Monday, January 16, 2006

Christmas in January:

We finally celebrated Christmas with our families this past weekend. My good mom kept up the tree until we got back to Peoria. After the huge buildup to the big day, Christmas must seem far in the past to most, though the season only ends on January 6, with the feast of Epiphany.

Here are some memories of our Haitian Christmas: A couple of weeks before the much anticipated day, my six-year-old niece asked me if Santa Claus brings presents to the children of Haiti. I had to swallow hard and then wimped out on telling her that Papa Noel, as the chubby man in red is called, bypasses most of the country. We’d asked Jackson if he had ever received a present on Christmas. He said no.

Speaking of Jackson, he is starting his fourth week at Cleveland Clinic, where the doctors and nurses continue to fine tune him for surgery. Jackson, like many Haitian patients, surprises us with his will to live, especially given the abuse his heart has taken. Now, it’s a question of balancing his fluids and electrolytes so his kidneys, liver, and heart function as optimally as possible. Jackson looks slight and meek, but he is a tough, tough guy. He has had quite a few visitors from the Peoria area.

On Christmas Day, we walked the mile to 9 am Mass at the Missionaries of Charity. As we hiked up the hill to Delmas 31, we were greeted by a distinctly un-Christmaslike sight: we noticed a commotion to our left and saw a young police officer slamming a man between the shoulder blades with a night stick, while yelling “Fe bak! or “Go back!” He hit the poor man so hard, that the on the fourth or fifth blow, the stick broke. The policeman stood there in surprise, holding a small jagged piece of wood. The man continued walking during this attack as if he was being hit with a Nerf bat. He was kind of singing out as he walked. We think he probably had some kind of a mental problem. Nothing this man was doing or did, justified the beating. Weak people in Haiti are often preyed upon and treated with little compassion. This attack seemed to be pure sport. After the stick broke, the police made no attempt to arrest the man.

We did make it to Mass, where the choir sang loudly and often during the two and a half hour celebration. One of the songs was to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, with the words, “Glory, glory alleluia,” sang in English.

In a country lacking necessities, we aren’t surprised to find the material manifestations of Christmas absent. In other situations, I have heard people say, “You can’t miss what you’ve never had.” I don’t know about this. I asked John if the employees where we stay feel fortunate compared to the abysmally poor people in Haiti. “Oh yeah, they do,” he responded. “The people in Cité Soleil, they live like animals, and they know it. You know, the lady three hovels down, she has a black and white TV that works once in awhile, when there’s electricity, and they gather round and watch some Dominican soap opera. They know there’s another kind of life out there, and they know it’s not going to be happening anytime soon for them.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the spirit of Christmas was a year round thing?

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