Wednesday, 29 June 2011

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 7

Waaay Outside My Comfort Zone
I figure it's about time we got back to our ongoing serial adventure of my time in Haiti. Sorry for the hiatus. May was a busy month, and I was trying to get an article on the Eucharist written over at Barque of Peter which ended up taking all of June. In any event, I'm offering this particular chapter in loving memory of Père Ronal Fleurvil, the priest with whom we stayed down in Haiti. He died on Sunday, May 1, the Feast of Divine Mercy, after a virus he had contracted attacked his heart. May God welcome him into His glorious kingdom.
In the last chapter, I related our experience of Mass in Haiti, and the beautiful encounter with God and with the Haitian culture. It was for me, perhaps, the highlight of my trip to Beau-Sejour. On the other hand, what followed afterward struck mortal terror into the hearts of myself and at least a couple of the other members of the team. I kid you not that even after seeing 18-year-old security guards wielding rifles as big as they were, and playing chicken with UN tanks on the streets of Port-au-Prince; after surviving the harrowing drive up the mountain, and collapsing of heat exhaustion during the ensuing climb, this was the scariest part of our trip--at least for an introvert such as myself!

When we made our preparations and packed our luggage for Haiti, of the 10 bags that Air Canada let us bring down with us, roughly 8 of those bags were gifts for the Haitian people--especially the children. We brought schoolbags, shoes, clothes, toiletries, and toys in order to bless the people of this impoverished nation. The plan, such as it was, was to distribute these gifts after the Sunday Mass, when all the villagers would be in one central location. As I said, that was the plan. In Haiti, we learned things very seldom go according to plan.

Despite the fact that we were instructed to keep our gifts out of sight until Sunday afternoon, a couple members of our team felt that they couldn't wait once they'd seen the poverty of the people of Beau-Sejour. It's hard to fault a person for being too compassionate and generous, but this impromptu giving away of shoes did have unfortunate consequences. The first was that suddenly everyone knew we had shoes, and where they were. Our tent was suddenly the local hot spot. This led to the next consequence--a sudden shortage of shoes. It also led to another shortage--one of my teammates' personal property also went missing.

There is a short prayer that Our Lady taught the three children of Fatima, Portugal, to pray at the end of every decade of the Rosary. Known as the "Fatima Prayer", it says simply, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy." This principle of trust, letting Jesus dispense His mercy to those whom He knows need it most, and not to those we think are more deserving, found human expression in our generosity in Haiti, and to Père Ronal's wisdom. For Père Ronal was more than just the parish priest in this community. The late Archbishop of Port-au-Prince once said that a priest in Beau-Sejour had to be a 4x4 Priest--i.e., made of sturdy stuff. But the four dimensions of Père Ronal's ministry could be summed up by Priest, Mayor, Sheriff, and Judge. He was involved in every aspect of the community, and greatly loved and respected by the people. He knew who was most in need of material blessing better than we did, just as Our Lord knows who is most in need of spiritual blessing more than we do. And if it hadn't been for Père Ronal, I sincerely don't think we would have gotten through that afternoon.

At the end of Mass, Père Ronal announced that the missionaries had gifts to give to the community, and that they were to gather outside of his rectory. And so they did. It was as if the whole village turned out en masse, all very eager to receive from their Canadian friends. Of course, we still had to set up and get organised, since we'd each brought different things and weren't really sure what each other had brought. Moreover, we weren't sure who was in most need of what--or, for that matter, to whom we had already given what. And while we were still setting up, people were already trying to stake their claim.

Now, a bit about me--I can tend to be rather OCD. While I might not always be a neat-freak, or seem like the most organised sort of person, I do have a system--and I rather need that system. And I didn't have much of a chance to establish a system, or to discover what system might already be in place. So I felt immediately overwhelmed and out of place. The second thing you need to know, is that I'm very much an introvert. Not entirely shy, per se, but definitely not drawing strength from being with people. The end result was feeling entirely freaked out. Not "scary movie" freaking out. I mean, overwhelmed, hyperventilating, full-on fight-or-flight response! And I wasn't alone. One of my teammates turned to me and point blank told me, "I can't do this! I can't do this! I gotta get outta here!"

But then, Père Ronal stepped in to take control and save the day. With several loud shouts of "Alé! Alé!" (Go! in Creole), and a few swipes of a bamboo switch (behaviour, of course, which we back home in Canada would find utterly appalling, but which the Haitians apparently felt to be run-of-the-mill), he had the madding crowd mostly under control. We did have to deal with the occasional "repeat customer" who made off with an extra shirt or toy, but by and large, the afternoon went very quickly, with many a happy Haitian, and five very tired, wide-eyed, post-adrenaline-rush pilgrims, grateful for the shelter of Père Ronal's rectory, from the daily afternoon rain which finally prompted the villagers to return home, so we could retreat to good food and Prestige beer, as Père Ronal taught us to play Haitian Poker.

Haitian Poker is somewhat similar to Texas Holdem, except that you get a hand of three cards, and a flop of two. There's no turn or river, so you get those five cards to make the best hand from. It's rather simple, but honestly, the most entertaining aspect of it was watching Père Ronal's attempts at bluffing. The man was like a great big child, with that expression of gleeful pride at thinking himself clever for having pulled one over on one of us! Père Ronal was truly a man for all seasons. He was a 4x4 Priest. And we will miss him dearly.
Coming up next, a profoundly life-shaping experience, as well as getting down to work, and meeting the local wildlife.

No comments: