Sept. 15, 2003
Tuesday, Aug. 26
t is 5:20 a.m. The church bells sound.
Every morning, at more or less the same time, someone rings the bells at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church that nudge people from their sleep.
Alarm clocks, if they exist at all, are rare in Fond des Blancs. As you lie there, listening to the bells, you wonder: Who wakes the man who wakes the village?
The donkeys still bray, the chickens still cluck, the dogs still howl, the same as when you fell asleep the night before.
At 6 o’clock, the bells chime again, as if someone hit the snooze button. This time, they are beckoning people to Mass.
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The white, concrete church in the center of Fond des Blancs is crammed with people on Sundays; at least that is what you are told. On this weekday, six Americans are joined by 15 Haitians.
The Americans spread out in the pews, leaving several feet between them. Across the aisle, the Haitians squeeze close together even though more than half the rows are empty. It’s as though they won’t take more than they need of anything, even when it’s empty space.
The Mass is said in French, for years the only official language of Haiti. For the homily, the priest switches to Creole, the language people speak.
A scraggly dog wanders in through an open door and struts around the church. No one seems to notice.
A lone woman begins a song, quietly at first. Others join in, their voices gaining strength, as if shaking off the sleep.
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You spot a boy wandering along the dirt road in a royal blue New York Giants T-shirt. Another man wears an MIT shirt, though he may never have heard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a bizarre juxtaposition of American culture and Third World poverty, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the Haitians.
The clothes are second-hand and the Haitians call them “Kennedys” because they began arriving from the United States when John F. Kennedy was president. Many do not know the meaning of the English words and logos on the fronts and backs of the shirts.
Father Jerry, the name universally used for the Rev. Gerald Osterman, the Catholic priest who helped start the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, laughs when he tells of the message one local man innocently wore into church on his T-shirt. The man rose during Mass to read the scripture, and Father Jerry read: “My memory is failing me. Can I just call you ass ...?”
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It’s just stopped pouring and the sport utility vehicle you’re riding in is churning through mud several inches deep. The SUV crawls up a hill and inches along a road that hugs the mountain.
The turns are tight, and the vehicle fishtails as its wheels spin in the mud. You look to the right, and all you see is the long, long drop.
Back at the hospital, the parking lot is full. At least a dozen donkeys are tied to trees, waiting for the march home. You wonder: Maybe there are times when donkey is better than 4-wheel drive.
Karen Eschbacher may be reached at email@example.com
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