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6248: Corbett replies to Manigat on Les petits freres de l'Incarnation

Max, I posted a note on the list back in 1995.  It is an article
I wrote on the Ti Frere back in 1985 with a couple of updates
I made later on.

The community is now much larger and more prosperous than it was
in 1985 and, for me, one of the greatest changes is that they
added WATER!  They now have a running water system piped in
from the mountains.

but, here's the 1985 story with some updates:

Date: Tue, 3 Oct 1995 18:36:30 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Pandiassou, Haiti

by Bob Corbett
This past August I went to Haiti primarily to learn Creole.  I had just 
finished three weeks of language study in a Haitian neighborhood of 
Boston, Mass.  I discovered that I know too many people in Port-au-Prince 
who speak English.  So, I moved to the rural area.  I had the name of a 
Haitian spiritual leader, given to me by a friend in Boston.  This 
Haitian man was the head of a religious order.  I journeyed, unannounced, 
to this community, not knowing what to expect.
There are nearly forty brothers in this all-Haitian order.  Down the road 
a bit is a small but growing community of nuns following the same 
spiritual rule.  The community's founder, Francklin Almond, welcomed me, 
telling me I could stay as long as I wished.  My language purposes would 
certainly be fulfilled--no one there speaks a single word of English. 
The life of these brothers and sisters is very beautiful.  They rise long 
before dawn and assemble in their little chapels.  There they chant 
morning prayers in Gregorian chant.  Later, Haitian drums and rhythms 
fill the quiet with exciting music.  In between the leader gives a 
reflection which sets the mood for about 30 minutes of silent meditation.
I was an outsider.  An American in an all-Haitian enclave.  A speaker of 
English in a Creole world.  A non-Christian in a Catholic religious 
community.  But they made me feel at home, welcomed, comfortable.  The 
morning reflections of Francklin Almond were the most exciting and 
rewarding (and challenging) moments of each day.  In the early days I 
only understood a word here and there, never a full sentence.  By the end 
of my stay I got all the sentences, missing only a 
word here or there.  His theology is a theology of the unity of humans 
and nature through God.  "Te-a," THE EARTH.  It figured in nearly each 
day's reflection.  Francklin, a man in his mid-thirties, would sketch the 
importance of respect for nature.  The brothers and sisters live off the 
land.  Their primary crops are peanuts, corn, several sorts of beans, 
green vegetables, sugar cane and a variety of fruits.
He spoke movingly of the precarious balance in the farming cycle.  A 
central tenet of his theology is the need for the brothers and sisters to 
nurture the gifts of God, not squander them.  Much of their prayer was 
thanksgiving for rain, sun, wind and earth.  Seeds, crops, the work 
animals, butterflies, bees, birds, even the pests and insects were 
celebrated for their place in God's plan.  Our response, he urged in many 
different ways, was one of nurture, respect and care.
(Note 10/87:  A testimony to Francklin's ability to respond to the times 
is that today his theology centers on the prophetic role he and his 
community must play in Haiti's critical struggle for democracy and 
freedom.  The pastoral themes must await calmer times.)
My days were filled with work and peacefulness.  I attended all the 
services throughout the day.  (The group was curious about this 
non-participating spectator.  My non-believing status led to many rich 
conversations!)  I worked the fields with them and especially hung out 
around the cook house.  Partially because I wanted to learn to cook 
Haitian food, partially because Balde, the young brother assigned to cook 
at that time, was especially patient with my halting Creole.  I spent a 
lot of time studying vocabulary, reading the few Creole books I could 
find, and I talked a lot.  But mainly I watched, listened and was deeply 
moved and enriched by their challenging lifestyle.  
The Medieval monasteries of Europe were places of refuge, one might even 
call them places of hiding.  The world was viewed as a rather hopeless, 
sinful place.  A dangerous place for one seeking the morally good life.  
The monks and nuns of Medieval Europe retreated behind walls and sought a 
more perfect existence. 

[Corbett notes 12/17/2000] A number of my Austrian friends has
attacked the above as unfair to medieval monasteries.  I think it
is not true of earlier monasteries, but quite true of medieval
monasteries, particular in the middle and later periods, but that's
not a topic of discussion for this list.]
This Haitian community has a totally different approach to the world.  
They live their lives FOR the local community.  They live in the same 
material conditions as the local people.  They are among them daily.  
Never in my stay were all the brothers at home.  Some were always out 
working with the peasants.  They model lives of holiness and serious 
moral purpose, of awareness of the unity and gift of nature.  They teach 
too.  Their community is a model farm.  They experiment with how to get 
most out of Haitian farming techniques.  When changes must come, they are 
cautious about the psychological factors of change.  They tread carefully 
on and show profound respect for the traditional ways. 
An impressive and important contribution are the communal farms.  Once a 
village farm group forms, the brothers purchase a plot of land.  This is 
turned over to the farm commune.  The farmers work the land together.  
Much is learned and gained, not all of it material.  They experience 
group cooperation, trust, sharing, submerging personal ends 
for group aims.  Their fields produce too.  More food is available, some 
surpluses exist and are sold on the local market.  The brothers expect, 
and regularly receive, $20.00 yearly from each group to help pay back the 
land.  (A plot can easily be purchased for under $1000.)  These payments 
go toward the purchase of new lands for new groups.  Ultimately, though 
very long-term, the cooperative farm project will be self-supporting.  
The community is the center of a "ti legliz" movement the little 
churches--peoples' churches.  The brothers and sisters train "animators" 
how to lead the village communities in church and community meetings.  I 
visited these meetings and was extremely impressed by the openness, the 
seriousness of the purpose and the love among members.  
The "little churches" urge the formation of children's schools.  
Virtually no one in this remote rural area goes to school.  Illiteracy is 
well over 90%.  People are suspicious of schools.  The people wonder:  
Why bother?  There are no jobs to be had through schooling.  What can 
literacy bring but trouble, unfulfilled expectations, new dangers.  But 
the brothers and sisters know that without education life cannot progress 
beyond the miserable, beyond bare survival.  Knowledge must challenge 
harmful traditional practices, and there are many in farming, health 
care, the spiritual life and social relations. 
I spent many hours of my afternoons and evenings wandering the dusty dirt 
trails to nearby villages.  I visited with people, read stories to whole 
communities and learned a lot.  I learned Creole.  But more importantly, 
I experienced the beauties of Haitian village life--the simplicity, 
patience, generousness and love.  I watched these incredibly hard working 
people wrest meager subsistence from an unwilling and hostile 
environment.  I fell deeply in love with rural Haiti. 
In Boston I had heard that this community accepts no outside help.  But 
clearly they need help.  Their work is impeded by the lack of hard cash.  
They must move much more slowly than they wish because of the lack of 
resources.  Francklin and I had become close friends.  I told him that we 
in PEOPLE TO PEOPLE would like to be a part of their work.  He said no.  
Outside help was risky.  It compromised one's independence.  More 
importantly, it called attention to the work in ways not always healthy. 
(Note 11/89:  This was during the Duvalier times and the sorts of work 
being done by the community were considered dangerous.  Today, under 
General Avril, nothing has changed.  Actually the dangers have increased 
since the community and especially, Francklin, have become more well 
known.) When I first published this story back in 1985 I didn't use any 
names and was careful to disguise the area so that no one could identify 
the community.  That sort of anonymity is no longer possible since the 
community and Francklin are now well known.)
But, I persisted.  Our help would not be conditional and it would be 
discrete.  Besides, I was no longer an outsider.  They'd been telling me 
each day that I was part of the family.  (Hoist on their own petard!)  
Francklin returned to my request the next day with a startling proposal.  
He would LET us help them if they could help us in return.  The idea 
sounded fine, but how could they help us?
He offered to provide a place for us to bring Americans 
for retreats, a time of quiet, prayer and reflection.  RETREAT in several 
fundamental senses--a pulling back from the 20th century; a self-enforced 
isolation for speakers of English; a RE-TREAT, to treat yourself anew. 
I readily accepted.  Our own help for them could only be meagre at 
first.  We pledged money toward land purchases and the purchase of oxen 
and plows.  Farming in this region is strictly by the hoe and stick.  
Some local farming areas and methods will accommodate the plow and not 
change traditional crops.  The brothers hope to introduce this innovation 
without much disruption of traditional patterns.  But, they need the oxen 
and plows first.   
By now I had begun to recognize the fantastic and unique opportunity that 
came with their side of the bargain, but also the problems flooded in on 
me.  How difficult would such a retreat be for a typical American?  
CONSIDERABLY!  Some of the notable difficulties were clear:
1.  The trip from Port-au-Prince to the community is EXTRAORDINARILY 
hard.  One must travel by open-backed truck jammed to several times safe 
capacity with people, animals and a varied cargo.  
2.  It's expensive to get from St. Louis to Port-au-Prince.  
3.  WATER.  There is very little of it around in this area.  The brothers 
and sisters provide adequate safely boiled drinking water.  One bathes 
and washes clothes from a pail.  The water is scarce and not the cleanest 
to begin with.  
4.  Linguistic isolation.   

So, for the hardy, the daring, we could offer an extremely unique 
experience.  The community cannot handle too many at once, so we prefer 
to take small groups.  We would spend 6 days there or en route.  
The possibilities were endless, and the concept of this poor community 
reciprocating for our meager aid was intriguing.
(Note:  11/1989).  The retreat idea never really worked.  We offered it 
several times, but got no takers.  We've been back to Pandiassou many 
many times, and with groups.  Our groups will visit there this Christmas 
and our Webster U. study group again in April.  But, we've never gone on 
the retreat experience.  I've always thought it was a lost opportunity, 
but it was not something which I controlled!)