave more space around the building open for the congregation.

old pavilion worship space with the beginnings of construction for the new, still temporary, but more solid worship space - altar is still in a sort of niche in the building to the left
April 22, 2012
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince
A few weeks ago, we all came in to find a few rows of concrete blocks in places where we normally walk.  Last week we were used to it and had figured out how to distribute communion without making anyone climb over anything.  

This week, as you can see below, so much had been done that we had to turn the space sideways. The sacristan and others were up pre-dawn, if I understand correctly, cleaning up the construction area so it would be usable for church today. Must have been interesting for them with no lights...

The new "semi-temporary" building will be in this direction, with the altar on the soon-to-be-raised area to the left, partly filled with dirt and rubble, behind the altar and sedilia.  The altar will be moveable so that this space can also hold the Orchestre Philarmonique Sainte Trinite and other groups from the music school.  As was pointed out to us after church, it will be good to repatriate them, so to speak, since they've had to rent space for concerts since the earthquake. 

Construction is progressing on the new semi-temporary worship space
May 6, 2012
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince
We did have to do a little stepping over concrete blocks this morning, but worship went well despite the inevitable reworking of what is supposed to be done where.  I am happy to report that when the microphone cord reached out and wrapped itself around my ankle, I didn't drop the thurible. 

By the time of the consecration, concrete blocks and microphone cords will all be in their proper places - and so will we. 

It will be a few years before the new cathedral is built, but meanwhile everyone will feel a little more settled. No doubt we will be a lot drier during the rainy season as well.  Thanks be to God.

Friday, May 4, 2012

yardlife today

I enjoy the wildlife in the yard here.  There are always a number of friendly creatures who are about when I am out on the porch for my morning prayer time.  Here are two of today's residents whom I see quite often.  Watching them moves me into a quieter space and leads to praise and thanksgiving as well as peace.  Occasionally amusement, too.  They can be really funny at times.

smiling dove in palm tree

zandolit come to visit me on the porch
And then there was this morning's back yard visitor.

My first tarantula of the year.

Have I mentioned that I don't care for spiders?

Especially very large, quick ones.

Thank God, and I do mean that, for E., who dispatched it with quantities of bug spray and an oversized broom.

I'm not going to be so blasee about taking out the trash in the dark now.  It might have family nearby.

But tonight I am safe under my mosquito net tent. I think I'll just pretend I'm at camp.  And hope the lights don't go off while I am in the shower.


St Monica window
St Margaret's Convent, formerly St Monica's Home, Roxbury, MA

Today in the Episcopal Church we celebrate the life of St Monica.  I am thinking, too, of the nursing home St. Margaret's ran for a century in Roxbury, and of another Monica, who is quite alive and well.  Much to be celebrated and for which to give thanks. 

More on Monica via

Monicca, Mother of Augustin of Hippo, 4 May 387
We know about Monnica almost entirely from the autobiography (the Confessions) of her son Augustine, a major Christian writer, theologian and philosopher (see 28 August). Monnica was born in North Africa, near Carthage, in what is now Tunisia, perhaps around 331, of Christian parents, and was a Christian throughout her life. Her name has usually been spelled "Monica," but recently her tomb in Ostia was discovered, and the burial inscription says "Monnica," a spelling which all Ac (Archaeologically Correct) persons have hastened to adopt. (On the other hand, it may simply be that the artisan who carved the inscription was a bad speller.) As a girl, she was fond of wine, but on one occasion was taunted by a slave girl for drunkenness, and resolved not to drink thereafter. She was married to a pagan husband, Patricius, a man of hot temper, who was often unfaithful to her, but never insulted or struck her. It was her happiness to see both him and his mother ultimately receive the Gospel.

Monnica soon recognized that her son was a man of extraordinary intellectual gifts, a brilliant thinker and a natural leader of men (as a youngster he was head of a local gang of juvenile delinquents), and she had strong ambitions and high hopes for his success in a secular career. Indeed, though we do not know all the circumstances, most Christians today would say that her efforts to steer him into a socially advantageous marriage were in every way a disaster. However, she grew in spiritual maturity through a life of prayer, and her ambitions for his worldly success were transformed into a desire for his conversion. He, as a youth, rejected her religion with scorn, and looked to various pagan philosophies for clues to the meaning of life. He undertook a career as an orator and teacher of the art of oratory (rhetoric), and moved from Africa to Rome and thence to Milan, at that time the seat of government in Italy. His mother followed him there a few years later. In Milan, Augustine met the bishop Ambrose, from whom he learned that Christianity could be intellectually respectable, and under whose preaching he was eventually converted and baptised on Easter Eve in 387, to the great joy of Monnica.

After his baptism, Augustine and a younger brother Navigius and Monnica planned to return to Africa together, but in Ostia, the port city of Rome, Monnica fell ill and said, "You will bury your mother here. All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord. Do not fret because I am buried far from our home in Africa. Nothing is far from God, and I have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world."