I met up with Jane Chalker and Karen Brooksbank at the Port-au-Prince airport where they had a car and driver waiting to take us to Cange. Jane is a retired elementary school teacher and Karen is a speech language pathologist at the Highlands School in Highlands, North Carolina. Jane is a member of the Episcopalian Church of the Incarnation in Highlands, which has had a presence in Cange, originating with Jane, since 2002. Jane recruited Karen to come to assist Papouch, a student who suffers from stuttering.
Jane’s association with Cange began when she met Dr. Salzarulo, an anesthesiologist who had recently moved to Highlands and who had been coming to Haiti for eight years (See Jane’s Children video on YouTube). He asked her if she would come down for a week to teach English and she readily agreed. She spent that week teaching English classes to children from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then teaching the teachers. One of those teachers was Leneus (pronounced Lenoose), who was cordial but not particularly friendly. On Jane’s second visit, in October, 2002, he was much friendlier and Jane mentioned this to him. He replied that the first visit he assumed that he would never see her again, as this was the pattern he had become accustomed to.
On this visit, Jane was accompanied by the Deacon of the Church of the Incarnation, and Beth, the wife of one of the priests. The Upper Diocese of South Carolina, to which the Church of the Incarnation belongs, wanted its churches to adopt a mission and Father Lafontant, a priest at Cange’s Bon Saveur Episcopal Church, asked Leneus, one of his parishioners, to take the delegation to Tierra Muscady, at that time an hour and a half drive northeast of Cange over dirt roads. The church there was a palm hut and the Deacon essentially decided on the spot that that was the mission the Church of the Incarnation should adopt.
When the delegation returned to Highlands, the Church of the Incarnation allotted money in its budget to build a school, as Father Lafontant and Leneus insisted that the school should precede the church. The school was completed on the site of the palm hut church in 2005. The first service at the church that replaced the palm hut was in September, 2011. Over the years, the Church of the Incarnation has expanded its support to provide educational opportunities through the Bon Saveur Episcopal Church and the LaPleiad Community School, which was founded by Leneus when Bon Saveur School reached its capacity and there were still children needing an education.
After a roughly hour and a half drive northeast of Port au Prince to Haiti’s central plateau, we arrived at the house Jane and her husband Selwyn, along with Father Mike Jones and his wife, built several years ago to accommodate Incarnation’s, and other’s, delegations. The stone and cinder block house sits on a hill about a quarter mile from the main road through Cange and consists of three large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room/living area and a kitchen, as well as porches front and back and a staircase that leads to what is currently the roof, but could at some point in the future be a second floor. In addition, there are two wood frame guest houses on the property, each with two bedrooms and one bathroom.
We had a tasty lunch with Leneus of frittata and home cut French fries, after which Jane and Karen retired to their room for a rest while I settled in on the back porch to enjoy the southerly view and do a little reading. Around 3:30 or so I heard thunder in the distance and noticed an ominous looking incursion of clouds from the northeast. Intermittent thunder continued without really seeming to approach for a half hour or so, but then, suddenly, the wind picked up sharply, the sky darkened and thunder cracked closer. At about 4:15, the storm broke in a largely horizontal deluge, the wind whipping through the house, banging windows and doors and rousing Jane and Karen from their rest. The tempest continued for a half hour or so, knocking out the electricity and, at one point, causing Karen to physically hold the front doors closed in the not unreasonable fear that their banging would break their glass panes. The storm finally past, the three of us celebrated our survival on the back porch with Prestige, the award winning beer of Haiti, as the sun set.
Shortly thereafter, some of the students the Church of the Incarnation is helping to go to school began to drop by. The first were Wilfrid and Diego (pronounced Jaygo), who arrived together. Wilfrid is in his third year of dental school and as part of his education works part time cleaning teeth at the Partners in Health (see Guerrier Carmine and Kerline Jean Louis, posted June 20, 2010) dental clinic in Cange. Diego is in 11th grade. Soon we were joined by Mani, a young woman in her second year of nursing school at Gonaive. Papouch also showed up, as well as Sonel, a teacher at the Community School.
At approximately eight o’clock, we had a candlelight dinner, the electricity still being out, of chicken legs, rice, black beans and mixed vegetables, including carrots, onions and squash. After we ate, I took advantage of the second bathroom in the house being vacant to have a proper shower, there being only a makeshift one of a large barrel filled with water and a ladle in my guesthouse, before retiring beneath my mosquito net. I started out sleeping on top of the sheets, but, surprisingly, woke up a little chilly during the night so slipped between them.
Waking feeling refreshed, I set out a little after seven only to find Jane, Karen and Sonel on the front porch about to begin an English lesson on common phrases. After a while, we retired to the dining room for coffee and a breakfast of peanut butter, pineapple and banana sandwiches. With Sonel’s departure for work, Jane, Karen and I put on our walking shoes and headed to the Partners in Health campus, also Cange’s WiFi hotspot, so that Karen could download some teaching apps to assist her in helping Papouch and Jane could check her email. That mission accomplished, we started back through the campus, stopping at the church to watch the Bon Saveur kindergarten students practicing the dances for their Sunday graduation ceremony. Finally, before leaving the campus, we visited Wilfrid at work in the dental clinic, where he showed us his office, stacked with patient files overflowing from the desk to the floor, and two not entirely serene looking patients having their teeth cleaned.
Returning to the house, Karen, Jane and Papouch, who had arrived in our absence, went out on the back porch for a session. Papouch’s friend Reberson, who had come along with Papouch, followed them, as did I. It wasn’t long though before Ezekiel, another student, and Diego showed up as well. With the situation clearly getting out of hand, Karen gave us a gentle shove and we all departed, Jane, Ezekiel and Diego for the dining room to work on hand made baskets of cardboard and candy wrappers that Jane sells in Highlands and Reberson and I to the front porch to talk. Actually, Reberson and I probably only missed out on the basket making due to a misunderstanding.
Reberson asked if I wanted to learn how to make baskets and, not understanding that he meant did I want to take part in what was actually collaborative basket making, I declined. Alone on the front porch, we spent a while discussing our lives, mostly his. Reberson is 19 and wants to be a doctor. Many of the students aspire to be doctors as PIH is the dominant institution in town. Reberson has a 21 year old sister, a 17 year old brother, Mekey, and seven year old twin brothers. Sadly, Reberson’s mother died recently of complications from a motorcycle accident, a development that Reberson is clearly still in mourning over. He is obviously grateful, as are all the students I met, for the assistance and support provided by the Community School and the Church, personified by Jane.
Around 4:30 that afternoon, just as Jane, Karen and I were settling in on the back porch for our afternoon Prestige, Brian Cloyd, a Baptist minister from Blacksburg, Virginia showed up. In addition to being a minister, Brian is a professor of Business Accounting at Virginia Tech University. But it was his ministry that brought him to Cange, as he is building a church here. We were soon joined by his 24 year old project manager, Nick. The church is scheduled to be dedicated in August and Brian had come down to check on its progress.
The following morning after breakfast, Brian, Jane and I walked over to take a look at the church, which appears to be coming right along. Workers were busy plastering, cutting rebar and arc welding among the puddles from the previous night’s storm as we wandered around, and through, the still roofless structure, roofless ourselves, as only supervisors get hard hats. Jane and I left Brian to tend to business and returned to the house, stopping briefly on the way to watch a bit of an impromptu soccer game being played with a football at the Community School. Once back home, we reunited with Karen and Papouch, their session concluded, to continue the work on baskets, which I had escaped the day before.
The baskets are made by folding paper or plastic, usually candy wrappers, over a thin cardboard strip about four inches long and one inch wide. You fold the strips in half lengthwise, then fold the narrower strip in half. Next you fold both ends to the center, then fold it in half again, making a link. The links are connected to make the basket. A couple of hours doing this makes you appreciate the beauty of the end of the manual assembly line.
That afternoon around 2:30 a van pulled up with a group from the First United Methodist Church of Bessamer City, North Carolina. The group was made up of twelve people, all women and girls but one, Preston Davis, the church pastor. Later in the afternoon two more women, Joy and Amber, arrived. They and Preston, all of them photographers, had worked together on a photo project in which they brought cameras to Cange and taught some of the children photography. They then printed the children’s photos and held a gallery show, with the proceeds from the photos sold going to the child photographers. This trip was to re-establish contact and introduce a new group to Cange.
Sunday morning we all walked to the Bon Saveur Episcopal Church to attend mass and the kindergarten graduation ceremony. The mass was scheduled to begin at nine o’clock, but didn’t actually get under way until almost 9:30, being on Haitian time. At that point, the church was only a little over half occupied, but by ten or so it had largely filled up. The mass ended about 10:30, and shortly thereafter the graduation ceremony began. The graduates, roughly 100 of them, entered down the center aisle and were seated front to back, boys on the left and girls on the right. Once everyone was in their places, the priest gave a half hour or so sermon that, unsurprisingly, had them squirming in their seats. You didn’t have to be five years old to sympathize.
Then there were speeches and readings, some by students and some by adults, interspersed with four dances performed by members of the graduating class. These were quite entertaining and for those of us not family of or graduates ourselves, clearly the highlight of the event. The first was a sort of Haitian national dance featuring straw hats and Haitian flags, but the crowd favorite was, some would say, a rather inappropriately suggestive dance where the girls turned around and gyrated their booties at the audience. The crowd went wild, however, when the one little boy dancer turned around and stuck out his skinny butt by knocking his knees together.
At long last, some four hours after we had arrived at the church, the school principal began handing out diplomas. The system was supposed to be that she would call out the name of a student who was at the front of the line, hand the diploma to a teacher who would then hand it to the graduate, giving the graduate a kiss on the cheek into the bargain. But, perhaps as should be expected when dealing with five year olds who had been expected to sit still for three hours, the system did not function exactly as planned, the result being that a number of students were either pushed to the front at the last minute, or simply had their diplomas passed to them up the line. And just to show that no good deed goes unpunished, the last to receive their diplomas were those at the top of the class, although their suffering was sweetened with gifts.
Monday morning Jane, Karen and I went with the Methodist Youth Group to the LaPleiade Community School to visit the classes. We began with the kindergarten where the group led the children in several dances, some of a religious nature and some not. From the kindergarten class, the group visited the first through sixth grade classrooms. However, given that the students were all taking exams, the visits were brief. On our way out, one of the teachers showed us a room filled with meals members of the Church of the Incarnation youth group had packaged and sent.
In the afternoon we all went in Leneus’ tap-tap (see Around Port au Prince, Part One, posted June 22, 2010 for a discussion of tap-taps) to Tierra Muscady, Casse and Ti Peligre, northeast of Cange. In Tierra Muscady we saw the school and the new church, a far cry from the palm hut it replaced. The youth group delivered toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss to the school in Casse. A member of the group would demonstrate correct brushing technique and request a brave volunteer. In the first class, kindergarteners or first graders from the look of the students, Preston had a little trouble getting a volunteer, then realized that no accommodation had been made for rinsing and spitting. The little girl just stood there grimacing for a few seconds, her mouth full of toothpaste, until one of the youth group chaperones hustled her out of harm’s way and gave her some water.
From Casse we set out on foot for Ti Peligre, our most remote destination. We walked for almost an hour, mostly uphill, on a dirt road through verdant rolling green countryside. Along the way we passed women on horseback carrying supplies in woven palm reed saddlebags, young children in their blue skirts and pants and blue checked shirt school uniforms leaving class and men driving cattle. We crossed a suspension pedestrian bridge over a river that was designed and built by Nick, the young engineer overseeing the construction of Brian’s church in Cange. Arriving at the church and school thoroughly hot and sweaty, we discovered that classes were finished for the day, although some students remained.
The youngest were soon at work with some of the youth group coloring in coloring books. It’s an indication of the isolation of communities such as Ti Peligre, and even Cange, that coloring books and crayons are a novelty that immediately draw a crowd, and not only among young children. Some of the high school students in Cange are perfectly content to sit and color for an hour or more at a time. And while we were there, the number of students did increase. The older kids got soccer balls and were soon happily kicking them around the schoolyard with other members of the youth group. Eventually Leneus led us to a porch where the church pastor made a little speech.
He thanked us for coming and told us how much they appreciated our interest and gifts. Then in a friendship ritual, one of the men who worked at the church whacked the tops off of coconuts with a machete and passed them around to us to drink the milk, with Jane going first. When we were finished drinking, he cut the coconuts in half and scooped out the meat for us to eat. Our visit at an end, we set out, accompanied by a number of the children, on the walk back to Casse. The children stopped at the bridge, leaving us to cross alone back to, more or less, modern civilization, and for me, my last night in Cange.