While we work at St. Vincent’s School, we stay in their guest quarters. These are on the second and third floor of the quadrangle school building, on the opposite corner from the children’s dorms. The girls live here, as well as boys under age 11. The older boys live in a separate dorm down the street.
Living at the school rather than at a separate hotel in Port au Prince brings us into the children’s lives in many important ways. We see their smiling faces pressing at the window of our dining room during breakfast. In the evenings when clinic is finished, we can play with them (and work on our Creole and sign language). One especially memorable experience for anyone who has stayed at St Vincent’s, is waking up with the children. I lie in bed with my eyes closed and hear children calling out to each other, some of them yelling as they’re being bathed. There are the sounds of car horns and vehicles clanking and chugging down the street outside the school, with that distinctive whine of air brakes now and then. I could be dropped into this scene blindfolded and would know instantly I was at St. Vincent’s. I would also know the time, because all this racket starts at about 5 AM, every morning.
One particular morning I hear a new sound amid the usual din. Wait….is that….a piano playing? Of course. It’s the day of the big party, when St. Vincent’s holds its annual Christmas celebration to honor the International Day for the Handicapped. So naturally there will be music, and some young child has decided to try his hand at the piano. At 5 AM. Also there is a harmonica playing, evidently being passed from child to child, by the sound of the various squeaks and chirps emanating forth. As I said, I know I am at St. Vincent’s, the only place in the world I can hear a piano playing – at 5 o’clock in the morning.