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Dorlette – Part 3

March 20, 2014

Sunday began very much like the two previous days.  The only indication that something was different was the girls getting their hair done and donning beautiful dresses, their mother transforming them from tomboy urchins into little ladies.  Praubner explained that the church was not all that formal and that casual clothes were acceptable, so long as they were clean and in reasonable repair.  I was grateful for that, as trying to travel light greatly restricted my wardrobe.

Just before ten, as people began to arrive for church, I headed across the road.  The pastor had found it necessary to adjust the service time when Daylight Saving Time came into effect in order to allow people enough daylight to attend to their morning chores before coming to church. 

The service at Dorlette Baptist Church was rather staid, with none of the Pentecostal flavour I have encountered in other Haitian churches.  I was afforded no deference, seated along with the others and given a very simple introduction.  Praubner told me later that although the church adheres to Protestant ways in most respects, the people have been heavily influenced by a Catholic mission.  After a few hymns and prayer the congregation split into three groups, one staying inside to pray, the children retiring to a little open-air classroom at the side of the church, and the third, which I joined, moving outside for Bible study.  The study reflected the rote learning style of Haitian schools:  the gentleman leading the group would read aloud each verse of the text under consideration, and all the others would repeat it in unison.  The leader commented on the lesson and then others posed questions and made comments.


Dorlette Baptist Church


Children of Dorlette


Pastor Enil at keyboard

When the study was completed, rather than return to the service, Praubner and I engaged a moto taxi to take us to another church in Aux Pins, some distance away across the river. The further we progressed the more the road degraded, until it was a bit of a quagmire, punctuated by little rivulets inundating our route.

The church at Aux Pins is in an advanced state of disrepair, the entry falling apart, the paint peeling and the plaster deteriorated to the point of having holes through the walls.  The original construction, visible through these holes, is of wattle plastered inside and out.  The posts, beams and rafters are hand-hewn.  The metal roof is obviously a recent renovation, as is the concrete floor.  


Church at Aux Pins

When we arrived at the church the service was already in progress.  The pastor came to the door, greeting me warmly, and was obviously very pleased to see Praubner. As in most churches I have visited, I was offered a chair to one side of the pastor.  Aux Pins was much more formal than Dorlette, the elders in suits, most of the men in dress pants, white shirts and ties, and the women in their finest.  The seating was segregated, men on one side of the church and women on the other.  The style of worship was decidedly Pentecostal, very emotional with spontaneous (though clearly orchestrated) utterances and gesticulations, hands frequently raised in adoration.  The pastor delivered his sermon in a very casual style, with purposeful pauses to allow congregants to respond.


Segregated congregation at Aux Pins


Pastor and elders at Aux Pins

After the service I was invited to the home of one of the men.  Several accompanied us as we picked our way along the edges of the muddy road and traversed the little waterways on logs.  Chairs were set out into the yard, and a young man who spoke English quite well was delegated to converse with me.  I, however, chose to speak Creole so that all there could participate.


My after-church host


English speaker

A moto taxi was called to take us back to the pastor’s house.  During the afternoon neighbours came and went.  Later Praubner indicated he wanted me to come with him and we headed across the road.  He asked me why I had declined the pastor’s offer of coconut water when we had arrived.  Did I not like it?  I told him indeed I did, but I was just not thirsty at the time.  From the discussion I deduced that my ignorance of the niceties or Haitian ways had led me to make an entirely unintended faux pas.

Very quickly I discovered that not bringing my camera with me had been a mistake.  Praubner kicked off his shoes, dusted his hands and feet with earth, and headed up a thirty-foot palm, his hands wrapped around the tree and his feet walking up the trunk.  Reaching the top he was met with the vehement protests of a number of woodpeckers that had made their home among the fronds.  He snapped off several coconuts and dropped them to the ground before sliding down the trunk.  Praubner expertly chopped off one end of a coconut, leaving just a small hole, and handed it to me.  Madanm and the girls had joined us, and Praubner prepared a coconut for each of them.  We sat on the ground together and enjoyed the sweet water.  When I had finished, he split my coconut in half and hacked off a slice of the husk in the shape of a spoon to use to scrape out the thin layer of milky white flesh.  Madanm scooped out some for the baby who ate it with relish.

Meanwhile a neighbour had climbed a caimite tree and was picking fruit.  On the way back to the house Praubner and I collected some sour oranges for the evening’s juice.

After rice and beans and chicken, all settled into the established evening routine.  Praubner had informed me that we had to catch the bus for Port-au-Prince at five in the morning, so we would have to be up by four.  The evening’s prayers were exceedingly long, and Praubner chose to read Psalm 78, all 72 verses of it, the Creole Bible version somewhat wordier than an English translation.  Having packed all my belongings into my backpack earlier in the evening, I was ready to retire.


My internal clock went off at 3:50.  I woke Praubner and we prepared to leave.  The pastor and his wife came out to see us off, and again there were lengthy prayers for our trip.  I thanked them profusely for their hospitality.

I was thankful for the full moon to light our way, recalling a nasty injury sustained in MôleSaintNicolas when I tripped in an unseen hole in the road as I made my way to the bus in pitch darkness.  It was about 4 km to where we would get the bus, and I was a bit concerned we would not get there in time.  While still some distance away, we heard the blast of the bus horn alerting people it was loading.  When we arrived the driver and another man were sitting on rocks beside the bus.  No one else was there.  After a while we got the driver to let us climb aboard, and putting our luggage on the overhead rack (a luxury on Haitian transport), we chose a seat.  The guy who collects fares was stretched out on the back seat, fast asleep.

Across the road was a huge luxurious house in a fenced compound, the only one I had seen in the area.  The water tanks on the roof and the yard lights indicated it was equipped with every conceivable luxury.  I asked Praubner about it and he told me it belonged to a man who lived in New York who seldom used it.  This is common of many of the big houses in Haiti; they are more or less vacation homes for Haitian expats.

A few more people having responded to a second series of blasts from the bus horn, we were loaded and lurched forward about 5:20.  I should have known my concerns about being on time were totally misplaced; almost nothing is done by the clock in Haiti, unless it is under the control of foreigners.

Our bus was a newer long-frame Mack tractor with a school bus body mounted on it, probably the only configuration capable of handling what was to come.  It was in good shape as buses go in Haiti, but the truck springs never being intended for human transport, the ride was very rough. 

The bus began its low-gear crawl over the torturous rock-studded road that climbed steep grades and then fell into the valleys, the endless switchbacks sometimes so severe they required 3-point turns.  We did not travel north toward Anse-a-Veau, but rather west.  This was a milk run, providing service to the people of the interior of Haiti’s south arm, those far from the coastal highways.  The bus was there connection with the cities, their means of carrying their produce to markets where they might realize a better price.

Sacks of oranges and charcoal were loaded onto the roof.  Trussed up chickens squawked and flapped wildly, protesting the rough ride.  Further on, school children climbed aboard, their uniforms in bright solids and gingham plaids identifying their schools. The ride was also an opportunity to visit with distant neighbours and make new friends, the bus buzzing with dozens of conversations.  At each stop vendors would climb aboard to hawk their wares.  I bought us some Haitian-style peanut brittle, sugary and soft and loaded with peanuts. 

We rolled past crumbling tombs, many cantilevered into space as the hillsides were eroded from under them.  Unattended, some eventually slid down the slopes. Humble homes dotted the well-treed slopes amid gardens of cabbage and beans.  Tight to the road were rows of tumbledown market stalls constructed of bamboo and tarps.  As we neared L’Asile, there began to appear “town homes” built of concrete block, larger and with more luxurious features.  As we forded Riviere des Pins at the edge of the town, the rough road gave way to concrete, but the smooth ride was short lived; the pavement ended at the other side of L’Asile.

The bus inched its way toward the coast at Miragoane.  Near Leogâne I spotted an old wooden cane press and a bit further on another, this one in operation, horses harnessed to the long drive beams.  Unfortunately my camera was in my backpack in the rack above me.  Even if I had it out, there would not have been time to take a picture.  I snagged this one off the Internet.  At Leogâne we connected with the highway.

cane mill_1024

Cane mill much like those I saw.

A “medicine man” got on the bus and treated us to Haiti’s answer to a Wild West medicine show, holding up each of his products in turn and launching into a lengthy pitch, often making outrageous claims as to their efficacy.  According to him, his “miracle elixirs” could cure everything from acne to cancer and could even restore hair, sometimes the same product able to do both.  He was also selling drugs available only by prescription in most countries, although I suspect they were probably well beyond their expiry dates.  He managed to do a brisk business all the way to Port, people handing their money forward to purchase his dubious wares.  I was sorely tempted to challenge his shameless lies, to tell everyone on the bus I was a nurse and knew that what this guy was spewing was absolute rot, but unsure of what his reaction might be, I held my tongue.

Finally arriving in Port-au-Prince, we had to wait out a lengthy stop while the freight was offloaded before the bus proceeded to our station.  Finding transportation out of Port proved uncharacteristically difficult.  After about an hour of searching, we ended up riding in the back of a 3-ton truck as far as Archahaie, cheap but far from comfortable. 

At Archahaie we boarded a tap-tap for Montrouis, but not far outside of town ran into a manifestation (typical Haitian protest), the road blocked by a large truck with its tires deflated.  Although vehicles were managing to skirt the roadblock, our driver refused to proceed.  I suggested we walk through the blockade, and several others joined us.  We passed with no aggravation, but on the other side we couldn’t find a tap-tap.  There were numerous moto taxis, but the chauffeurs, attempting to cash in on the situation, were demanding outrageous fares to get us to Montrouis.  Several got really nasty, blocking our way and insisting we ride with them, and I got into heated arguments with some. 

After walking a couple of miles a tap-tap swung around and picked up our little group, the driver urging us to get on quickly lest he be seen; Haitians not respecting a blokis run the risk of future problems with the protestors.  Not too far further we came upon a broken down truck, and the driver told us all to get off as he was going to tow the other vehicle.  But soon we were aboard another tap-tap and finally reached Montrouis, where we quickly found a ride home.  I reached my door just after 7 PM, 14 hours after we boarded the bus at Dorlette.

The peace of Dorlette was a balm to soothe my soul.  The gentle pace of life was like a breath of fresh air.  Being surrounded by those who look to God for everything in their lives and are grateful for what He offers did my heart good.


Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.  Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. 

Proverbs 16:16-17 ESV

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