Beyond the Walls
We’re staying in the rectory of St. Simeon’s Episcopal Church in Croix de Bouquets. St Simeon’s sits within a high wall with its school at the back and the rectory across the parking lot. I am working on drawing a map of everything inside the wall for you, but it isn’t finished yet. The wall between the parking lot and the rectory is topped with broken bottles and two guards stand watch over the gates at night.
Mary Balfour assures me that we are not allowed to go walk around the block unaccompanied, so this afternoon I explored inside the walls. I poked my head in every door that was ajar and finally climbed to the unfinished second story of the school building. There, I could look out of the open spaces for windows and catch glimpses of the city all around me.
I saw children playing and singing, I saw a man hanging out the wash, I saw houses upon houses, but as I lifted my eyes up I saw the mountains in the distance. Beyond the fields of sheet metal roofs and masonry in every direction I looked, I could see the hills.
Flying in on the plane I was strangely surprised that the water we flew over was the same stunning turquoise that it is in calendar photos. As we approached Port Au Prince I was surprised to see the land folded into what from the sky looked like the gathers in a very full skirt. Carmel showed me a calendar yesterday with photos of Haiti’s waterfalls, each month more stunning than the next. The Haitian Ministry of Tourism didn’t mention the waterfalls when I read their website the day before I left. I had to the read the tourism website to counteract the pessimism of the State Department’s website on Haiti , which almost had me unpacking my bags before I even left. The State Department advised me to never go anywhere after dark, they advised me to stay at home in the States, and they definitely would approve of me staying inside the walls, even when the gate is left tantalizingly open.
For the third night in a row I rode in the back of an SUV after dark. On our first night we were coming from the airport, last night we were coming back from Lespwa Timoun (Christelle just spell checked this for me, she is 7). Tonight we left after dark to go out to eat at Shoosy’s, a fast food bar n’ grill (according to their sign). Shoosy’s opened on July 1stand is owned by a parishioner of St Simeon’s and Danois, who went to school with Carmel’s son, Donald. Ten of us piled into the SUV and Donald drove us through the darkened streets full of people walking, cars honking, and small roadside tables lit by small oil lights or flashlights and selling things like baguettes. As we drove along, I looked out the windows at the city and saw more stars than I’ve ever seen before, but above the stars there was nothing but blackness. It took me a moment to realize that they were not stars at all but the lights of the houses on the hillsides. Even once I figured this out it was hard to convince my eyes that all the stars had not fallen low and were now clustered about the horizon.
Once at Shoosy’s Carmel, MB, and I stood on the balcony before dinner and as I took a long hard look at the hillside stars an open truck of UN peacekeepers drove by in their blue helmets. Catching sight of us, they craned their necks as they went by, obviously thinking “Don’t those Americans know that the State Department says not to be out after dark?” Well, I answer that the State Department has never met Carmel and if she tells me to stay within the walls during the day I will, and if she says we’re going out for pizza once the sun sets and the stars fall to the hills, I’m going out.
I know you’re dying to hear more about Shoosy’s (named as a play on Sushi). The walls are orange, Hotel California was playing when we walked in, they have live Haitian music on Saturday nights, and the lights went out soon after we sat down. Blackouts are common enough that I’m used to them even after this short stay. In the darkened room the screens of people’s cell phones added little squares of light as we continued talking. Soon enough the lights came back and Carmel told us that since the earthquake there are few things for young people to go out and do, no movies, no malls, so a new place like Shoosy’s is a great thing. We had the house specialty pizza topped with black and green olives, anchovies, ham, and pepperoni. It was delicious (anchovies? who knew?) and the crust was better than any pizza crust in Austin.
So the morals of this blog post are:
- If you live in Austin, hop a flight and come to Shoosy’s for pizza.
- On the feast of Epiphany if the only stars you can see are in the hillsides… Well, one of these days we’ll leave the walls and we’ll head for the hills. I’ll make sure to tell you what I find there when I reach that part of the journey.