Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Mystery of Haiti

As I mentioned in the last post, John and I made a presentation on Haiti to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception, who live just down the street from us on Heading Avenue. The Carroll family has a long-standing relationship with these wonderful sisters. Fifty-one years ago, my husband John attended the convent's preschool. His teacher was Sister Elaine. And would you believe that exactly 50 years later, our son Luke was a student at this preschool? Guess who his teacher was? Yes, the ever youthful and superlative Sister Elaine. John and his brother served Mass at the Sisters' chapel and continued to attend Mass there as adults. I currently volunteer at the Convent and the Sisters provide Communion to my mother-in-law, who is housebound.

Earlier this year, we applied for and received a grant from the Sisters' Little Portion Grant Fund. On John's trip to Haiti last week, we used the $1,500 grant to pay for food, medicines, vaccinations, and doctor visits for poor people who go to a clinic outside of Port-au-Prince run by the Daughters of Charity.
After the Sisters awarded us the grant, they invited us to speak when their congregation met last week. We had a really good time giving the presentation. We can talk about Haiti all day, and the Sisters were such a good audience; they were rapt and asked lots of good questions. They've inspired us to try to give our talk to other groups.

One of the good questions a Sister, who had been to Haiti, asked was, "Isn't it difficult to know the truth about Haiti?" The short answer is yes, especially for non-Haitians. Haiti is such a complex place: Creole and French languages, the widespread and extreme poverty and a few very rich families, the history of 64 different classifications based on skin color, voodoo and Christianity, poor treatment by the world of nations and internal corruption, gentleness and cruelty, joblessness and a good work ethic are all intertwined together in a way that reminds me of what Winston Churchill said about Russia: Haiti "is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." There are many seeming contraditions about the place and it is hard to sort them out, interpret them. I think one of the keys to understanding Haiti is knowing that inhuman deprivation does terrible things in all kinds of way.

If you're interested in the complexity of Haiti and how that applies to the current situation, check out the following short story, "Ghosts," by Haitian-American writer Edwidge Dandicat


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