Although much of Haiti is built in concrete, very little in Haiti is “written in concrete.” Plans are as fluid as the delicious cherry juice we drink here.
Yesterday was to be a treat of sorts for us, as Jean, the director of the guesthouse we stay at, had agreed to take us to Jacmel for the day, a well-known oceanside city in the southwest corner of Haiti. The previous day, Joyce and I had learned from Sister Alta that The Sisters of Companions of Jesus operated another home for abandoned men, women, and children called Aisle St. Vincent de Paul. It was located in Leogane, Haiti and run by a nun named Sister Claudette. Since we were going to be traveling through Leogane on our way to Jacmel, we had added a stop at St. Vincents to our itinerary.
After minimal delays, we actually arrived in Leogane on time and were able to located Aisle St. Vincents. Finding Sister Claudette proved to be a bit trickier as the complex was huge. When we finally did run into her, she grilled us as to who we were and why we were there. As always, the magic words, “We are Father Reiser’s nieces,” helped to win her over. It was obvious she was a very busy woman, and she started out giving us an abbreviated tour of the area. Most of the complex had been destroyed by the earthquake (Leogane was near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake), and the rebuilding was still in progress. What had already been completed was beautiful. Besides housing 100 men, women and children, many of who are mentally or physically handicapped, they also ran a preschool and an elementary school. The grounds were lush and well cared for and the buildings immaculate and bustling with activity.
The final building we toured was the Administration building. Sister asked if we would like to see where Father Reiser had fallen and hurt himself so many years ago in Haiti. We were stunned to learn it had happened here. We had always known of Father’s awful injury to his leg that had caused the remaining years of his life to be pain-filled, resulted in subsequent multiple hospital stays, and had prevented him from traveling to Haiti ever again. But we had been unclear as to what had caused the injury. She led us to a small, dimly lit restroom, and we witnessed the innocent-looking spot where the injury had happened. The moment was an intensely emotional one. Somehow it helped me to finally put closure on that catastrophic event in my uncle’s life.
After this somber moment, Sister Claudette took us back outside onto the beautiful grounds, set up chairs and a little table covered with a lace cloth, and under a big tropical shade tree, we ate fresh mangos together as fast as she and Jean could expertly peel and slice them. We parted best of friends and promised to bring her one of Father Reiser’s books on our next visit. I feel so blessed to have another of the wonderful nuns from the Sisters of Companions of Jesus to call my friend.
From there, how can I summarize the rest of the day? Let me just say it included a twisting and turning trip up and down the mountains, a tour of Jacmel (picture a slightly run down section of New Orleans!), a stop at a construction site where we were given a tour of every room, a banana and mango harvesting experience, eating fresh fish oceanside, and a spectacular view of the sunset as we working our way up and over the mountains on the way home.
Over and over in my mind on the drive home as I watched the setting sun and reveled in the memories of another wonderful day in Haiti, a phrase used so often by Father Reiser’s sister (and my beloved late aunt, Sister Bertrand) ran through my mind: “All this and Heaven too.”
God bless the people of Haiti.