Interpretation

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 “Me, I’m on the road again heading for another joint/We always thought the same way/We just started from a different point of view/Tangled up in blue”    Bob Dylan

When I have had the temerity, some would say folly, of raising and tackling a controversial subject by way of discussion with anyone who is up for it, It has been an interesting exercise and a helpful exposure to how other people think and how they formulate their opinions, where it starts, how it progresses and when the divergence occurs. Inevitably we reach an impasse,  a place where we can go no further. On the subject, there seems to be no possibility of a meeting of minds and we have simply to agree to disagree and get on with things as best we can. If it is a side issue or its importance does not touch our lives, it is easy, but if it impacts directly on our situation it can be seriously problematic.

When the issue relates to the bible, the sticking point is usually over interpretation. The perceived wisdom is that we read through different lens and interpret scripture in different ways.  So it is inevitable, from a reading of scripture we see things differently and can end up with different, sometimes opposing conclusions. That makes such a lot of sense and is quite understandable. It happens all the time and provides the colour and variety as well as the exciting tension of living. It allows us to be inclusive and yet recognise divergence. It is an acceptance of complimentary perspectives.

There is however, one assumption, one given in this position that shows it to be not quite accommodating as it seems. It presupposes, it prejudges that the bible, valuable, insightful, full of great things and a treasure trove of wisdom as it is, is in a way no different from any other writings. It was written by men and while it has been the single most significant influence in the development of western civilisation it is still a book (or library of books) with contradictions errors and most importantly subject like any other book to criticism.  It can be a source of great joy and inspiration and an object of our love. It can contain within its pages what we can believe to be the word of God but of itself it is not the word of God. It is not the words from the mouth of God, complete, authoritative and without error, the voice of God transmitted to us. Instead it is fallible, inconclusive and contradictory . That, I believe is the brick wall we meet in our discussions. That is where the roads part. The issue is not over the interpretation of the Bible, the issue is over what the Bible actually is.

I remember a group discussion many years ago led by a well-respected minister, highly regarded in “evangelical” circles. He was getting us round to thinking about how we interpret the bible and how our view can change and how we look at scripture differently. He described it as looking through different lenses, the lens we wear when we look at the bible. So we could read the prophet Amos, for example, in a traditional way and see certain truths then we could look at it from a more critical way and find quite different truths.   I was rattled, but managed to stammer out “but surely we need to clean our glasses open our ears and let scripture speak to us so that we can find the truth” he replied with one of those kindly sounding but patronising put downs “ Yes I know, I used to think like that too”.

This reached a new level of clarity for me quite recently. It was during Sunday worship and strangely through what they call “The children’s address”. It was quite profound. It was about glasses, how people with poor eyesight need them to see and are lost without them. And it was about the bible. The point was not that you needed good glasses or glasses with different kinds of lenses to read and understand scripture. The point was that the books of the bible are themselves the glasses that we need to look through and see who God is, who we are, why this world is the way it is and how we can begin to make sense of it.

Crawford Mackenzie

 

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY REFLECTION IN OUANAMINTHE

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SUNDAY

Dawn comes at six prompt intimated by a chorus of cockerels, dogs  and motorcycles revving.  Breakfast is in the open bar downstairs a pleasant courtyard with the covering of leaves and a gentle wind flowing through. Eggs scrambled with tomatoes and chili, delicious bananas, stiff bread and good coffee. This is the time when we chat share and bond as a team, read the bible and pray together and …..wait. (Sometimes we wait for hours,  on Friday it was for seven) We wait for our escort, Pastor Rolex Poisson. He feels responsible for us and anxious that he does not lose his Scottish friends. This morning he is prompt and we climb into his 4×4 equipped with air con and a video screen that helps him reverse but at other times plays Christian music in Kompa style.

We turn right into the Main Street that runs from the border. Usually this a two way river of cars, motorcycles, wheel barrows, bicycles and people on foot intersecting  like ants cutting and swerving but somehow  never hitting each other. At the side of the road there are shops and stall selling biscuits, liquor, concrete blocks, metal gates, bags of rice, beans and cement. Today it is much quieter and the motorcyclists seem to be transporting well-dressed people to church clutching bibles. It is astonishing how people turn out in their smart trousers, dresses, shirts, ties and immaculate shining highly polished shoes. The contrast between the church goers and their surroundings is remarkable-especially when you see the almost non-existent washing facilities people have at home and the ever present dust which turns to mud after every thunderstorm.

IMG_3660When we arrive at the church there is a service in progress. The building is full and a couple hold a bar against the door to discourage anyone from entering at this point. We mingle with the people outside. Again this area is normally a hive of activity with stalls of all kinds and people coming and going. Today it is quieter, but at one stall a young man dressed in a blue football shirt and red cap is busy making pasta rolling it out and laying it on the table to dry in the sun. He is assisted by another young man in a bright orange top. The colours are sharp in the strong sun against the white walls of the courthouse, the rich green of the overhanging trees and a cloudless sky.

The church is full when we enter. 400 or so people on wooden benches. Some have brought their own seats, children on the front and people crowded to the side. There is a raised platform with a concrete balustrade where the elders the choir and band sit and we are ushered to a seat there. The worship is led by a strong woman swaying to the rhythms of the song. She is singing a psalm straight from the bible it does not seem to be a metric version. She leads and the band follows and there is a moment or two before the musicians can locate the key. It’s the bass player who gets it first and he hammers out the line with runs followed by the drummer and finally, after a hesitant start, the guitarist on his  “Starcaster” guitar with intricate decoration in a Kompa style. The leader does what was common years ago in the west of Scotland, she “puts out the line” by singing the line of the verse and the congregation follow. There are many verses (I could not see which psalm it was). When it ends it rises to a climax with a crescendo when the whole congregation joins in singing “Hallelujah!” which repeated several times, sores and finally softens like the waves of the sea.

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The pastor comes forward to welcome everyone, give notices, introduces his friends from across the sea, some are well  known now and he seems to making an appeal for help with building of the new church (this is a rented building) The choir sing and Pastor Reme preaches. He takes The parable of the wheat and the weeds as his theme. I can only pick up a few words. I cannot follow the sermon but somehow sense that God is speaking through him by the power of the Spirit. Soon the service is over and we find ourselves outside chatting to David his god daughter, Atheline Pierre, Toussaint  and  Therese . David is eager to read the English bible and points to verses in the psalms, Jeremiah and  Isaiah where his namesake is mentioned. There is something special in that time.

IMG_9831Later we visit a home. The others know the family but this is my first time. I have always found these visits hard. There is something that always shocks me and I never quite get used to seeing just what little people have and how the means of living and surviving are achieved with astonishing grace and resilience and yes, dignity. This visit is unlike any of the others. The home is as poor as any I have seen but within the cramped and dark concrete interior and the most basic items of furniture, there was an immediate sense of God’s presence. The father is lying on a mattress on the floor his head propped by a cushion yet dressed in a dignified manner his hands shaking involuntarily. He is severely paralyzed perhaps with Parkinson’s or motor neuron disease. We are not told, but his eyes shine with something I can only describe as a deep joy and contentment. It is a look I will never forget as he lies there his face creasing into a smile, surrounded by his family, his five children and his caring wife. We have brought some food: a bag of rice, pinto beans, pasta, stock cubes, a tin of sardines and some cooking oil. The family is touched and grateful. We pray for them, thanking God, asking for his blessing and then leave. Back into the car and the winding bumping ride through the maze of lanes, block houses, goats, rubbish waste ground and naked children, we know that we were the ones who have received the blessing.

REFLECTION

IMG_3772It has been said that the Haitian people carry a deep seated sense of abandonment.

In the Voodou story,  God created the world but was so disgusted with his creatures behaviour that he abandoned it to the demons, good and bad, who are now in control. Typically western commentators and travellers, in their arrogance and ignorance see this simply as a colourful and harmless expression of ancient cultural tradition. As Kim Wall and Caterina Clerici  “Voodou is the soul of Haitian people.” The Guardian (2015)  “ The religion was born with institutional slavery. Ripped from homelands and heritage, thousands of those who would become Haitians were shipped across the Atlantic to an island, where the indigenous population had already been wiped out, for backbreaking labour in cane plantations. They were treated as cattle. As animals to be bought and sold; worth nothing more than a cow. Often less Voodou is the response to that. Voodou says ‘no, I’m not a cow. Cows cannot dance, cows do not sing. Cows cannot become God. Not only am I a human being – I’m considerably more human than you. Watch me create divinity in this world you have given me that is so ugly and so hard. Watch me become God in front of your eyes.’ or Mark Husdon reporting on Leah Gordon in the Telegraph (2012)  “Voodoo is a set of ceremonies that bring down spirits. The spirits indicate they’re present by possessing the celebrants. An animal is sacrificed to feed the spirits, and there’s a lot of dancing and drumming that goes with that. I can’t see anything intrinsically threatening in that. And it’s a lot more entertaining than any church service I’ve been to.”

It is an all too common view which betrays a gross arrogance looking down, as it were, from the high intellectual ground and seeing religions as either dangerous or just quant. In this narrative, it was the Christian missionaries who created all the problems in Haiti. They ought, apparently,  to have left the people to their own beliefs and not interfered.  It is the worst sort of patronizing racism with more than a hint of colonialism in the lust not for the natural resources of materials and labour but  for the colour and distraction needed for a jaded over consumerist  lifestyle;  leaving these pitiful people to their poverty and despair because they seem colourful to us.  Mercifully, the Haitian Christians see it all so differently. The Church resists voodoo in all its manifestations and denounces it unequivocally.  The pastor has to deal with incidents of demon possession almost every day (we witnessed one such) and he doesn’t pussy foot about the issue.  This is a real battle and great care is given to warn the people to have nothing to do with these sinister and evil practices.

IMG_3767The sense of abandonment is played out too through the people’s history. Robbed of their homes, transported across the sea, condemned as slaves and when winning their freedom forced to pay for it, They were massacred by their neighbours, ruled over by corrupt leaders  and suffered a series of natural disastrous culminating in the cataclysmic earthquake of 2010. The world rallied to help in so many ways and, in just so many ways, left a situation much worse that when they had come. This is most graphically illustrated by the appalling cholera epidemic that followed the earthquake and devastated the islands population. Cholera was unknown on the island before and brought by UN soldiers who contaminated the water supply in an act of gross negligence, which they then tried to cover up. This story is told through Jonathan Katz’ vivid first-hand account  of the disasterThe Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster”

The most recent scandal involving Oxfam was just another example of the continuing cycle of despair adding to the overwhelming sense of hopeless abandonment.  Maybe I imagined it, but thought I could detect that sense of resignation in the faces of the people.

It is against this bleak backcloth that what Mission International is doing here is so encouraging and so relevant. The first contact was made with the church in Ounaminthe in 2009 and a team went out from Scotland in the following year.  Every year, and sometimes twice a year, teams have come to visit bringing gifts, words of encouragement, greetings and the promise to pray. This steady and unassuming commitment is beginning to break through the understandable cloud of suspicion, with the knowledge that the God who we serve has not abandoned his people and neither has his church.

Haiti mother and childMaybe it was fancy, but I thought I saw that in the smiles.

Crawford Mackenzie

 

TARGET AFRICA

target africaTARGET AFRICA  ideological neo-colonialism in the twenty first century  Obianuju Ekeocha

I am in Haiti with Mission International trying to help our partners in the local church in Ouanaminthe set up a new school for this community. And in the long waiting times reading again this astounding book.

As a trustee and, for the moment, chairman of Mission International, which also works with partners in more than  40 different countries, the Oxfam scandal  left me with a sick feeling in my stomach. It was especially disturbing as this was happening in Haiti where we, at this moment, are in the process of helping with a new school.    I couldn’t, however, take any comfort in the thought  “but .. Of course, we are not like them…”  Somehow we are part of the whole and in the minds of the public and prospective donors tainted with the scandal. It is understandable that people who give freely and generously to a cause are disgusted and quite turned off when they learn that their money has been used to buy prostitutes and abuse the people it was meant to help.

For a long time now there has been serious questions over whether aid does actually work, that it was a means where rich countries could keep poor countries in poverty, and given with less than altruist motives.  These discussions have been around for a long time, but what Obianuju Ekeocha brings to the debate in “Target Africa” is a devastating critique  on how western nations  have adopted a new and sinister  colonisation, tying aid to western post Christian ideologies. With breath-taking arrogance and hypocrisy they are  imposing a destructive agenda that African leaders, seduced by the offer of money, are complicit in accepting.

Obianuju Ekeocha is a specialist biomedical scientists with particular expertise in pathogens, a Nigerian and founder of “Culture of Life Africa” an organisation dedicated to defending the sanctity and dignity of human life through research, information and education. She is a courageous woman and in this book with intelligence, compassion and unflinching dedication makes the point crystal clear. She is willing to take on and challenge governments, UN organisations and powerful philanthropists in the cause of defending the most vulnerable.

It is a shocking read.  She clearly sets out from a historical perspectives as well as her own personal experience of growing up in Africa and shows that while the old colonial order was ushered to a close with the Atlantic Charter in 1941, a new form of colonialism has subtly taken its place which, she believes, will bring an even more disastrous blight on the continent.

It is refreshing to hear her speak so movingly and lovingly of her Africa ” endowed with treasures” telling  a different story from the jaundiced one told by the western media. Taking just one example, on the emancipation of women: the perceived narrative is that African women are oppressed and enslaved by the chains of patriarchy. But  in her own country there have been seven female presidents, and twelve female vice presidents. She points out that Rwanda has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians in the world. (64 % when the UK has only 29%).

She describes the beauty of the land the wealth of its resources and the treasure of its people.

” What I have just described is the real but unrecognisable Africa. It is unrecognisable because the western media rarely shows any good news out of Africa. Instead they show every parameter of failure: low life expectancy, much poverty, poor healthcare quality, high maternal and infant mortality, low food security, little government transparency and so on.  ……….. Yet such images make us vulnerable to the wiles of those who seek to colonise us and to the many African leaders who will readily let them do so in exchange for funds from the west……….In many ways it seems as if African nations have gone into a mental condition of “protected dependency” and have thereby put themselves at risk of becoming once again protectorate states of western stake holders. This is the path to the past and the path to perdition.”

The case she posits is scrupulously researched, detailed and hard to refute. She examines the issues of Population control, the hyper sexualisation of the youth, radical feminism, abortion rights, the normalisation of homosexuality and the curse of aid addiction. All of which bear the same marks of Western Nations using aid to impose a morality alien to African  culture. It’s as if the west  don’t see what they are doing

“They undermine African life to reduce African fertility, yet they (the donors themselves) became prosperous and powerful when their laws and policies encouraged the formation of stable traditional families: Their economic booms coincided with population growth.”

She castigated the supremacist  attitude of the west taking the high moral ground;  defending the poor of the world while destroying their culture and beliefs. She instances Sweden’s reaction to the reinstatement of the US “Mexico City Policy” in 2017. They wanted it withdrawn and “ Yet” she asks ” by what means do they defend the poor?  By helping them to kill their children.”

She doesn’t pull her punishes and it is so refreshing to hear this level of honesty and straight talking in a subject so often clouded in nuances and  double speak. She doesn’t mince her words and calls a spade a spade. If you are shy of controversy and squeamish about the bare truth, you should avoid reading this book or any more of this review, for that matter.

On Population control: “The insistence on reducing the population of Africa, no matter what the cost to Africans themselves, is racism, imperialism, and colonialism disguised as philanthropy”

On the hyper sexualisation of youth: “In spite of the failure rate of condom programs for teenagers, the UNFPA continues to promote its multimillion dollar campaign across Africa known as CONDOMIZE !”

On the legalisation of prostitution: “Given the unspeakable abuse that women and girls endure in the sex industry, given the level of drug abuse to keep them silent and compliant, it is disconcerting that anyone would try and legitimise prostitution in the name of public health.”

On radical feminism: “..Instead of authentic feminism, a selfish and radical strain of feminism has risen in the west and has gained an international platform and a pace of prominence in this century.”

On the push for abortion rights, over which reserves her strongest words: “At the core of my people’s value system is the profound recognition that human life is precious, paramount, and supreme. For us, abortion, which is the deliberate killing of little ones in the womb, is a direct attack on innocent human life. It is a serious injustice, which no one should have the right to commit……I agree with pro-abortion activists that illegal abortion is a real problem in Africa, but I completely disagree with their proffered solution – to legalise abortion on demand….If the solution to all of Africa’s illegal practices was legalise them, then we are a doomed continent.”

On the normalisation of Homosexuality: “To convince Africans that marriage and sex are even possible between two women or two men, would require destroying their language and their culture. Such an undertaking is exactly what homosexual activists are attempting in Africa.”  And this activism is sponsored by western governments. “In 2011 President Obama threatened to cut off foreign aid to Nigeria because its senate passed a law unfavourable towards homosexuality

On Aid addiction where she recognises that the wound is in many ways self-inflicted:       ” Africans cannot take charge of their own future until aid, as we know it, is brought to an end, and the African leaders unleash the economic potential of their people……..For Africa to have a promising future, it needs to push back on this flawed paradigm and on the western influence that is spreading it.”

With President Obama she pleads: ” No child (in any part of the world) deserves to be raised in a motherless or fatherless home, because it is almost always a vicious vortex of emotional trauma and turmoil. Africans know and understand this and as such will stand in defiance of your new design of marriage and family. For us to comply with the draconian demands of your “Modern” design will entail completely demolishing our society, which is already inflicted with so many problems.

With Melinda Gates:“I see this $4.6 billion dollars buying us misery. I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us disease and untimely death. I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.”

For anyone who is at all interested in Africa, and in the future for health, peace and prosperity, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Crawford Mackenzie

 

In Adam

painI listened to Racheal Denhollander’s witness testimony. It was astonishing as it was harrowing. She spoke with such poise, passion and grace. I found it difficult and uncomfortable to listen to. The problem was I couldn’t quite distance myself from identifying with the man in the dock. He seemed ordinary and I squirmed when she laid out in full, but without prurient detail, the deliberate heinousness of his acts. When she spoke of how he took pleasure in the suffering he was causing, it gripped my stomach.

What disturbed me was that I could take no comfort, no solace in the thought that I was not like him. Of course, I am thinking, “I could never, would never, be able to do what he had done”. The idea was so repulsive, so revolting and detestable. My friends would be quick to bemuse me of that notion “there is no way that you are  like that.”  they would assure me. Some years I did just that, expressed this feeling to a friend over a recent horrific incident that scarred a close friend and the response was just that “But we all know that you are not that kind of person”.  It was good to know that my friend believed that I wasn’t “that kind of person”, but I could see that she didn’t quite understand. Deep down I knew that I was like that man. I belong to the same species. I am made of the same stuff. The reality that evil is not out there but in my own heart is the most terrifying and bleakest thought that there is. I suppose that is why we do our best to hide and cover it up. But it doesn’t always lie low and when it pops up and is exposed, it shakes you to the core. It dissolves all sense of pride and pulls the carpet of self-righteousness from right under your feet. It makes you so aware that the only thing you have is what has been given to you- Grace. It is only by the grace of God that I am not in that dock.

That was why the sermon preached this Sunday in our church was, for me, so helpful and so liberating. It was Romans 5:12-21 grappling with the two states: In Adam and in Christ, with the reference to 1 Corinthians 15:22  “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  In Adam, I am in the dock in Christ I am free.

And that was why Racheal’s testimony was so amazing. In the context of her damning indictment she was able, and somehow knew, that the only thing she could offer was the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the promise of forgiveness and the hope of peace with God.

Darkest Hour

chruchillNot a film review

Darkest Hour, much like “Dunkirk” in 2017, is a refreshing film, beautiful to watch, clever and powerful. Its gift is that it does not seem to preach, but tells the story. The story in this case of the man who, disliked by almost everyone in his later years, was called upon to the lead his country in possibly its most dangerous time.

I grew up with Churchill. As a child in the 50’s the war years were recent memories for my parents and my mother could spend hours recounting personal stories of the Clydebank blitz. She would describe what it was like to be in a country at war, always had her take on the politics of it and never far away was the admiration for the man. Even my father who found the cigar smoking, heavy drinking, and load mouthed aristocratic antics quite distasteful held a grudging recognition that Churchill was somehow the man for the time and without him the world may well have descended into the “ the abyss of a new dark age” he ominously described in his speech to the House of Commons in June 1940. These words were pregnant with foreboding and with a chill I could feel even as a youngster. So I was imbued with the simple narrative of these times: from its beginnings in Poland to its ending in the South Asian sea, from Chamberlain to Macarthur, from the Bren gun to the atomic bomb and somehow, while terrible things, some of indescribable horror, were done in the course of it all, the cause was just and the end was for the good.

That narrative has taken a severe battering over the years and, while I know that we must always revise orthodox interpretations of history and challenge any complacency over the horrors of war, I cannot help but feel that we can revise it out of its significance and its relevance in understanding where we are today. It is so easy for those of us who have never known anything but peace and who have enjoyed unprecedented levels of freedom and comfort to pontificate and judge the actions of those who lived in a quite different time. We need to have the imagination to think our way into what it was like for them and the film does that brilliantly

The darkest hour, it seems, was the time when a terrible decision had to be made and the nightmare of being the one on whom that decision lay most heavily. What the film seemed to suggest was that Churchill was tortured by the decision and seemed to carry the burden alone. In 1940 the war could have ended with a peace treaty. The route to such a treaty was in place and the negotiations almost begun. Instead the conflict escalated to include the whole world, involving millions of deaths and the most diabolical destruction. The dilemma is a recurring one and strangely one that is hard to debate in the face of polarised views on defence, the protection of interests, defending the oppressed, militarism and pacifism.

The Darkest Hour, to its credit, opens up that vexed question. It doesn’t answer it. It just leaves it there.

Of course it is only a film not a documentary or a detailed historical account. It is a drama. The underground scene, for example, is a very fanciful one but it serves to illustrate how Churchill seemed to connect directly with the people over the normal political channels. The intriguing thing is that the connection was not made by any attempt to be ordinary or be like the “common people”. From his pedigree and privileged background, he couldn’t have been more different. Yet he somehow sensed what the people needed to hear so that resolve could be galvanised and victory achieved

Whatever we think of the man, and in there is no love lost for him in my own city of Dundee, he had that special quality of true leadership, not to shirk from making a fearful decision and to carry the people with him.

I loved the film.

Crawford Mackenzie

Postcards from Haiti 10

GETTING USED TO IT

It as amazing what you can used to. The dismal dribble of water from the tap in the hand basin, the hit and miss electricity, the teasing hint of WiFi, the dust and rubbish, the incessant thumb of dance music pounding out at all times of day and night and even the heat and humidity, which you think your body could accommodate to, given time. But there are some things you just can’t get used to.

IMG_9840I went with the  Pastor and Richard on my first, and only, home visit this time round. The pastor had identified some families who were particularly needy and so we purchased some food, a bag of rice, pinto beans, a tin of tomatoes, some biscuits, stock cubes, spaghetti and a jug of vegetable oil and took them to the home of a member of the church. I didn’t hear her full story but learned enough to know that her situation was desperate. We drove through the dirt streets, tightly packed with dwellings constructed from wood, corrugated iron, tarpaulin and rags and sometimes cardboard. It was shocking. We passed an open space piled with stinking garbage and smouldering fires, picked over by goats and chickens with a desultory donkey tied to a burnt out tree. Where there were flood drains at the side of the road, these were always full of rubbish, plastic bottles and polystyrene food containers. The smell at times was overpowering with slow moving and stagnant grey water and a strange black mould growing.

It was late in the afternoon, with darkness approaching and the air was tense. A group of young men gathered at the corner showing off the one possession they could boast of, an enormous speaker blasting out music. “We may have nothing, but we have noise” was the message. We left the car and followed the lady to her home up a narrow lane with all eyes on us and the odd cry of “Blanco”. When the children shouted to us in this way, it was with a smile and laugh. We laughed too. Now it carried just a hint of menace. There was suspicion in the eyes and a threatening body language. The home was the size of a garden shed divided into four for four families. We followed her round to the back squeezing through a gap in the corrugated iron. She parted a torn curtain and we deposited the food on the dirt floor. There was only a moment to take in the scene, a bench, a plastic bucket with clothes and a dish of beans. We spoke for a moment or two and then left. We didn’t pray with her and I am not sure why, but the pastor was anxious for us to be going. “This is a dangerous place” he said. I did wonder if picking her out for this food parcel might make her life even more difficult or if some of the watching eyes would pounce once we had left. I prayed that they wouldn’t. Earlier Richard said the visits are the best part. They were the worst. I was seeing things that I didn’t want to see.

Last night I slept in a hotel close to the airport transiting through the Dominican Republic. It was not the one I had booked but because of a mix up of dates the taxi driver found me another. I had a room to myself almost 10 times as big as the ladies home. (I measured it). I had free access to an all-day buffet, eat and drink as much as I wanted, beer and soft drinks in the fridge, a choice of three swimming pools and a private beach.

IMG_1786Watching the Caribbean dawn break spectacularly through the parting clouds of petrol blue, chromium and gold, I knew this grotesque divide was one that I could never ever get used to.

Postcards from Haiti 9

IMG_9883THE SCHOOL

It was the school that brought me here and, as always, it’s great to have a specific job to do. The site has been purchased and significant funds raised. The design has been finalised and it’s now a question of resolving constructional issues and procurement. This,for me, is uncharted territory.  The architecture in the town of Ounaminthe does not inspire. Buildings are almost exclusively in concrete reinforced and in blocks, generally haphazard and incomplete with a tendency towards kitsch which becomes extreme in the larger houses and hotels. Concrete allows any amount of hideous frivolity. The streets however form a grid and there are parks and squares to give relief and the whole,  saved by the furious growth of all kinds of trees which makes the city breath with a Caribbean lushness set against the craggy tree lined mountains. The media impression is that Haiti unlike the Dominican Republic is a deforested desert wilderness. This is not the case as almost 1/3rd of the land mass is forest and the mountains are covered in trees. Where there has been deforestation this has been blamed on charcoal production but again the situation is more complex.

We visit some buildings and to see how they are constructed. One was an active building site. Formerly a house,now a school. A roof is being finished on the first floor with classrooms underneath These have bare block wall with vents, tight bench rows, and a blackboard (actually green).  There are no children as this is Saturday and the school is closed for the weekend. The only resource I see are mathematic text books in French and Creole and a computer room. The building is three storeys and, with the exception of the roof, built entirely of concrete. On the building site health and safety is given no quarter. The top floor is very high off the ground and a home made ladder bends it’s way to the ground at a terrifying angle. What terrifies me more however is how this building will cope in an earthquake. A tremor could cause it all to cave in on itself and the prospect of these concrete floors descending on packed classrooms below is too awful to think about. This is not how we will build the school.

IMG_9885IMG_9875IMG_9877IMG_9861IMG_9826Later in the week we returned to see the school in action and stayed there for three hours. It was an amazing spectacle seeing hundreds of children in smart uniforms lining up for their classes and rounded up by stern teachers in immaculate grey uniforms with a belt in the hand which they used without hesitation, giving a child a smack across the ankles to get them moving. It reminded me of sheep being herded into pens but it didn’t make a lot of difference to the children who just took it in their stride and it clearly didn’t hurt. The playground was supervised by a man in a blue uniform also welding a belt. This time it looked more serious. It was made of leather like the Scottish tause and if there was any doubt about how serious he was, a rifle was under his arm and hand cuffs hung from his side. Security in and out of the playground was tight and parents had to demonstrate their authenticity before being allowed in to collect the children. The younger children were dressed in pink, the older pupils in grey and blue while seniors wore grey skirts and trousers and white blouses emblazoned with the emblem of the school “Institute Academique de Saint Israel”.

IMG_9954IMG_9944IMG_9955IMG_9931The school has over 1,100 pupils and 25 teaching staff. I did wonder, if, in the longer term these children may have greater prospects than the children brought through the system in the UK. I just wondered. Haitians who can, and who have opportunity to, often leave for the Dominican Republic , the USA and most recently Canada, but the prospect of an educated population remaining to live and work in their own country could transform the nation economically, socially and culturally beyond all recognition. That is the hope and that is the main driver behind the project.

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