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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