An Emerald, a Gem
So anyway a man approached the headmaster of a Christian school in Haiti--btw, most Haitian schools are private--when he heard that a huge shipment from the Netherlands had arrived in port, a shipment meant for the school--big rolls of fake turf for this very soccer field, the one pictured above. He sauntered up to offer his help. Things like that happen all the time, I'm told.
The problem was getting the soccer field through customs. Good luck with that. In Haiti there's always some palms to grease--the difficulty is finding out who and how much and then simply bearing up under what's going to take some unnecessary time--lots of it.
Now the Dutch installation team who came with that turf got antsy fast--they had to get their work done, after all; but the rolls of turf were not about to move or be moved until the right pockets were lined. So this official-looking man approached the headmaster to say he was himself in a position to offer vital help--but unfortunately it would cost the headmaster, which is to say, the school, big bucks, relatively speaking.
Now the headmaster, who's no dummy, thought the heft of that bribe was over-the-top, so he worked at it himself, took some real time off from school to free the turf. When it was over, it cost him only a third of what the shyster had proposed. Headmaster figured he'd cut a pretty mean deal.
Education is a big thing in Haiti, as well it should be. Every morning countless kids march off to school, filling the streets, each of them, it seems, proud as peacocks in their neat school uniforms, their feet in good shoes, some of them patent leather. It's the way Haiti's scholars are supposed to look. School time seemed one of the finest moments of an ordinary day.
So anyway, the "I-can-help-you-for-a-price guy stopped by school not long after his ploy fizzled, watched the kids walking by, and pointed at one who was, shockingly, wearing sneakers, and said to headmaster, something akin to, "You need to get on that kid." His sensibilities were shocked by the kid in sneakers, of all things--such an obvious breach of decorum.
The week before he was fishing a bribe, a grand one.
That's a Haitian story.
But something has to be said about the soccer field itself. It's a gem, and that's no metaphor.
Port au Prince is not an armed camp, but what isn't slum exists behind walls with heavy steel gates and one or more padlocks. Up top, those gates are festooned with iron spear heads or thick rolls of saw-toothed wire. Inside, people have bars on windows and doors. I didn't hear anyone complain about crime, but lots of folks have big dogs too.
And there's this about Port au Prince: the very rich and the very poor live together, after a fashion. There are wealthy neighborhoods, but where there is no government, the poor throw up shelters almost anywhere and, well, squat. Walls line most streets. They are forbidding and foreboding, but there are countless nooks and crannies, so that the rich and poor live together.
The school with the soccer field cannot be seen from the street because it exists behind high walls with wide, locked gates controlled by guards, 24/7. If you didn't know the school was there, you'd never guess it is--a whole school, well-maintained, two-story, it's own chapel and administrative offices, K-12, smart-looking kids in white shirts, many of them, by the by, wearing Nikes.
What's hidden in Haiti is almost shocking once you get behind those ubiquitous walls because it's hard to believe that some people live relatively ordinary lives in a city so rich in chaos.
Look at that picture again. Seems perfectly normal. Uniformed kids playing football--soccer.
But when I saw that field in the middle of the campus, it seemed some kind of cartoon. Nothing in the city is perfectly straight--it's a city built into a mountain after all. Nothing on the streets of the city is clean. Nothing I saw has perfectly cut lines. Nothing seems flat. Nothing in the city on a hill is as soft as the lush artificial turf on that field, and not much in the city is green, that precious soccer is field is perfectly emerald. It is an emerald. Honestly, it's so unique in the city I saw that it took my breath away. How can I say it?--it seems more hypothetical than real, more divine than here-and-now.
When the Dutchmen finished laying it down, they picked up their tools and walked away. I'm told the kids walked out on it slowly, caringly, the way Shoeless Joe walks out of a cornfield and into the lights of that magical baseball field in heavenly Iowa. They walked on that green miracle as if stunned, one young lady going right out to the very heart of the field, then lying down on her back and throwing her arms out to the side as if prostrate and penitent.
In the middle of Port au Prince, that flat, green, soft, lined soccer field seemed a taste of something eternal. It took my breath away.
As all of us do, Haiti needs its share of miracles.