Letter Home

Randy Bergen, MD

Winter 2011 - Volume 15 Number 1

April 4, 2010

Dear Friends and Family,

Friday there was a training in town. It was a hilly section of town pretty near the Presidential Palace. Since it was Good Friday, a holiday here, there was very little traffic. The city had a less chaotic, less claustrophobic feel. We passed several Good Friday processions—people dressed up and singing, presumably on their way to worship. The training was on the grounds of a convent. It is the one and only place I have yet been in Port-au-Prince that deserved to be called beautiful. It had also sustained damage. We had to cross over rubble to get up the stairs and across a balcony supported by temporary supports to get to the meeting rooms. But the convent had a lovely central courtyard, through which a hallway led to a small chapel that opened onto a long balcony that gave a wide vista of Port-au-Prince and the Caribbean Sea below. It was far enough away from the noise of the city to be truly tranquil. I tried to have a brief conversation in Spanish with an elderly nun in an arm cast. She was trying to describe the events of the earthquake at the convent. She still seemed much traumatized.

Saturday was the first day without scheduled work. After catching up on paperwork, three of us asked the driver to take us up into the hills above Port-au-Prince. We went to an overlook that had a panoramic view of the city and coastline. We then drove further up and inland. There the hills were covered in terraced fields. The driver said that this is where most of the vegetables for Port-au-Prince are grown. It was cool and green and less crowded. It was hard to believe that these bumpy, winding roads were the main route for most of the vegetables that the city needs, just another example of how difficult even simple things like getting vegetables to market seem to be for Haiti. We then went to a national park at the top of a hill. At the end of a ridge, surrounded by pine trees, was Fort Jacques. There was a small parking lot, filled with children passing a soccer ball, women selling fried everything, and the sound of techno-punk something or other. Whatever the French or the Haitians were defending up here that required a fort bristling with canons pointing in all directions is beyond me, perhaps cabbages were once more valuable. But here was the fort and the end of our day of playing tourist.

I started this on Saturday but will end on Easter Sunday. Gerald, one of our drivers was nice enough to drive me down the hill to the large Catholic church in the square not far from the house. It was overflowing with the congregation but I was able to find a place by a doorway where I could stand. It was a lovely service, in French, quite reserved, a very Presbyterian service in fact, no hand clapping or "Praise the Lords!" The church was filled with warm sunlight and all the usual suspects: teens in black "rebel army" t-shirts texting or playing games on their cell phones; little girls in brilliant white frilly dresses with bows in their hair; older women with fancy hats; and of course the little boys in their Sunday best with their shirt tails hanging out wiggling in their mothers arms. For a moment I could almost forget that many worshipping with me now live in tents in the square across the street—but only for a moment.


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