Waiting for church to begin
“Meet us at the church at 5 am. “
“Be sure to be at the Catholic Church at the end of the road by 6:00 am. Yes, we will all meet there at 6:00 am.”
“7:00 am. It begins at 7:00 am so we will see you then.”
I wake up and put on the same clothes I have worn for eight months. They are scrubbed and bleached and hung in the sun until there is very little of them left but they are clean and presentable and I make an extra effort to comb my hair and wash my shoes.
The road to the church is muddy, however, and so by the time I walk there the shoes are muddy once again. Its quiet on the road with only a few men passing me with machetes as they make their way to their gardens on the mountain.
The church is padlocked shut when I arrive and I must accept that it will open sometime and that the time is not 7:00 am. I sit on a piece of concrete to wait. A young man who knows English wanders up and sits there beside me as I watch the Sunday morning comings and goings on Highway 1 in North Haiti.
I ask him if he is going to church and he says, “ no clothes.” He is of course fully dressed so what he means is that is clothes are not good enough, not fancy enough. We talk awhile about how that should not matter but he shrugs and maintains that you cannot go to church without good clothes.
I watch two groups of people walk down the road. Those who are going to church and those who cannot; not those who do not wish to go but those who cannot go because they do not have the right clothes. I know this because the baby for whom I am Godmother’s family has made it very clear that wearing the right clothes on Sunday morning is more important than food, housing or an education.
The small, local market is close by so I walk down and buy a larger than needed quantity of bananas and return to my cement perch and start giving them to anyone who does not have “church clothes” on.
I realize I am not doing this with love in my heart. I am actually teetering between furious and annoyed. The priest comes and unlocks the gate and a few faithful members come and prepare the church for services. There are paper decorations hanging from the ceiling and the tin roof has numerous holes in it to let in the rain. It is a simple concrete block church. Light is pouring in despite the bursts of rain.
I say to the church. “You are a simple yet beautiful building in a simple but beautiful landscape. Why do you insist on this show of clothes and shoes and hair straightened with a charcoal filled iron.
I remind myself that I am working on being non-judgemental and living in the present moment. I feel myself failing. I tell myself that this is most likely what it is like in other places but I just don’t go there. Still I think of the Catholic Church in North Portland and am pretty sure that they were not too dressed up or some were and some were not. I did not recall feeling out of place.
I go outside and wait some more. I am clearly right in the middle. Not as poorly dressed as the children going to get a cup of rice and no more at the market and yet decidedly not nearly as dressed up as the church goers.
I practice my Creole with whoever stops to visit and finish passing out bananas. When the family I am meeting crosses the road, I cannot recognize them any longer. When I met them, they were starving and homeless and the young girl was pregnant.
I had spent hours the week before trying to explain that one pair of baby shoes for a baby that can not walk is the same as a school uniform or books. I begged and pleaded and said I was sure God did not care. They agree but on the given day they appear in heels with straight hair and the baby has on shoes.
I tell them a Godmother is suppose to instill spiritual values and that this is too hard for me. I struggle and am so annoyed at the class distinctions so inherent in any society that I can not enjoy the moment.
But at last, I must sit down and be soothed by the music and the order and sense of goodness that I can see the church is giving to everyone gathered there. I love watching the young girls dance down the aisle with the cross and the way the light from the holes in the tin roof dances across the scarves that are part of the dance.
I stand and sit twenty times. I hold the baby as it is doused with water and then after three hours we all go outside and in time blend into the people on the road who are going to the market or catching a tap-tap or looking for charcoal for dinner.