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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

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