Friday, January 15, 2010

MY IMPRESSIONS OF HAITI--BY REVEREND BARBARA SEXTON JAN 15, 2010

Dear Ones:
     During the '60's and '70's, I spent some time in Haiti and my parents even more.  I'd like to share some of my impressions with you. 
    Haiti is a physically beautiful country.  Back then, the landscape ranged from lush and tropical with great water for diving, to mountains with crazy, winding mountain roads through lush forests.  I was blown-away as I explored Haiti to discover spectacular evergreen/long-needle pine forests at the upper elevations. The landscape was breath-taking, with a soft, deep, fragrant bed of pine needles...and it was cool. The forest areas were such a blessed relief from the heat of the cities and lower-elevations. It was a haven then which is now gone.

     And there was more to behold in the mountains of Haiti. For the first time in my life, I saw stands of pointsetta TREES. Yes, the red Christmas plants, so well-known to us, actually are a woody-stemmed bush.  When fully mature, this plant grows into what looks like a massive tree of red and green. Seeing groves of those as you wind your way up a curvy mountain road was spectacular.
     I made visits to a bank in Port-Au-Prince and saw many beggars squatting outside, with hands out.  My parents spent months in Haiti and ended up with a 'personal guide' who told us to 'ignore them'. Obviously he didn't know that that was not our family's way.  This was my first time seeing lepers begging, first hand.   I'd seen photos of lepers in India and elsewhere, but never face-to-face.  It was sobering and fascinating from my scientific perspective.
     We visited and were allowed access to part of the Presidential Palace.  My mother had at some time befriended someone on a plane, I later learned.  The building with it's whiteness and gilt impressed me as being a monument to extravagance in a world of pain.
     But that was nothing compared to the open-air medical school I visited.  You read right.  In place of proper ventilation and cooling, there was a five foot venting space at the top of each wall in line with the ceiling fans.  It was hot and stifling in the pathology lab.  There on one of the lab benches lay an old dissection pan with a swollen human uterus.  Obviously it had been recently removed and was awaiting study.  Already it was 'dry' on the surface and several flies lit and relit upon it as I scanned the room.
     The anatomy lab was an eye-opener for me as well.  It, too, was open-air and the bodies lay on v-slanted painted wood dissection tables.  Between classes, they were simply covered with what looked like thin, grungy-white canvas.  Cadavers were preserved in formaldehyde, as they were for us in the U.S.  But with the lack of air circulation and the open dripping of fluids underneath the tables made me feel for the medical students studying here.  If ever I appreciated stainless steel equipment and air conditioning, this was it.
     The hospital itself reminded me of an old hospital I'd once worked in, one which was build in 1898.  Some of the equipment we students had to use was from the '30's and '40's.  Few items came pre-sterilized and I believe that the Haitian facility lacked even those items, for the most part.  Again, an eye-opener.
     My visits to various Haitian churches was fascinating.  In each were rich, brightly colored murals of various Catholic and Haitian voodoo Saints and symbols.  I was yet an atheist/agnostic worshipping 'science', so my main interest was in the artwork and folklore of Haiti's religious culture.  All of my interest in things spiritual back then was purely academic and in the context of cultural exploration.
     There was plenty to learn about Haiti's spirituality.  It is as colorful as it's art and as it's people.  One thing I have to say is that Haitians, despite their poverty, were always friendly and welcoming to us.  I don't know how much our family's American generosity had to do with this.  To me the warmth seemed genuine and we responded in kind.
     I've always suspected that things were on a downhill spiral in Haiti.  Now, with this tragic series of earthquakes, I see this is true.  I know that some religious figures place blame on these victims.  But this is most definitely NOT the time for the unkindness of that kind of judgment.  One must be very careful 'second guessing' the mind of God.
     I think, instead, what people of faith should do is to use this time to be the best they can be for their Creator.  I think we should 'make ourselves available' to be the hands and hearts of God on earth, whatever our 'religion' may be.  For Christians, the Holy Spirit in us will help with the rescue in Haiti.  We'll send money and supplies and we'll help with the rebuilding.  We will be compassionate and encouraging and promote peace.
     We will remember that we are not alone in this world.  Our brothers and sisters are here, too.
With Love,
Reverend Barbara Sexton    January 15, 2010
    






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