June 13 2014
This is our first day in Haiti. We landed in the afternoon and spent 2 hours waiting in the airport for the luggage and later waiting in a big van with 16 others from our team, as well as our coordinator Patrick and Brun, a police officer who came with us. After this we drove through what seemed to me like a mountain path cut with handheld tools to Father Roosevelt’s rectory. We talked along the way about poverty in the Third World, similarities with India and so on. But even with the crushing load of poverty India has, I don’t think a road so bumpy and treacherous leading out of any city exists anywhere in India. I’m beginning to understand Dr. Paul Farmer’s reasoning behind his bad back as being the difficult travel from Port au Prince to the central plateau and back.
Most of what we travelled through in Port-au-Prince felt like an extended Mumbai slum with no end in sight. While I was prepared to find poverty and was not shocked, the sheer pervasiveness of it throughout the city was something I had not expected. Joyce had prepared me for this but it was clearly not enough. I had expected some nice looking places, but I did not find one along the way. Curiously I found, among signs advertising John Deere, Peugeot and other Western brands, both Mahindra and Tata showrooms. Besides these occasional glimmers of private capital at work, most of what I saw was wretchedness. The arguments against “poverty porn” seem to fizzle out against such a staggering reality. The effects of the 2010 earthquake have not yet fully disappeared. It was sweet to see the faces of kids smiling at us from outside the van windows as we went by. For a moment I thought of Pat Robertson’s insensitive comment about the earthquake being God’s judgment upon the Haitians for practicing voodoo. More flippancy upon the wretched of the earth.
We arrived at Father Roosevelt’s place after a 2 hour drive along this bumpy mountain path and were greeted by kids and youth who live nearby or at the rectory. After spending some time setting up our mosquito nets, we had lunch and gathered at the rooftop to worship. I played the guitar and we sang ’10,000 reasons’, ‘Blessed be the Name’ and other such songs. I feel this group has been so kind and hospitable to me to let me come with them, all under the pretext of being an alleged “worship leader”. What a deal! Father Roosevelt spoke briefly and talked about demonstrating Jesus’ love to the people. Very touching. I found the same mango variety in the rectory compound (‘moovandan’) that we have at my parents’ home in Cochin. It is a beautiful place, full of trees we know and love in Southern India, especially what we call the ‘Gulmohar’ or the flame of the forest.
We checked out the church Father Roosevelt is building, the school, the clinic and a nearby half-finished outdoor stage-like place, where the local youth had gathered around a TV set to watch the Australia vs Chile soccer match. I got to practice my French on some unsuspecting Haitians who obliged me by responding in English. I continued firmly in French. This should be the subject of a sitcom- it would make for good viewing provided you knew both languages. What great kids- they parted with me saying God bless you. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when we will visit the village. On Sunday we set up the clinic and from Monday through Thursday we will see patients. I will work the ‘triage’ or intake area with one of our team. Looking forward to it.