I could never have envisioned a year ago that I’d be standing, along with one-year old Pierre, for a birthday song and blessing at L’Eglise de l’Ephanie, a Haitian Episcopal church, in Stamford, CT. But there I was this past Sunday.
I had been searching to make a difference somewhere outside my family and community. Last fall I went to a presentation at our church on Haiti and thought, “Eureka.” I speak a little French, Creole intrigues me, and it seemed the proud, independent Haitians could use a little help. A group was forming to make the trek this past spring, and I was in. Our plan was to build a school playground. Oh that it could have been that simple.
The earthquake hit and everything changed. Haiti was no longer a place for do-gooder newbies, so the trip was cancelled and our playground group morphed into the Haiti Action Team. We did what we could, rounding up emergency supplies. Meanwhile we decided to strengthen ties with our Haitian neighbors at the Episcopal church the next town over. Maybe we could help with the influx of refugees? There was talk of a walk between the two churches. Maybe a joint picnic?
But asking a group to do that is a little like asking for someone’s hand in marriage when you haven’t even had your first date. What to do? I did the only thing I knew to do. I started going to their church on Sunday nights.
If I’m Haiti bound, it’s perfect practice. I speak simple French—not the lofty prayer book variety. Reverend Judy preaches in French and Creole, tossing in the occasional English phrase for the decidedly all-American young people in the crowd…and me.
From the beginning these people who shift comfortably from English, French, Creole, and Spanish—embrace the outsider. I am white—the other. They know what that feels like and welcome me.
It’s my birthday, and the prayer naturally flows from French to English. Reverend Judith quietly translates but with little Pierre, active and ready for his party, I didn’t understand it all. No matter. I felt it—powerfully.
After the service we make our way over to the parish hall for Pierre’s party. I had dinner plans at home, but they insist I stay—just ten minutes. An hour later, I’m still there eating a bountiful buffet of roast chicken, green salad, pinto beans and rice, and a dish I swear they called Ritz Salad, a pretty pink creamy potato and beet salad, both wonderfully familiar, yet intriguingly different. (Turns out they were calling it Salad “Russe” or Russian, duh!)
An on-line search yielded scores of recipes featuring the famous crackers, but when I entered “Haitian Potato Salad” I got close.
When I started attending L’Eglise de l’Ephanie early spring I thought this would be a good experience for us all. Maybe it is, but at this point, it sure feels like I’m getting the better deal.