Santa in Ouanaminthe


“There you are!” Dave said, looking up from his laptop, as Hugues stepped into the office. “We missed you this morning at the front gate.” Most every school morning, Hugues is as much a fixture at the school entrance as the sellers of breakfast items (pâté, peanut brittle, fried plantains, Cheetos and ice cream…believe it or not, all parent-approved breakfast selections).

santa“Yeah, I just got back from Santiago,” Hugues explained. “The kitchen needed supplies and so did Santa.”

“Santa?” Dave said and, then remembering that this was the last of school before Christmas break, added, “Oh, okay. So today’s the day.”

“Yep.” Hugues’ eyebrows arched mischievously. “Eleven o’clock.”

I said, “I’ll be ready with the camera.”

4Later, the Haitian Santa, whose voice sounded amazingly similar to Hugues, poked his head into the office at 11:20. It figures that in Haiti, even Santa would be relaxed about punctuality. “Quick,” the jolly fellow said, tugging at the pillow which amplified his ponch, “take my picture.”

I snapped a shot and he, of course, bellowed, “Ho, ho, ho!” Then he grabbed his pouch as IU staffers, Dieula and Joanne, scampered after him with pillow cases of candies. Now the trick was to get Santa from the lobby of the main building to the K building without being mauled. I don’t know how he made. I couldn’t see for the swarm of kids at recess who chased after him from all corners of the playground. “Tonton Noël! Tonton Noël!”
they called. But Uncle Christmas was determined to begin with the littlest kids. At the door to the preschool building, the guard had to hold the throng of older kids from invading the school. Everyone was laughing. It was so fun to see kids, who regularly experience the harshness of life, filled with delight. This is not a place where Christmas is overdone and commercialized but where the holiday is limited to December 24th and 25th. The appearance of a guy in a red suit passing out candies is a rare treat, so rare, in fact, that several in the three-year old hall screamed in fright the entire time Santa was in their classroom. In another classroom, the teacher started singing and tapping out a rhythm with tiny tambourine at her desk. Her kids bounced to the beat and sang along loudly. A young Romanian woman, in first year working for a nonprofit in town, was in attendance, snapping photos on her phone. She came next to me and shouted, “Why are they so loud and crazy?”

5I wasn’t sure what the answer to that question was so I shrugged and said, “Just their way of showing appreciation and having fun.”

Her countenance told me that my response was unsatisfactory. I smiled my agreement but it was the only answer I had. When Santa made his way to the elementary classroom, the clamor was even greater. All Santa handed them was a piece of candy but he gave them a story to tell, too. You can bet that every one of them mentioned his visit to their families when they arrived home. They wouldn’t mention the pillow slipping out from his belt or his white beard falling askew with his mustache landing on his chin. They’d remember the excitement of the moment.

May the Lord give you the Spirit of giving this season, following in the footsteps of the greatest Giver of all.

Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘ It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35.


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