Thursday, December 3, 2009

La Cuisine Haitienne

One of the things I've enjoyed most about my time so far in Haiti is the traditional Haitian cuisine. About two weeks after I arrived in PAP my fellow missioner and on-the-ground orienter, Kyle Evans, had to return to the States for a week unexpectedly. Before she left she agreed to let me house sit so that I could escape from the dilapidated, depressing Guesthouse where I lived for my first two months here, and she very generously employed a young woman, Jeanine, to prepare meals for me twice a day.

Jeanine was such a delight to be around for the week! Her bouyant spirit and child-like laughter were welcome gifts in a moment of really tough transition. The meals she prepared were tasty, fresh and nutritious: usually chicken in a sauce, creole rice and beans, tomatos and avocado, and fresh juice of some kind.

Since Kyle left two months ago, Mallory and Lauren have regularly employed Jeanine's services in cleaning and cooking to help her pay for her education. She has had a tough life, like virtually everyone here, having already lost two sisters, and having been unfairly terminated from a previous employement. Still, she persists in a joy that clearly has its source in her God.

I remember when I first arrived here I thought it was strange that missionaries would have other people cook and clean for them. I thought that it may be sending the wrong message, that we should live simply and be self-supporting, not as privileged white people who could afford someone to look after their needs. But after a few weeks I began to realize that there is virtually no prospect for employment here apart from these sorts of service occupations. So being here as missionaries, employing people, can be a life-saving activity for the people we encounter. We could easily prepare meals for ourselves, and at breakfeast and dinner we do, but allowing someone else to cook lunch for us is a way to give someone here a future, and the dignity of money earned through legitimate work.
It's also a wonderful way to experience the culinary dimensions of a culture that is so often characterized as one in want, not as one that has something truly lovely to contribute to our own. Haitian cuisine is definitely something worth experiencing and celebrating!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Theotokos à l'haïtienne? Maybe...

Within a week of arriving in Port-au-Prince I made the aquaintance of another American missionary, Lauren Stanley, who hails from the Diocese of Virginia and recently served for several years in the Sudan. She lives in a suburb about half-way up the mountain from Port-au-Prince called Petion-Ville. She invited me up for an evening to get to know the town a bit, to meet her street vendor friends, most of whom sell painting, metal works, and wood carvings. We ate lunch at this lovely little restaurant, Fiore di Late, and I bought a painting from one of her friends. The painting is quite fascinating--at first glance it looks like a Haitian adaption of the Orthodox icons depicting the Theotokos with her son, the Christ Child. But upon closer examination, one notes that the woman's feet resolve into a fin-like structure. As it turns out, the image is a Vodou one, depicting La Sirene, the Mermaid spirit who inhabits the waters of the earth. I love the painting because it speaks to the polysemism and interpenetration of religious symbol and ritual on this island, particularly between Christianity and the ancestral traditions of West Africa. It's also a very appropriate confluence of personalities since both Mary and the Siren are associated with the generative, mothering power of water.

Does not wisdom cry out? Does not understanding lift her voice?

A few days after Mallory arrived, we had the privilege of participating in a celebration for the St. Vincent's School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince. The school is an incredible place, offering educational opportunities to children who face developmental challenges that in this country might otherwise be life-ending. It is one of about 150 schools owned and operated by the Episcopal Church in Haiti, but it specializes in reaching out to the most vulnerable among us. In a place where the value and dignity of human life is often ounderstood in the context of "the changes and chances of this life," the school is an oasis of hope, a true testament to the healing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Episcopal Church's commitment to that Gospel. The Bishop of Haiti, Msg. Jean Zache Duracin, presided over a Mass to inaugurate the newly refurbished clinical suite and the general
renovations made possible through the contributions of several key benefactors. The Lessons were read by two young girls, both blind. It was a very moving experience, and one that put hardship into perspective at a moment when I was frankly beginning to wonder whether I could make it to end of my first month here. The courage, poise and wisdom emanating from those young girls was a testimony to Haiti's capacity to face her many challenges if she discovers the power that is already within, if she is able to access her own uniquely beautiful spirit and sync it to the Spirit who makes all things possible.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Friend Arrives...

The other YASCer (Young Adult Service Corp), Mallory Holding, arrived in Port-au-Prince about a week and half ago. We went to the Cathedral for Mass and then had a photo op with Mere Fernande afterward. The trumpeter at the Cathedral added an extra sense of regality to the program that morning. I've added a clip below

Sunday, September 20, 2009

And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

After being delayed a week due to an unforseen bout of Strep, I finally arrived in Port-au-Prince last Saturday. It's been a full week. It's been, in fact, eight days.

I was greeted with a big smile and open arms by Kyle Evans, the first lay missioner to Haiti in 15 years, and Pere Oge Beauvoir, Dean of the Seminaire Theologique. The ride from the airport to my new residence in the city was one of the most harrowing experiences I've ever had. Haitian driving is something to behold: there are virtually no traffic lights, no lanes, and it's pretty much a free-for-all. It's totally normal to have a car hurling at you with the expectation that it will be able to dodge your vehicle last minute, and most of the time that's true. That night Oge treated me and Kyle to a lovely dinner in one of the city's premier hotel's the Plaza. It was a fantastic evening of fellowship and good food.

The second day I attended the 9am Mass (yes, that's what they call it in the Diocese of Haiti--so RC!) at the Cathedrale Episcopale. When I have a chance I'm going to take pictures of the gorgeous murals covering the interior of the Cathedral. Despite everything else to that point seeming completely foreign, the liturgy was reassuringly familiar. For a moment, I felt profoundly connected to the Communion of Saints as I imagined my brother and sisters gathering for Holy Eucharist at Christ Church Cambridge. Though we are separated by thousands of miles, and a universe of socio-cultural differences, yet in that moment we are all one.  The Mass was celebrated by Rev. Fernande Sanon, the first and so far only woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Haiti. A delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, including their archbishop, was at the Cathedral that morning presenting their support for development work that the Diocese is doing here.

Picutres soon to follow...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why "Eighth Day Dawning?"

As I was reflecting on what it will mean to teach theology for a year in Haiti, a certain image came to mind rooted in the early Christian sacramental tradition: the iconic Eighth Day. The Eighth Day is a metaphor for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, for the reign that Christ extends over the whole world through the supreme victory of his resurrection over death, and all the powers of death. The Eighth Day is born out of a divine promise to never give up on creation, to do whatever it takes to restore, to reconcile and to breath new life into a dilapidated, broken order. It is a testament to God's unwavering commitment to redeem and to uplift us in this present age, and to stop at nothing to resuscitate our hope in the age yet to come.

The late first/early second century text, The Epistle of Barnabas, makes reference to the Eighth Day as the new sabbath, closely identifying it with the Sunday worship of early Christians. If God created the world and its multitude in six days and rested on the seventh, then in Christ's resurrection, early Christians reasoned, God opened up a proverbial 'eighth day' in the created order (and in some estimations replaced the sabbath altogether with it). In fact, for any liturgy buffs out there, this is where the tradition of the Easter Octave (and really all other similar octaves) comes from: Easter Sunday is the prototypical 'eighth day,' culminating the liturgical cycle which begins on Palm Sunday. In this sense, the Eighth Day is also infused with a processional quality: as the drama of creation, death, and redemption unfolds we are moving toward a new reality. Early Christians experienced this new reality by being successively submerged in the mysteries of Christ's death and resurrection on the Holy Vigil of the Feast of the Resurrection. On that night, the night of Easter Vigil, the new catechumenate was ushered into the Eighth Day with water, fire, incense, bread and wine.

Early Christians professed that through baptism we become new creatures in Christ freed from the powers of sin and death, participating in Jesus' victory over them. Paul is the primary and perhaps earliest recorded source of this theology, which he expounds through several of his letters, most notably in Roman, Corinthians and Ephesians. He suggests in 2 Cor. 5:15-21 that God calls the Church to see the whole world in a different light--in the cool light of a bruised dawn breaking over an empty tomb. To see one another as Christ. To identify our whole persons with his mission and life, and to defer to one another with the honor due that identification. Paul declares, "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"

In a certain sense, within this theological framework there is no need to wait for the Apocalypse, or Christ's Appearing, to experience the fullness of God's new life in this world. Time itself collapses into a singularity around this new created order and self-identification with Christ in baptism. Everything has already become new. Really, then, the Eighth Day is an invitation for us to see the world through post-eschatological eyes, even while recognizing that God's work in this present age is not yet complete.

Indeed, the Church has long proclaimed that the Resurrection of Jesus has profound consequences for the way we understand our world, for how we relate to it, to God, and to one another in the present, and for how we orient ourselves toward the future hope of "the glorious appearing of the children of God." My goal while in Haiti is to be thinking about and praying for the advent of that Eighth Day, about how I might live more authentically into its promises, responsibilities and joys. I'm curious to find out how we, as Christians from very different contexts, ask God into our lives--especially into the broken places--so that the renovating work of the Spirit might bring us together into the light of a new day. Of course, all days also have a particular shape and texture; distinct sights, sounds, and smells. I hope to share many of those things with you as well through images and through words--to be your eyes and ears and hands and feet in Haiti. So let's journey together toward that Eighth Day, a long and winding road to Emmaus, passing for a time through this country of so much challenge and so much promise.

Grace and peace,