For many of you, your first association with the words Mardi Gras is New Orleans. Some of you may know it as Fat Tuesday, or—if you’re from certain parts of the States—Fasnacht Day.
Mardi Gras is a huge national holiday in Haiti. It is the time when they hold an activity called Karnival, or Carnival. If you imagine the parades in New Orleans or the bright colors, fun, and games of a carnival, you will have a general idea of the Mardi Gras festivities in Haiti.
Unfortunately, despite some of its beautiful and fun cultural elements, it is also a time characterized by dezòd—a Creole word meaning literally “disorder,” but also used to describe naughty behavior or wrong-doing. In fact, I found this description of it on Wikipedia: “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.”
“Debauchery, etc.?” Please, say no more. (In fact, I made the mistake of typing “Mardi Gras” into Google Images while looking for a picture of a parade…I wouldn’t suggest doing that.)
As an alternative ambience to the Mardi Gras activities, Lemuel has traditionally held a spiritual retreat over the Karnival vacation.
This year, Almaïs took the initiative to plan the retreat, gathering a group of our young leaders together to help him organize and execute it.
There were approximately 115 youth, including young people not only from the Plateau, but from some other areas of Haiti as well. The theme of the retreat was taken from Philippians 3: “Run so as to win the prize.” They had quite an array of activities planned, including a soccer championship…
…a Haitian cultural day on which everyone dressed up “Creole” style and re-created a market scene…
…a singing competition…
…a Bible study, as well as various seminars…
…and, of course, lots of singing. Every retreat always has its own theme song. Here is a glimpse of the youth learning the theme song for this year (standing by the drum section is usually the most entertaining spot):
Of course, the good ladies in the kitchen made sure everyone was well-fed.
Mme Wisly is livin’ it up, as usual.
The soccer championship is always a good way to start the morning.
The fans make a good time of it.
There was even a special match between the leaders and the campers. Much to the chagrin of a few of us, the leaders lost! But it was fun to cheer the “old” guys on.
Monday was “Creole” day. After the early morning activities, everyone dressed up in traditional or cultural garb. A room was set up as a market scene, and the youth were able to mill about and make purchases. There were native fruits and vegetables, traditional treats (such as doukounou, a sort of cake made of manioc flour and cane syrup), artisanal items, and practical products.
Almaïs is eating a Haitian snack of cassava bread and peanut butter.
There was even a shoe shiner walking around ringing his bell to announce his services!
The evening sessions included competitive quizzes with questions from the Bible study, seminars, and activities held throughout the day.
This was followed by “CSSL Stars,” a singing competition reminiscent of American Idol. Here is a sampling of some of the talent:
Gela, Cupidon, and Judy served as judges to critique and score the contestants. Audience members could also vote via text message.
Some of us who were not directly involved in the retreat enjoyed catching part of it from the church porch.
No rest for the weary. After a busy couple days and a very late closing night, the tired leaders came back for clean-up.
Our young leaders did a fantastic job and gave it all they had. It was a great opportunity for us to see where they are and how they have matured. Naturally, there were some areas for improvement and correction. But, it is a thrill and a privilege for us to walk alongside them, to have the opportunity to advise and invest in them, and then to see them continue to improve. “Investing in people”–that is Lemuel’s heart, and this is one way we do it.