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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!