Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sister Sarah's Excellent Adventure

My dear friend Sarah, one of my oldest and best friends, my only daughter's godmother, lives in Haiti.  She's an Episcopalian nun (yes, Episcopals have nuns, otherwise she wouldn't be one.  Dur.) and also, because her order thought it would be useful, an ordained Episcopalian priest.  She's one of the smartest people I know, and also one of the better educated, with a bachelor's degree from Yale, master's in French from Vanderbilt, and then her divinity degree (she got that in Boston, but I don't know where).  She's fluent in English (well, mostly), French, and Haitian Creole.

She's been without electricity for a month.

Nobody knows why.  That's Haiti: sometimes the electricity works, for as much as a few hours per day, and sometimes it doesn't.  Sarah lives with her fellow sisters in a rented house in a "good" section of town, as their convent near the Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince was, like the Cathedral (and the Catholic Cathedral nearby) flattened in the earthquake three years ago.  Their house has electricity perhaps more often than usual in Haiti, but it turns out this isn't very often at all.

The nuns have a small gasoline powered generator.  Because gasoline is so expensive, the only time they've used it, in the past month, has been when they've needed to run the pump that fills the water tank on their roof.  Usually, while the pump is running, Sarah dashes to her computer and sends out a few emails and Facebook messages to her family and friends.

They use the rooftop water for showers (cold, as there's no way to heat the water other than on the stove) and for washing their clothes.  They buy drinking water that has been purified.  Much of the water in Haiti isn't safe.  Even the most impoverished Haitians buy their drinking water; they risk cholera otherwise.

Haiti doesn't have regular mail service.  When I want to send Sarah a letter, I send it to a service called Agape Flights, in Florida, and they fly it to Port-au-Prince.  Someone lets the nuns know they have a letter at the airport, and one of them goes to get it.  I actually usually send Sarah emails, as they're far simpler.  When I send a package it's a little more complicated.  I weigh the package, then write a check for four dollars per pound.  I put the check in an envelope and tape it to the side of the box, then mail the whole thing to Agape.  They get it to Sarah, except that, because it's a package, it has to clear Haitian customs first.  This has been known to require bribes. 

You can imagine, then, that anything I want to send to Sarah has to be weighed against this extra four dollars per pound.  Really good coffee beans, the kind she delights in?  Absolutely worth it.  Instant chocolate pudding and Kraft mac-n-cheese, the only things she's ever asked me to send?  If you say so, girlfriend.  Canned soup?  Absolutely not.  For Christmas I sent her art supplies, as she loves drawing and painting the gorgeous Haitian landscapes. 

Sarah loves Haiti, loves it deep down in her bones.  Over and over she writes not of the deprivation and poverty, but of the incredible beauty there.  We Americans can't fathom the poverty--80% unemployment, a full 5% of the population orphaned children--but I wonder, if we were in Haiti, if that isn't all that we would see.  Sarah sees with God's eyes.  I try to be more like her.