Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Soccer Sunday

By Troy-

Sunday afternoon Noah and I left to take some of our neighbors to a funeral. There is a man from Archaie, Exilus, who comes to church at Lifeline. His wife died last week and Pastor Rony and other members of the church wanted to go and pay their respects/show support for him.
Funerals are the biggest happenings in Haiti. In this area, they are about the only social or cultural gathering people attend. (Most people don’t get married, but everyone dies.) Families often spend everything they have on funerals for their loved ones. It is a cultural thing, and has ties to the beliefs in ancestor worship and the fear that spirits of the dead can come back and harm them if not treated properly. It has been said that in Haiti “the dead bury the living”, due to the expenses incurred for a ‘proper’ funeral. Some people in our village have cows that they keep as a savings account – to sell and pay for funeral costs later on.

I agreed to give a ride to those who wanted to attend, as this wasn’t a ‘rich’ enough funeral to provide bus service to our area. At first there were twenty or so that planned on going, but then a quick rain passed through and reduced the number down to seven. We piled into the pickup truck and I marveled at how good everyone looked. I don’t know how they keep white dresses and black suits looking so good while living in a block house with a dirt floor. They always look better than I ever do, and I’m always in awe of anyone who can wear a wool suit and not sweat in tropical temperatures.

Along the road we picked up five more funeral-goers who were standing along the highway like they knew we were coming. They packed into the cage on the back of the truck. There was a lot of hustle and bustle outside the church when we arrived, the band playing, the buses loading, the hearse being loaded with a coffin. I thought this was odd, but I don’t worry too much about odd things anymore – I generally ignore them – because I see a lot of ‘odd’ things. I figured the previous funeral was just letting out late. (Churches in the city here are often double or triple-booked on the weekend for funerals. Think – large concentrated population combined with poverty, rampant sickness and disease, and little or no health care available.)

Pastor Rony told me that the funeral started at four o’clock. I asked him if he’d like to leave at three-thirty, and he said “No, we can leave at four, it won’t start on time.” I laughed and shrugged and agreed on the four o’clock departure. We arrived at four-thirty and while unloading the truck learned that the funeral letting out was actually the one we were coming to attend. It was decided after much confusion that we would join the procession and drive over to the cemetery for the graveside service. We waited and watched as the two buses, many tap-taps, limousine and hearse passed by, and then pulled into line.

Then things got really odd. I will never again leave the mission and attempt to drive anywhere once a soccer match has begun including the countries of Argentina and Brazil. (Or any other soccer ‘powerhouses’ that have an afternoon match in some big tournament, for that matter.)

Sidenote : This country loves soccer. Love is not a strong enough word. The word fanatic was created for people who act like this. During any big match, crowds gather around any radio or television in every location that has electricity. They are especially crazy for Brazil. I don’t know if this is because they are all confessed fair-weather fans (Brazil is arguably the best in the world right now – for those of you who, like me – know nothing and care even less about soccer), or because of the thousands of Brazilian UN soldiers in the country right now, or what. But around soccer tournament time each year we start seeing more Brazilian flags than Haitian ones. As we drove to the funeral, I started calling these hot-spots we passed “Legliz du Foutbol” (church of soccer). Pastor Rony replied by saying “If they followed Jesus like soccer, we wouldn’t have any problems”.

Our funeral procession was driving through the city of Archaie from one side to another, right in the middle of a goal-scoring rout by Brazil. Crazy dancing people were running through the streets screaming and flailing arms around in the air. If I was new here and hadn’t been thoroughly freaked out a number of times already – I would have been freaked out. Empty rum bottles were being thrown, and even the people in the funeral procession vehicles were waving their arms out of windows and jumping up and down. We ended up getting in a traffic jam with a funeral procession headed for the Catholic church. I was distracted by all the revelry and ended up going the wrong way with the other procession for a few blocks. Suddenly we realized that the tap-tap in front of us wasn’t the same and we were no longer heading for the cemetery. We then fought our way through the throngs and tried to catch back up with our group.

We eventually arrived at the cemetery, and made several eight-point turns around people and animals and piles of garbage to find a parking spot. At this point I was a little frazzled, and Noah was not very happy, so I told Pastor Rony and the others to go on without us and we would wait there in the truck. After getting out, the whole crew stood next to the truck and had an intense conversation. Twenty seconds later Pastor Rony was opening the door and telling me they wanted to leave. I was dumbfounded, but had to laugh, because I quickly found out the reason why…none of my passengers (especially those we picked up on the way along the road) wanted to leave the truck for fear of losing their ride home. You see, a major part of the funeral event here in Haiti is the sport and competition of fighting for your ride on whatever transportation has been provided. There is never enough, and no one is spared from this battle. I’ve seen stately old men push children off of bus steps to get in, and well-dressed matronly women hiking up dresses and whacking others with purses to get onboard.

I guess my passengers felt that they had made their appearance, and given a good faith effort to show their respects, and now it was time to go home. Jack and I were totally cool with that. So, we got back on the road and quickly realized that the game must have ended, because the revelers had now flooded the streets. We dodged and weaved on Archaie’s main cobblestone road, totally surrounded by screaming soccer fans, until I found a dirt alley that could take us to the highway instead. Once we cleared the city, I was feeling relieved and glad to be home earlier than expected.

About halfway up the road to the mission, a man was running wildly down the middle of the road, jumping and yelling. He flagged us down. I couldn’t get around him, so I stopped the truck and forced a smile and told him to get in back. (Usually people flagging us down are looking for a free ride up the road). He had Marley-style dreadlocks, a Brazil jersey, a picture of a soccer player hung on a string around his neck, and green and yellow paint on his face. I was not amused. He stuck his head in the window and yelled “Blanco! Blanco!” and then something else in Spanish about football. I replied in Creole (as he appeared to be very much Haitian) “I don’t speak Spanish, man, I speak Creole”. His eyes got wide and he said other unintelligible things, and then I asked him if he needed a ride up. He said, “No, I’m not going up, I just want to ask you a question.” He was obviously drunk, or just insane, so I was getting a little nervous now and none of my passengers seemed too happy. I told him I had to go, and didn’t have time, but he reiterated that he really needed to ask me something. I said “Ok, ask, but I have to go”.

Here is what the urgency was all about:

He reached his hand in the truck making a fist – held it out to me, and yelled (in Creole) “ARE YOU A FANATIC OF FOOTBALL BRAZIL????” I yelled back at him “OUI! MWEN RENMEN FOUTBOL BRAZIL!!” Then we did the fist-bump thing and, seeing he was satisfied, I drove away. The others in the car were a little disturbed and slightly amused by the proceedings. A conversation ensued in the truck debating whether he had smelled like whiskey, rum, or clairin (moonshine).

I settled the issue by telling them “It doesn’t matter what he was drinking – when a crazy drunk person asks you if you love Brazil soccer, then it’s time you love Brazil soccer…and then you leave.” The rest of the drive was filled with laughter and relief and confusion over how our afternoon went so wrong.

From what I hear, Brazil beat Argentina 3 -0.

I still don’t care.