Sunday, March 17, 2013


rara depicted in Haitian cut metal artwork

Four o'clock in the morning. 
What. Is. That???
A huge group of people in the street making lots of noise and drumming.

If it were in a university town, I'd label it "drunken fraternity boys out way too late" and go back to sleep.
If it were France, I'd assume they'd just won the World Cup.
In Haiti?
Not a clue.

Multitudes of possibilities, good, bad, and indifferent, pass through my mind as I climb out of bed and peer through the slats of the Venitian-blind-type crank windows to try to make out what might be going on.  A party?  A vaudou ceremony with drums such as once woke me up in the night in Darbonne? a demonstration or protest of some kind? I can't make out a word they're saying.  Inside the house, not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse, so I know it can't be a dire emergency.  I vaguely wonder why the dogs have lost interest; they usually bark and try to get through the fence at anything or anyone that happens to pass by, but they are nowhere in sight. 

We still have power, so there is enough light on the street to make out a little bit.  Lots and lots of people making lots of noise, standing just down the street; the drumming has mostly stopped.  Someone has a very bright light of some sort. It's warm light, definitely not LED, but I think it's too bright for a torch. Hard to tell through the greenery. 
 They start down the street, drumming again.  A rough horn of some sort joins in with a four note sequence, over and over.  I think, is that a conch shell? and then decide I've driven past the Neg Mawon statue too many times. 

an old picture of the Neg Mawon statue downtown
It's still there, even if the palace isn't.  I'm sure I have a recent photo of my own somewhere...

They move on past our house and down the street.  Quiet returns.  I still have no more idea than I did. 

In the morning at conference, I inquire. The Sisters laugh.  It was a rara, they tell me.  A rara? I guess I do remember hearing the word before and associating it with music and perhaps Karnaval, but I hadn't attached it to this.  Yes, that's it, only it's not Mardi Gras - it's throughout Lent.  I remember when... And there is some discussion of local variations and folklore.  And why, I said, were the dogs quieter than usual? Oh, they said, it's cultural. It's in their blood.  We all laugh. 

So... a rara.   I went to my trusty friend, Wikipedia. (Of course it's accurate. It's on the internet, isn't it?)

Originating in Haïti, rara is a form of festival music used for street processions, typically during Easter Week. The music centers on a set of cylindrical bamboo trumpets called vaksen (which may also be made of metal pipes), but also features drums, maracas, güiras or güiros (a percussion instrument), and metal bells, as well as sometimes also cylindrical metal trumpets which are made from recycled metal, often coffee cans. The vaksen-s perform repeating patterns in hocket and often strike their instruments rhythmically with a stick while blowing into them.
Well, that does sound like what I heard. 

And then it goes on to explain that it's more than just a simple band making music at 4AM.
The songs are always performed in Haitian Kreyòl and typically celebrate the African ancestry of the Afro-Haïtian masses. Vodou is often implemented through the procession.
Hm. Maybe I wasn't so incredibly far off.  Drums in the night, after all.

Politics, too.  But then, that's not surprising here.
Rara in Haiti is often used for political purposes, with candidates commissioning songs praising them and their campaigns. Rara lyrics also often address difficult issues, such as political oppression or poverty. Consequently, rara groups and other musicians have been banned from performing and even forced into exile—most notably, folk singer Manno Charlemagne who later returned to Haïti and was elected mayor of Port-au-Prince in the 1990s.

Rara performances are often performed while marching, and are often accompanied by twirlers employing metal batons. Performances generally begin on Ash Wednesday and culminate at Easter Weekend.

"The Rara festival most likely developed during the period of colonial slavery, when enslaved Africans and Afro-Creoles in the colony of Saint-Domingue were said to parade with drums and instruments on Easter Sunday. There is also some evidence that troupes of maroons marched with drummers, horns, and singers, similarly to Rara."[1]

OK, we even have a mention of the maroons - Neg Mawon statue, tip of the hat to you.

Then I found this interesting page:
I'm not going to try to translate it for you, but it gets into the historical (colonial slavery) and religious (vaudou) aspects.  I don't know how much of it applies to last night, but in any case, it's a reminder that the past always makes its way into the present.  I'll include some of this below (at the end)  for those of you who read French.

Better article yet:
It goes into the different kinds of music, points out that publicity and electronics are killing the traditional form of the rara, and talks about its denunciation by some Christian groups.

Finally I got wise.  Here is something very like what I heard last night at 4AM, though it didn't look like this.

And another longer one for those of you who are interested:

They didn't come down our street at all last year, so I think the chances of my being awoken two nights in a row are somewhat slim; tonight I plan to sleep well.

Le Rara

« Ils sont reconnaissables à leurs cornets en zinc et à leurs vaccines, trompes de bambou de différentes tailles à la fois soufflées et frappées, et dont le son se répercute du sol au cerveau en écho de manière hallucinatoire. Le chevauchement décalé des voix du chœur et du soliste ajouté aux vaccines et aux rythmes syncopés entretient cet effet de mirage. Ces polyphonies décadentes qui plairaient a un Steve Reich africain, s’animent autour de personnages organisés en « société ». » Emmanuelle Honorin

Ce sont des troupes de paysans qui parcourent les campagnes à l’époque du carnaval jusqu’aux fêtes de Pâques. Le plus souvent, ce spectacle insolite est dirigé par un « maître-rara » il s’agit d’un prêtre vaudou dans la plupart des cas. Ces manifestations rara sont en quelque sorte le seul visage officiel des sociétés secrètes vaudou.

Il s’agit donc aussi d’une occasion unique de pouvoir voir ces sociétés au grand jour.   and two pages later...   Un chant pour travailleurs
Présent lors du carnaval, le rara est aussi et surtout une partie du « konbit » dont parle Charles Najman dans notre interview, à savoir le système d’entraide entre paysans qui prit la relève de l’exploitation esclavagiste de la terre.

La musique participant à la motivation des paysans par sa magie propre les unifie dans l’effort, tout en esthétisant leur passé obsédant. Le rara au son oppressant et lancinant n’est pas seulement fait pour divertir, c’est aussi un témoignage vivant du terrible passé haïtien. La musique a comme effet de faire glisser le spectateur et la société vaudou dans une sorte de vertige envoûtant. C’est une musique pour libérer la mémoire, pour expier la souffrance originelle des ancêtres.

L’utilisation du « fouet Zombi », destiné à chasser les mauvais esprits (référence directe à l’esclavage) et la « danse des chaînes aux pieds » sont autant de manières de revivre un passé toujours présent.

Les cris de désespoir, les pleurs et autres lamentations surviennent lorsque la musique devient vraiment frénétique et chaotique, allant jusqu’à provoquer des spasmes dans l’auditoire.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Thinking of Green Eggs and Ham tonight.  Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, and there's not a bit of green on my grey habit, so I'll have to find another way to celebrate it. We're attending a concert of the Orchestre Philharmonique Sainte Trinite in the afternoon.   I doubt it's related to the feast day.  While they certainly won't be serving green beer, I'm sure I'll enjoy it quite a bit.  Music feeds my soul. 

I do see St. Patrick mentioned on taptaps from time to time.  Here's a Patrick (not St.) taptap from Cap Haitien, up north, with much appropriate green and orange.

taptap, Cap Haitien, Haiti

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all, happy feast day to friends and family named Patrick, and happy birthday to two good friends as well. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

searching for you

Just wanted to share another short meditation from Bishop Steven Charleston.

meditation by the Rt Rev Steven Charleston
art by Eric K. Carr
for Grace St Paul's Episcopal Church, Tucson, AZ

I mentioned listening for inspiration, seeking it, in my last post.

Reading this reminded me that first and foremost, it's not seeking inspiration that matters.  It's seeking God.  The rest follows. 

insanity seeking inspiration

Another full day. Another good one.  Tomorrow will be a long one, too, starting very early - I'm hoping it's also good.

listening for inspiration from the Holy Spirit?
pipirite - hummingbird
treetop in our yard

I've also decided I must be completely crazy.  

Along with all this, I've agreed to do two half-day retreats in the very near future, one the day before Palm Sunday and the other Maundy Thursday.  I'd try to do the same thing for both, but one is a group of young people in a private business school, and the other is the cathedral choir.   Should be interesting, and it's certainly a privilege to do them - and I'd better get to work fast, since time's running along quickly. 

Somewhere in here, the linen orders I'm working on and my class preps will also need some attention.  Well, if the Holy Spirit is calling me to do this, I'll just have to trust that I'll be given the grace to get it done.  I believe I'll be praying for unusual organizational skills and efficiency. And power.  (Glad to have that tonight!)  God certainly showed up when I was preparing this past weekend's sermon for the cathedral, and despite a busy week, it was just fine.  Beni soit l'Eternel.

Mostly I need to pray for open ears and an open heart to hear what it is that God would like to say to them. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

loaded up

Whew.  It's been a full day.  A good one, but boy, I am beat.  I finished my grading tonight and sent in my semester grades.  I'm glad to have it out of the way.  I need to do more work, but I am pretty much brain dead at this point and planning to turn in quite soon.

Today was the first day of the new semester.  I had my first class with the seniors. Next week I add another with the rest of them. These two aren't really academic classes, per se - more like a time for them to reflect personally and theologically on what it means to be in ministry, how they can build community, and how they can be a community and support each other.  Should be really good - today certainly was. 

entrance to the Episcopal seminary in Port-au-Prince
Today's activities:

--eat breakfast very early
--officiate Morning Prayer
--celebrate the Eucharist with my sisters
--head downtown at rush hour
--first class with the seniors - reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12 today
--meeting with the dean
--catching up in person with a former seminary English teacher back for a visit from the States
--celebrate the Eucharist with the seminarians
--a few minutes to finish the above conversation
--English class with the first year seminarians
--English class with the second year seminarians
--return during rush hour, dropping off a couple of children on the way

rush hour on the Route de Delmas
--eat bouillie de banane and a roll with peanut butter - just the thing
--take out trash and stop to pet the puppies, which just makes me happy

the puppies earlier this week
 --work on last stack of grading and on calculating grades for the end of first semester
--officiate Compline
--work on the grade report and finally send it in, giving thanks that there is power and therefore email tonight
--decide to stay online for a few minutes. This may or may not be a good idea, but it's the time I have today, and who knows if there will be power tomorrow.

loaded up
Here's the thing I have to work out for next week.  Where is my meditation here? the rest of my prayer time and so on? I've been talking to God all day here and there, of course, but I didn't manage to get up as early as I had hoped because I was up past midnight preparing for class. It's been a busy week.  So I guess it will be tonight before bed, which is hardly ideal.  Tomorrow, meditation first thing; I'm not going anywhere at all as far as I know.

Fortunately next Thursday won't be quite so crazy, since I will have a few moments of quiet during the day - not many, but I'll have them. 

Meanwhile, I have a huge fair linen to iron and send off - 84"x108" if I remember correctly. This is going to be a challenge!

And I'm preaching Sunday at the cathedral, so there's my sermon to finish. In French. Feel free to pray! It's only the second time I've done this. 

It's been a good day.   A very full one.  I think I'll sleep well tonight!  I hope you all will too.

evening falls over Port-au-Prince

Monday, March 4, 2013

so chocolate bar

I love chocolate.  Especially good dark chocolate - but I'll take any kind.

So when I heard the expression "That's so chocolate bar!" used by these little boys, I knew just what that must mean. 

You all may well have seen this already - the story seems to be on its way to going viral.  I hope it does. Having made the Today Show will not hurt a bit.

chocolate bar book for a cure

This child, Dylan, who is six, has written a little book to raise money to help his friend Jonah, who has a rare disease.   When I read about it today, he had already raised $93,000.  He plans to raise a million. 

And here his parents were thinking bake sales.

I am grateful to have found this today.  It's been a difficult week for quite a number of people I know.   Then there is the news.   Too many stories of people being truly horrible to each other.   It's good to read about the ones who are acting in love.

The older I get, the more I realize both the depth of the evil that is possible in humanity and the astonishing good of which we are capable.  All of us.  Hearing some stories of things that happened here in Haiti, stories that  are being passed around now that Baby Doc is finally on trial, just blow my mind.  It seems like something out of a history book, except I now know people who were there.

front page of yesterday's newspaper - Les minutes de l'audition de Jean-Claude Duvalier

There is plenty more of that  happening all over the world. 

Every time some little - or not so little -  interpersonal nastiness takes place, it's a shadow of participation in that larger evil.  It is just easier to justify, I suppose.  To cover.   Certainly to get away with. 

And then I remember once again that this is all wrapped up in the paschal mystery.  

It's Lent.  It's a time for repentance, for turning around, for seeking a closer relationship with God - which means seeking a closer relationship with each other.   We meet Jesus daily in the people around us.   What does that look like?  How do we, in fact, treat Jesus? speak to him, not in a church, but in our daily interactions? Holy Week is coming.   The evil in the world is on display during that week.  It is not too surprising that some people prefer to skip it and go straight to Easter.  Even Easter dinner - skip the resurrection - it might remind you that you have to die in order to be resurrected.

But of course that's just it.  There is no point to Easter without Holy Week. 

OK, well, maybe the chocolate.

But even chocolate can't make evil go away, tempting as it might be to try sometimes.

When things get to looking evil, Holy Week comes along to remind us that evil and death will never have the last word.  Whatever it is, God can take it and turn it inside out and bring life where there should be no possibility of such.  You can't gloss over the horror of crucifixion any more than you can gloss over what happens here and now.  We try.  We can't. And we don't have to.  God lets us stare it right in the face.  Then and only then is there resurrection.

Sometimes things like Dylan's chocolate bar book remind me that there is more to our story, that God is at work in and through us in the most creative and unexpected ways.  As with Dylan and Jonah, I could tell stories of serious illness - and stories of friends who step up in surprising, beautiful ways.  When I hear a story of cruelty, I can also tell a story of a young deacon who is willing to move into a house with no running water or even a well so she can minister in an area in need.  So many of those stories are untold.  Maybe we should be sharing them, even if our stories don't make the Today Show.   God's work bringing life to the world is just the good news we need.