Friday, September 30, 2011

Haitian Diary, Day 5: Sunday Morning Coming Down.

Sunday. I am up with the sun, coffee and instant oatmeal and a walk to the sea.

Sunday mornings growing up were sermons of personal piety, the prosperity gospel and game-plans for proselytizing. The former, as important as it may be, is one of the very elementary truths of the gospel. It’s like telling the professional athlete to stay in shape, or the engineer to mind his math. It was droll, and repetitive, and more than likely just made us all want more of what we shouldn’t. And the constant charge to evangelize, which could be broken down into the two sub-texts of witnessing and putting people's posteriors upon the pews, always felt inorganic and awkward, if not somewhat insincere. I mean, I didn’t want to be there, and though I was fine with telling someone about Jesus, even excited, compelled at times to do so, it wasn’t very likely that Jesus was going to show up Sunday morning anyway, so why should they? I mean we proclaim a gospel of super-uber-hyper-nuclear power and then Sundays are this anemic if not pathetic fireworks display where most of our best spiritual intentions are colossal duds.

And don’t even get me started on the prosperity gospel. Let me bite my tongue and just quote a Creole proverb, Si se Bondye ki voye. Li peya fre ou. "If it is God who sends you, He'll pay your expenses."

So it is this predisposition, this deep-seated prejudice of church services that I bring to every Sunday morning, including this one in Gressier, Haiti. My saving grace would be the language barrier. I do not know the Creole words for “prosperity gospel”. And I hope to God I never do.

I arrive at the little one room concrete church at the base of Bellevue Mountain around 7:30. Standing room only. Chairs appear from somewhere and I am ushered straightaway to the front. I am able to defer from being seated on stage at least and am re-routed to the pulpits right. The whole place is alive with Creole praise. Vibrant and impassioned but without a hint of showiness or pretension. I am amazed at how dressed up everyone is. Later in the week Rita, whom you'll meet on Wednesday, tells me of a family that lived in a tent in a slum. On Sunday morning they filed out of that tent, all six of them, grandma included, in bright white dresses and shirts and pressed slacks and shiny shoes. From a one room tent!! With no electricity!

One of many tent cities in Haiti, post earthquake.

At around 8:30, when church officially starts, John and Tachi, Kyle and the girls come in. They are quickly brought to the front. John ends up on stage, Tachi and the girls with me and Kyle front and center of the pulpit. The gorgeous praise continues for another 30 minutes and then the service proper. I am gloriously lost in language and content beyond words, enjoying the sweet presence of so many genuinely tender people.

It was the first time in many, many moons where Sunday morning church didn't feel like the Kris Kristofferson song Sunday Morning Coming Down:

...'Cos there's something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there's nothin' short of dyin',
Half as lonesome as the sound...
Sunday mornin' comin' down.

The venerable Kristofferson, presumably after a long Saturday night...

Later that afternoon the Respire Crew takes the girls to a free swimming pool. It is a resort called simply: "Number One Club". But before you dismiss this as some exclusive paradise for only the winners of society, let me explain that it's "number one" as in, "I have to go 'number one'". There are two painted cement statues of nude Caribbean women, perpetually peeing in the pool. Priceless.

It is much less bizarre than it sounds, the girls laughter and sudden squeals an orchestra of delight. The blans work on their tans, and Tachi and Bernard's fiance Naomi give my long hair a proper brushing and Haitian braids. The process takes 2 hours and more than once I am brought to the point of tears as tangles are ripped from my skull. When I am done it is announced that now I look pretty. I have mixed feelings about that. The other Haitians in the pool probably more than a little embarrassed at my profound whiteness. Just another night at the Number One Club.

Pikliz (Spicy Haitian Coleslaw), Fried plantains, and some chicken???

John holds Esther at the table, she is spiking a fever and is lethargic. He is already missing Haiti, his flight leaves Monday morning. Kyle and Bernard have a second round of Prestiges and polish off the last of the plantains and pikliz (not near as good as Tachi's), they've earned it, it's been a long work week for them. Megan is on the phone, always on the phone, making arrangements, keeping things running smooth. She watches her girls with deep wonder, such transformation in a few short months. Tachi and Naomi are talking about the November wedding perhaps, or maybe they are just enjoying a few unguarded moments in Creole. And me, I sit alone in the shallow end of the pool. I am a stranger, sometimes even in my own skin. The Sundays of my youth only served to magnify these feelings. But here in Haiti, here at the Number One, I am content to see the mark of the creator on so many beautiful faces. Content to share in their story. Content to see the power of the cross in the hearts and minds and bodies of two tiny sisters. Content enough, for this Sunday anyway.

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