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
Donna Mitchell and Bill Heiple