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Thursday, December 15, 2016


Haiti Fact #10:
The national money is the gourde (pronounced goud).  The exchange rate is currently around 67 gourdes to 1 US dollar.

            A year ago I had never heard of Cap-Haitien.  Today it constitutes such a huge part of my daily life that it is hard to ever forget about it.  It’s a unique city, even within Haiti.  The “iron market” covers a full four blocks under one roof, creating an open space not accessible to vehicles.  The market sprawls for blocks in all directions, dominating the streets that vendors have claimed.  Going to the market has become one of my favorite parts of Cap-Haitien, or Okap as people usually call it.  While never a relaxing experience, going to the market is still fun.  The fact that produce is available so cheaply never fails to make me smile.  However, the market’s complex layout overwhelmed me at first.  But with a better understanding of how it’s set up, shopping trips are easier and faster. 

It still surprises me that I like shopping there.  Very few expatriates descend into the chaos of the market, making it so that I stand out a lot.  Combined with the fact that expatriates are (correctly) perceived as wealthier than average Haitians, my lack of anonymity makes me the target of endless sales pitches.  It used to really overwhelm me when someone would yell at me in a language I only somewhat understood.  Fortunately, improving in Creole and persistently trying again has made it so that I usually understand the sales pitches and have no problem issuing a quick “No thank you” and moving on.  As soon as the more aggressive, intimidating elements are filtered out, the market becomes a cool place. 

Food that I have never seen, let alone tried, is available for an insanely low price.  Most recently, I started buying eggplant and squash called meliton in Creole and making a sauce for rice out of it.  The best part is that I haven’t gotten around to trying everything that’s available so there’s so much experimenting left to do.  I like the market so much because it is probably the most tangible reminder that, despite a mountain of setbacks, I can function normally here and do things that outsiders almost never do.  Cap-Haitien’s market is rough on the edges but is worth experiencing if you have the time to learn how it works.  For shorter visits, the restaurant scene is a must-see.

The iconic restaurant in Okap is Lakay.  Translating as “house” or “home,” Lakay is where we see expatriates on a regular basis and hear a surprising mix of languages.  The good food and laid back atmosphere make it my favorite restaurant in Cap-Haitien.  There’s a lot more to try, though.  The “boulevard” or “carenage” runs along the ocean and has several restaurants drawing in the expatatriate community, groups of visitors and middle class Haitians.  The restuarants compete amongst each other to bring in music acts and entertainment, all for prices far below what you would pay in the USA.  In the sit down restaurants you can find a little bit of American food with plenty of Haitian food.  I’ve just started expanding into more options outside of the restaurants that draw in expatriates, simply because there is a lot to try just within that group. 

I’ll have to write more about life in Cap-Haitien in a later post.  Moving here changed how I live.  Cap-Haitien is hot, dusty, old and rarely smells good, but, similar to its market, has a surprising amount of redeeming qualities as you get to know it better.  There will be more posts about Okap coming up.  It’s a unique place.

A special thank you to these donors:

Emelia DeMusis
Rev. Folts and Family   

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Paradise and the flood

Haiti Fact #9:
Haitian roads have a lot of speed bumps, which are called dos d’ânes (backs of donkeys) or polis kouche (sleeping policemen).

            This past Saturday, we went to the beach in a place called Paradise Cove.  It deserves that name.  Despite its incredible beauty, we found it almost empty simply due to its remoteness.  After an intense drive up and down a mountain we took a twenty minute boat ride around to the far side of a neighboring cove.  We spent the day sitting in the sand under a tree or swimming in the ocean.  Out in the clear water, I could float around and look back to see the wild mountains surrounding the cove.  The huge jellyfish floating in the shallows completed the rugged and indifferent beauty of the place.  The tranquility was kind of exhausting.  At one point a boat arrived, full of volunteers from the USA with a few Haitians.  We actually spent more time talking with the Haitians – confidence when talking to new people is much more a Haitian thing.  The boat ride and then drive back home went by in a state of reflection as I realized how close we live to that amazing little cove.  We arrived back at the house Saturday night relaxed and exhausted.  After waking up from a deep nap, I noticed it was raining pretty hard.
It rained for four days straight, beginning with ten hours of very heavy rain. For the following days it poured, drizzled, rained, took short breaks and even thundered a little bit.  Much of the city flooded, causing houses to collapse and streets to become impassable.  At least ten people died, but life in the city still managed to go on.  We are blessed to live in a more built up section of the city with better drainage, so we only lost power.  The water flowed past us down to the ocean and the flooded sections of the city.  In that moment I saw so clearly how resilient Haitians are in the face of problems that would devastate people in the USA.  The turbulence of life here encourages one not to get too attached to any routine or plan.  Storms and disruptions are inevitable.  I can’t say for sure whether this unexpected deluge is caused by the same forces that are intensifying extreme weather events around the world.  I can, however, note a few factors that made this unusual weather much more deadly to the people that it hit.

In the USA, things like zoning rules, ordinances and property taxes are not generally viewed with gratitude.  But Haiti could use a lot more of all of them.  The earthquake in 2010, Hurricane Matthew, this flood and countless other natural disasters had their destructive power magnified by the vulnerability of Haiti’s infrastructure to the slightest calamity.  When I, as an outsider from the developed world, see whole neighborhoods lying in flood zones or on steep hillsides, I picture the carnage that a hurricane or earthquake could inflict.  What to do about that is difficult though.  Haiti’s past and present are full of foreigners who know exactly what Haiti needs.  They tried and continue to try to implement their plan, often experiencing difficulty with achieving any results.  All the while, Haitians continue to die from diseases long banished from the developed world and in large numbers as a result of weather events.  The situation here is very complicated, especially between outsiders and Haitians. 

No easy or quick solution exists.  My time here needs to be about listening and absorbing information because despite the fact that Haiti has problems and that the developed world has found ways to overcome those problems, any inquiry into history should make it clear that just copying and pasting the solutions doesn’t work.  Major problems persist and frustrate good intentions.  Meanwhile, the world does not seem to be transitioning toward ideological unity on its own.  Despite all that, I continue to naïvely hope that listening and caring can do something to help with this particular issue that I am confronted with.  And it remains a blessing to do that work among Haiti’s hidden treasures and painful realities.      

A special thank you to these donors:

Ken Ewell
Mr. & Mrs. Jeff Going             

Thursday, November 3, 2016

New goals

Haiti Fact #8:
Most meals at Haitian restaurants come with a side of chopped cabbage and carrots mixed with hot sauce.  This dish is called pikliz (pronounced peek-lees) and should not be mistaken for cole slaw.

Haiti has thrown problems at us basically since the moment we arrived.  Facing issues requiring immediate attention kept us on our toes and made it difficult to actually relax.  While desperately trying to temporarily turn off the worries by watching a Netflix movie kind of succeeded, the issues were always waiting when the movie ended.  But that mindset is just a memory now.  I speak Creole well enough to not think about it in everyday situations.  Driving still deserves my full attention and respect, but the days of dreading it ended a while ago.  The everyday routine is starting to become a non-event, freeing us up to pursue other objectives.  Right after arriving I saw a huge mountain looming over Cap-Haitien and decided that I needed to hike it.  This past Saturday, we finally did.  All of a sudden, life is no longer a constant struggle to keep my head above water.  It feels like an opportunity to draft up some new objectives for the next eight months.      
A new situation calls for new goals.  Teaching is still my main job, so I want to continue to work on lesson planning and classroom management.  That’s not all though.  Due to its abundance and low prices, we end up eating tons of fresh food.  While that is absolutely a blessing, it does eventually lead to one missing freezer food and preservatives.  So rather than resent the extra time spent in the kitchen, I want to invest some time in learning how to cook healthy food well.  In terms of free time, Haiti has an abundance of mountains that continually beckon, especially after finally doing a big hike.  Even cooler are the emerging friendships with Haitians.  Of all the things that depend on actually being in Haiti, developing those friendships what I want to do the most.  That mentality of focusing on what we can only do in Haiti is the positive spin on complaining about what isn’t possible here.  For now I use that test to decide whether or not I should make something a priority.  Finally, it continues to get clearer that this opportunity is more than just a chance to experience new things.  I am here to work on spiritual things too.  That is the most nebulous area of my goal list; for now the best I can say is that I won’t neglect the calling and will keep on trying.  So those are my updated priorities.  But as always, one should expect surprises and changes to wreak havoc on all plans.  After four months of this, I certainly expect some interruptions.

A special thank you to these donors:

Lynn Giroux
Ronald Smith

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nou la

Haiti Fact #7:
The elections have been postponed due to the extensive damage and loss of life caused by Hurricane Matthew in southwestern Haiti.

Life here is a challenge.  It puts up obstacles that won’t go away without a confrontation.  Challenges at work and in daily life regularly puncture the process of establishing stability and routines.  The only antidote to such frustrating adversity is perseverance.  Over these past three months it was perseverance that made the difference and got us to this moment.

Even after one month in Haiti, the constant presence of chaos and setbacks loomed over every minute of every day.  Days went by in a blur of confusion while our problems showed no signs of reaching resolution.  But the choice was always simple: try again, or don’t.  Was it frustrating that the truck was broken and that we lacked the language skills to move the repair along?  Absolutely.  But we tried again, if only to avoid letting the first problem win.  Fluctuating between embarrassment, exhaustion, heat and frustration, I never really relaxed during the first few weeks.  Perseverance and faith, not validation based on success, finally pulled me out of that stew of stress.  There really wasn’t any success for a while.  The ideology that formed over the past three months developed around believing that this job matters enough to keep trying regardless of success rate.  Of course that is not to say there haven’t been lags in commitment or motivation.  Rather, the job continues to demand our attention and effort.  We are continually offered the chance to accept that calling. 

One way to say what’s up in Creole is sak pasè.  A common response is nou la, or we’re here.  That attitude of simply acknowledging that we are here changes one’s perspective.  Rather than focus on potentials or expectations, nou la brings me back to remembering that it’s pretty cool to be here and that this job is a blessing that just wears a heavy disguise sometimes.  Nou la helps me appreciate that although limited progress has been made on the to do list, that doesn’t mean that nothing happened or that what did happen doesn’t have value.  Nou la acknowledges that life throws a lot at you and that even preventing lost ground is better than not trying.  Through the realization and gradual adoption of these ideas, I am learning to appreciate a different ideology.

In the USA, potential matters and expectations are set in order to be met.  This process facilitates advancement and development, contributing the high standard of living found in the USA.  In Haiti it is difficult to focus on potential because reality constantly gets in the way.  The hard-wired and well-trodden routines of the institutions and businesses that make the USA so effective simply don’t exist to that degree in Haiti.  The ideas I learned in school about maximizing productivity need modification for Haiti.  So after three months I continue to see the importance of perseverance while aspiring to continually commit to this job and to appreciate that nou la is not failure.  We made a lot of progress already and I feel better prepared to keep working and trying to improve.

A special thank you to these donors:                

Greg Shook
Mr. & Mrs. Philip Coles

Friday, September 30, 2016

Travel Log 2

Haiti Fact #6:
Elections for Haiti’s next president will take place on October 9, and the campaigns are in full swing.

Santo Domingo
            It happened fast, but on October 7 we will hit the three month mark.  A tourist visa in Haiti only is good for 90 days, after which one must leave and reenter the country to get the required passport stamps and a new visa.  The approaching deadline to leave the country coincided with a lull at work, so we decided to make an adventure out of it.

            I majored in Spanish and have always wanted to spend some time in a country where it is spoken.  So Eli graciously agreed to make our destination Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.  Through a sister of a friend we got some basic information about the city but ended up just going with less of a plan than even I would like.  We got hit by surprise fees and taxes at the border both times, but our passports got the necessary stamps and the legal reason for the trip was satisfied.  But who cares about that?  We had a great time.

            We ended up staying at a hotel/casino that might have exceeded our price range but ended up being worth it.  Staying there meant free breakfast on the patio looking at the ocean and palm trees just before the day starts to get hot.  And at the end of the day, day to day living in Haiti is cheap so a little excess just once didn’t break us.  After almost three months in Haiti, it was great to hang out in a modern city like Santo Domingo.  Every day brought a new surprise. 

The view of Santo Domingo from the hotel

I used to hate the mall in the US, but going to a huge, gorgeous Agora Mall made me reconsider my position on malls.  Just taking a subway and hiking around a state park felt so much like home.  We managed to find a movie theater that even had one (terrible) movie in English, that we enjoyed nonetheless.  On top of all that, there was an Episcopal church around the corner with an English service.  It had been months since I experienced any of that.  It also surprised me how air conditioning, good internet and hours of sitting around the hotel helped me recover from months of challenging transitions.  But most importantly, I got to speak Spanish. 

Mirador del Norte Park

            The sister of a friend I met in Cap-Haitien made all of this possible, but if I didn’t speak Spanish it would not have worked out either.  Thanks to her we saw a lot of the city and avoided a few rookie mistakes.  But as in any travel situation, the best part about hanging out with a local is getting to skip the tourist traps and have some real experiences.  It wasn’t always poetic, for instance the time she took us to a grocery store to buy tons of junk food not available in Haiti, but it was always awesome.  After a day or two of running around, Eli preferred de-stressing in the hotel.  That gave me an opportunity to dive deeper into the culture of the city. 

            The trip peaked at a pasta dinner with five Dominicans yelling over each other and mostly ignoring me.  For one thing, no one ever ignores me in Haiti and the stares get tiring after months.  But to simply sit and try to pull some meaning out of so many conversations without being expected or pressured to respond was exactly what I needed.  It was a glorious moment to relax and eat while surrounded by chaos that I didn’t have to try to understand.  I could choose to engage or choose not to.  It got even better when I started to pick out what they were saying.  That experience completed the trip, and I learned so much just in that moment. 

So while getting better at Spanish over a few days was awesome, it can’t top the experience of hanging out with some Dominicans and getting a taste of how they live.  I rode the subway, helped out with some English homework and sat at an outdoor park on the waterfront drinking cheap beer and almost blending in.  That was a real vacation after the past few months.  It doesn’t have to be climbing mountains every day, but it’s better when it’s not staged.  So yeah, we took a little risk just heading off to a new city without much of an idea what we would find.  There are a thousand things that could have happened.  But those unknowns and surprises took the trip from relaxing to recharging.  Now we’re back in Haiti and I am re-energized to make this job the best it can be.     

A special thank you these donors:

The Corbett family
Meg Mitchell                           

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Travel Log 1

Haiti Fact #5:
Haiti was the second nation to gain independence in the New World, declaring independence on January 1, 1804.  The revolution was a long and difficult struggle but completed the first successful slave revolt.

Although this is still technically my first time having been to Haiti, which people ask all the time, I no longer consider going between Cap-Haitien (where I live) and Terrier Rouge (where I work) travelling.  Actually travelling therefore requires going outside of that comfort zone.  So now I will describe some of the travelling we did over the past two months.

Cormier Plage
            Although I live near the ocean, there are actually no nice beaches around due to uncleanliness.  So going to the beach requires an intense drive over a neighboring mountain to get away from the city.  There’s nice beach hotel there called Cormier Plage that I’ve been to twice for the day.  The beach is gorgeous and surprisingly inexpensive, with a nice breeze that never stops.  Sunscreen is a must though.

The Palace and Citadelle
            One of Haiti’s founding fathers, Henri Christophe, left two buildings in the north of Haiti that guarantee his legacy.  After crowning himself King of the North, he began the construction of a fortified citadelle in the mountains as well as a sumptuous palace for himself and his family.  The two structures are now open to tourists, and anyone here as long as we are will likely go several times.  We went a few weeks ago and loved it.  The palace was severely damaged in an 1842 earthquake but still has a lot of stories to tell.  It really only retains some of the skeleton of what it used to be though.  But visitors can still learn about and look at the history, as well as imagine how unique a character Henri Christophe was. 
            To get to the Citadelle requires a hot, strenuous hike with enormous altitude gain.  I just barely made it all the way up on foot and needed a long break at the top, but it was absolutely worth it.  Sitting on top of a mountain, this impenetrable fortress gives a defender a view of Cap-Haitien and the harbor, all the roads leading up to the fortress, and even into the mountainous interior.  It is formidable and even weathered the 1842 earthquake fairly well.  Additionally, its history is unusual and even ironic. 
The historic forts I have visited in the USA are in either in terrible condition or have undergone extensive renovations that entirely change the original appearance of the structure.  But the Citadelle has not had significant structural renovations and still has most of its original cannons.  It is beautifully preserved.  Ironically, it was never attacked, although Haitian leadership had good reason to expect another incursion on their independence after ousting all the Europeans in 1803.  They built the Citadelle because they would never go back to being slaves.  So Henri Christophe, in those two structures, left a legacy as a memorable, if not fiscally successful, Haitian founding father.  As a visitor, I loved the experience and if any reader of this blog comes to visit me in Haiti, I will gladly go again.

Dajadon, Dominican Republic
            This was a work trip two weeks ago.  Dajabon is a border town in the north where Haitians can get by without speaking Spanish and where people go to buy things not available in Haiti.  On this particular trip, our mission was to find and get prices for a chainsaw and weed whacker.  I came as a translator alongside Eli and Mr. St. Ange, the operations director of CASB.  Crossing the border turned out to be the most exciting part.  I was excited to add another stamp to my passport and to see how trilingual I actually was, but as we approached the border I heard a different story: don’t talk to the agents at the border, walk fast, and have small bills ready if they stop you.  We parked and then set off.  My boss started walking faster into chaotic two way traffic consisting of people and small vehicles.  Meanwhile, I nervously kept going and tried not to get run over by anything.  All of a sudden my boss reappeared and said something like, “We’re in the DR now.  It helps to separate at the crossing because they’re more likely to stop groups.”  With my heart still racing but with a realization of what just happened hitting me, I felt like a secret agent.  The rest of the trip was nowhere near as interesting.   
            One might imagine the egg miming incident prompting me to translate the necessary vocabulary prior to leaving for a shopping trip.  Not so, however; upon arriving at the power equipment store I realized did not know how to say chainsaw, weed whacker, bush or even grass in Spanish or Creole.  Fortunately the actual tools were there so they did not need to be alluded to, but it might have been tough.  Translating between three languages was more like translating between English and a blend of Creole and Spanish, but I got the extremely simple points across and relayed the important information.  We went back across without incident, and called it a success. 

            Earlier this week my boss invited us to accompany him on a trip to meet the bishop.  So on Thursday, he picked us up in the morning and off we went.  The road quickly transitioned from a flat road full of potholes to a mountain road full of potholes, which was not an improvement.  After crossing the mountains, we drove along the west coast of Haiti and got a chance to see large parts of the country, all totally new to me.  We eventually arrived in Pétionville after a six hour drive and checked into the hotel.  The air conditioning and especially the shower in this hotel brought such a smile to my face.  The shower at our house in Cap-Haitien is powered by gravity, which is great when the electricity is not reliable.  But I had forgotten how amenities such as water pressure and AC are so nice. 
The restaurant we ate at and almost everything else in Pétionville made me: 1) Remember and miss living in the US, but more importantly, 2) Realize that so many Haitians do not live like that.  Even as expats making a relatively small amount of money by US standards, we make at least as much or more than many working people in Haiti.  So on the one hand I’m working on adapting to this new standard of living, but on the other hand constantly living around people who would give anything to live at that same standard.  This leads to an endless internal conflict that has no easy answer.  But anyway, we met the bishop the next day, had a nice meeting, and headed back that afternoon by bus.  The potholes and the mountains weren’t necessarily better by bus, but I don’t regret the experience.  So after two months we got a quick taste of a few nice amenities before heading back home.  Personally the most important thing was seeing my simultaneously clashing reactions to the same thing and realizing that this experience will change a lot more than my tan and openness to new ideas.  This experience will change me in ways that I cannot predict today.

A special thank you to these donors:

Ed and Suzy Burke
Richard and Donna Honan

Friday, August 26, 2016

Concerning Plans

Haiti Fact #4:
Most Haitians speak Haitian Creole. However, the government and many businesses use French.

The Lord of the Rings inspires me.  Sometimes I even think of little passages that describe my situation.  One of my favorite passages is the following, pulled from Chapter 3 of The Fellowship of the Ring.  “‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ [Bilbo] used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’”  This can be interpreted abstractly, as acknowledging the limited control we have over the external events that affect us.  It could even highlight the bravery required to leave a comfort zone and accept some risks.  But in Haiti as a foreigner it is a reality. 

Leaving the house always carries some risk here; not to life and limb, but simply the ever present risk that the plan you make will not go smoothly.  Simply walking somewhere can result in comments and stares from the city’s residents.  Driving brings a whole host of challenges, and entering the marché (street market) is guaranteed to make me the center of attention and subject of constant sales pitches for things that I do not want.  And the list goes on like that.  As Tolkien abstractly observes, leaving the house and entering the public world of Cap-Haitien can actually lead to unexpected places.

At the moment, I am beginning the biggest change of my life.  While it is a reality that even going out the door can lead to a mix of surprises and new experiences, each challenge does bring excitement in its own way.  I applied for this job seeking something different and that’s exactly what I got.  We have the basic day to day skills down now and have begun to venture out of our established comfort zones.  Despite the unpredictability and frequently failing plans, we are getting by and starting to love the experience. 

So as the USA gears up to go back to school, I just want everybody to know that my life here is going great and improving every day.  To everyone who has and continues to support me, thank you so much.  And to those going back to school, whether as a student or teacher, have a great year!

A special thank you to these donors:

The Nicoll family
Stephanie Patterson

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Ale Chèche Pwason

Haiti Fact #3:
A major form of public transportation in Haiti is the moto.  Motos are simply motorcycles driven and owned by individuals who make a living transporting people around the local area.  Motos complicate driving because they are everywhere and drive aggressively. 

On one of the first nights in Haiti, overwhelmed by all the newness and chaos, we needed something to do.  It was a weird, transitional moment: Eliza was leaving Haiti soon, ending her YASC service and preparing to reenter the USA after being away so long.  Eli and I had spent only a few days in Haiti and the sheer magnitude of all that I had realized we had to learn kept me stunned and quiet.  At that moment, we needed something to do.

A deck of cards surfaced but no appealing three-person card game came to mind.  We sat in silence a little longer until someone suggested Go Fish.  By then I recognized the need to become functionally fluent in Creole quickly.  My vocabulary was tiny and even the most basic verbs eluded me.  As we jumped into playing Go Fish I found myself wanting to ask, “Do you have any eights?” in Creole.  As a result, I learned gen/genyen (to have) and got a chance to practice numbers.  It might not seem like a lot but every new word was a big win at the beginning.  Go Fish, or Ale Pwason as we called it, came to the rescue in more than one way.

Fast forward a few days to my first class.  Despite the amazing amount of support and love from social media, all that I could see at the time was the huge amount of work required to learn how to teach English to people who did not speak or understand it well.  I tried to isolate some key concepts that drive the English language and spent my first lessons encouraging the students to use some basic “helping” verbs to negate sentences and form questions.  Now while these concepts are important, it is still not fun or engaging to write, “I do not grow corn” and, “Do you grow corn?” when prompted by the shocking declaration: “I grow corn.”  But even despite the obvious boredom and resistance to these exercises, the class still could not correctly use “do” in these simple sentences.  Frustrated by yet another rough patch, I went back to the drawing board. 

Needing an engaging way to practice using “do” to form questions, I remembered playing Ale Pwason and learning how to ask someone what they have.  After a quick walk around the marché that proved you can buy just about anything on the street in Cap-Haitien, I had a few decks of cards with cool-looking Chinese symbols on the box.  The class that day covered a few basic grammar concepts prior to starting Go Fish.  Even after introducing the game, it took a while to communicate and clarify the rules in my broken Creole.  But once they got it, you would have thought Go Fish was Call of Duty. 

In the two classes that I used Go Fish as a form of practicing forming questions, I saw the most heated games of Go Fish of my entire life.  They love it, and even practice basic English without me telling them to.  They taught me that a better translation of Go Fish is Ale Chèche Pwason (go look for fish).  More importantly, they taught me the value of speaking and practicing the language in a fun way.  They helped me realize a first victory: teaching a class where actual learning took place that was fun at the same time.  Learning how to teach ESL confidently will take time, but my outlook is brighter now with a couple good classes on my record. 

A special thank you to these donors:

Douglas Ryan
Vinny Giovaniello and Samantha Brayton

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Independence and Responsibility

Haiti Fact #2:
Men who own and operate some type of service company in Haiti have the title “Boss” added to their name.  For example, if William Provens owns a plumbing business or even a carwash, his title is Boss Provens.

About a week ago, my boss and his amazing translator left.  Just like that, two recent college grads from the US began independent life in a country where they stand out like they’re wearing orange jumpsuits.

When I first heard about YASC, I didn’t think too much about the reality of living in a different country.  I didn’t know where I was going and was so busy anyway that it never seriously crossed my mind.  As departure neared, intensive preparation occupied my time to the point that I rarely thought about actually leaving.  Then I left.  After that, I spent two weeks under various degrees of babysitting (that I am eternally grateful for) as I learned the very basics of life in Haiti.  And finally, one week ago my boss departed. 

Independence is cool, but it comes with responsibility.  On our first day of independence, the truck wouldn’t start.  We received the electric bill that grossly overcharged us to the point where we had no choice but to dispute it.  We no longer had a translator, making what I believed to be a solid foundation in Creole nowhere near sufficient.  Those first few days required a lot of perseverance.  Nothing worked out the way we wanted and every conversation involved straining to decipher what people attempted to explain, and often failing to understand.  For example, one hot day we embarked on a quest to go buy eggs.

Leaving the house it occurred to me that I did not know how to say “egg” in Creole.  My friend works across the street, so I asked him Koman ou ka di ‘egg’ an kreyol? but he did not understand.  We said poule, petit and blan hoping that would help but he must have thought we wanted little white chickens.  Desperately trying to mime laying an egg while flapping my arms in broad daylight, in the street, and in a country where I already stick out, I quickly supported Eli’s decision to go inside and look it up.  Upon learning the magic word, ze, I thought we were set.  My friend graciously guided us all over the marché (market) as he asked around for eggs.  When we found them, the street vendor looked at me and said something that I could not understand.  I looked stupidly at him and asked him to repeat it until I gave up and gave him a big enough bill so it could cover whatever he was saying.  And so ended a tough and hot but eventually successful quest.

Setbacks are part of getting things done when you are a foreigner in Haiti who is learning the language.  But some people genuinely want to help and go out of their way to do so.  Humility becomes a reflex after enough conversations that involve the words mwen pa konprann (I don’t understand) more than anything else.  And miraculously, once you admit to not understanding, people slow down and say it again.  Do that ten times and suddenly you don’t have to say it as much.  It’s not pretty, efficient or comfortable, but we are learning.

In case I’m implying a happy sequence of funny stories, I add the following caveat.  The truck is still not fixed, the electricity problem is still not resolved, my skin is having a hard time with the intense sun here, and I have a way to go before I am functionally fluent in Creole.  The amount of challenge overwhelms me more than I want to admit.  But I haven’t quit yet.  I get back up and give it another shot because the only other option is to go home and sweat.

There is still so much to learn and improve on.  That is absolutely real.  For what it’s worth, I’m glad I never tried to imagine what life would be like here.  But after a week of independence and responsibility that yielded more setback than success, I’m ready for another one.   

A special thank you to these donors:

Bishops Ian and Laura, Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut
Mary and Mike Crowley
Robert Synott
Donna Mitchell and Bill Heiple

Thursday, July 14, 2016

First Impressions

Haiti Fact #1
Spaghetti is a common breakfast food in Haiti.  To eat spaghetti at any other meal, especially dinner, is seen as unusual.

It has been one week!

We visited CASB and all the land belonging to the school.  I taught a few classes.  I learned to drive a stick shift on the crazy Haitian roads.  I saw all the potential that the school has, as well as the huge amount of effort and cooperation needed for it to grow into its mission.  I withered under the heat, discovered the fruit tree I can reach from the balcony, bought produce in a street market, dodged cars and motorcycles in the streets, and bought a dumb phone.

For the past week, I've been in Cap-Haitien.  I'll be here for the next year, and it will require a massive adjustment.  I can communicate somewhat in Creole when I need to speak to someone, but I rarely understand what they say back.  Cap-Haitien differs from anything that I have ever experienced.

In the process of beginning to learn all over again how to live and function in a society, I almost forgot that I am here to do a job.  While standing in an overgrown field that will eventually produce crops, teach students to farm, and to generate revenue to support the school, I realized that there is simply so much to do and that I'm here to jump in and help reach the goal.  To do that, I will teaching English at two schools, CASB and a professional school in Cap-Haitien called Saint Espirit (pronouced Sant Espree).

But that is just the beginning.  Although most of my job description entails teaching English, I am here to form relationships, learn about and participate in another culture, go beyond the superficial, and to forward God's mission in the world.  I am beginning to see how much I need to learn even function here.  But there are some friends here to help, even though it will be challenging and frustrating in the beginning.  I'm still excited to be here and I hope you enjoy reading about what I'm up to!

I'm one week in and excited for the weeks to come.

A special thank you to these donors:

World Mission Committee, St. John's Episcopal Church (Essex CT)
Jenifer Grant
Ruth and John Schumacher
Steve Honan


Monday, July 4, 2016

Getting Ready to Leave

In just a few days, Eli and I will be in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.  The main purpose of our mission work is to assist in the revitalization of Centre d'Agriculture Saint Baranabas, located near Cap-Haitien in Terrier Rouge, Haiti.  This blog will share anecdotes and insights that arise out of the experiences I have there.
Haiti differs from the USA in very evident ways.  Due to total immersion, these differences will be especially glaring.  I'm leaving in just a few days and am trying to prepare myself to leave home for a year and live far away from most of the things I have known until now.  Despite the inevitable fears and concerns, I am still excited to serve and am grateful for everything that the Young Adult Service Corps, the Episcopal Church, the many donors, my friends and family have done to make this possible and make me who I am today.  Thank you to everyone, and I hope you will follow this blog and stay in touch with me!