Thursday, July 28, 2011

Visual Aids

Here are some pictures to help you better visualize the stories you read here.  Enjoy!

The outside of the house I'm living in. 

Met Amos and Ma Amos, respectively.  (Met is an educational title... Amos is the principal at a local elementary school)

From left to right: Clarin (28), Ma Amos and Snyda (21).  Haitians don't like to smile in pictures.  Maybe they want to look like Jason Bourne/Adam Sawyer.  

From the boat ride to Anse a Foleur.

From left to right: Budry, Abbie, me.  I'm not sure if you can recognize me behind all that beard.

From one of my beach trips with Budry.  Haiti really is a beautiful country.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To the Northwest!

First of all, my apologies in regards to the length of time between the previous post and this one.  I realize it has been a while, though in my defense, I haven't had a whole lot to write about until recently.

This past Friday morning, Budry and I packed our things and headed west.  My good friend from Wheaton and fellow Haiti-Wheaton Partnership team member, Abbie Goodman, was currently in the middle of five weeks of a medical internship at Northwest Haiti Christian Mission in Saint Louis du Nord, so we made plans for Budry and I to visit for the weekend.

The first challenge was getting there.  Traveling in Haiti can be complicated, and planning our route proved  to be no exception.  There is a road going northwest from Limbé and what appears to be that same road going southeast from St. Louis, but the maps that I have consulted tend to differ as to whether this road continues uninterrupted between Au Borgne and Anse a Foleur, two cities on the northern coast.  After further investigation, I determined that a road did in fact exist... and was passable on mountain bike and foot.  What also existed though, was a better option: a boat leaving from Au Borgne, headed to Anse a Foleur, which is the option Budry and I finally chose.  Our alternative was a bus ride south to Goniaves and then back north to Port de Paix, about an 8 hour trip one way.  We both agreed that motorcycle taxis and a boat (about 3 hours of actual travel time) were the better path, though certainly the less travelled.  And I will tell you... it made all the difference.

The boat ride was really great.  It was a small passenger ferry boat, about 15 feet long and 7 feet wide.  According to those steering it, the boat could fit up to 50 people, so that's how many they decided to cram on it.  I got a prime seat on top of the boat with a beautiful view of the northern Haitian coastline for the full hour's ride.  I forgot to put the pictures on my computer, but they are coming.

After landing in Anse a Foleur, Budry hailed a moto-taxi and I assumed that we were done with any more water travel.  I was wrong.  Before this weekend I have forded streams on foot, in cars, on boats and even virtually on the Oregon Trail computer game, but never on a motorcycle.  It gave me quite a start to realize that the road I'm on leads directly into that rushing water in front of me and there's no bridge in sight.  I was even foolish enough to ask the driver as he's trying to navigate the current and the rocky bottom, "Have you ever fallen in before?" to which he replied, "Oh yeah, people fall in all the time."  It made me feel a lot better the next 6 times we had to cross, but in the end, all parties made it mostly dry.  And no oxen died in the effort.

Finally arriving at the mission, it was great to see Abbie.  We had a relaxing afternoon getting reacquainted with the facilities (the mission was one of the locations I visited this past spring break) and catching up on the events of the past few weeks.  On Saturday, Budry, Abbie and I joined a group from the mission going to Anse a Foleur for a VBS lesson, a visit to a Voodoo monument and some relaxing time at the beach.  All in all, a good day of hanging out and rest.  Sunday morning, the three of us attended the deaf service at the mission and I got a chance to talk to Fedner, the teacher at the mission's school for the deaf.  After church, we hopped on a taptap to Port de Paix so Budry could check off another department capital on his list (he's only missing one now).  Sunday evening was again filled with down time.  Overall, my time at the mission was very refreshing.  On Monday morning, Budry and I packed up and headed "home."  I did actually feel like coming back to Haut-Limbé was like coming home.  My host family was happy to see me again, alive and no worse for wear.

Additional reflections on the weekend:
1. I know that HNGR discourages comparisons, but it was nice to be able to speak better Creole than someone.  Most people at the mission while we were there were Americans coming for short term mission trips who knew very little of the local language.  After being the uncontested winner of the "Worst Creole of Anyone I Know" award for the majority of my time in Haiti, I enjoyed finally being able to help other Americans communicate.  Plus, the Haitians living and working around the mission are unused to encountering white people who speak their language, so they were all very flattering whenever they heard me speak.
2. I really enjoyed the whole experience of the trip to and from St. Louis.  I kept imagining myself as some great explorer, charting the course for future Wheaton students to come.  Like most great explorers, I wasn't really finding anything new... just documenting what all the natives already knew.  Still, it was an exhilarating experience to travel a course that most people I talked to didn't know very well (most people in Limbé recommended the Goniaves route, though my final plan was approved by the university staff as feasible before I left).
3.  It was a huge blessing to be able to talk and process some of my recent thoughts with a good friend from Wheaton.  As much as I have appreciated being able to communicate regularly with friends and family via email, there's just something different about face-to-face conversation.  I was additionally lucky in that Abbie was able to relate to many of my experiences, living in Haiti herself for some period of time.

Additional updates not from this weekend:
I'm still doing very little in terms of any structured internship.  I'm teaching class three times a week for an hour each and editing letters to American/international organizations as they come.  My HNGR work has continued to keep me busy, though I'm also finding time to read for fun.  Within the past few weeks, I've started playing dominoes with some of the younger men and women in the neighborhood.  It's been a good way for me to get to know people better and practice Creole with a more scrutinizing audience.

In terms of my internship, I probably won't get anything more structured until school starts on September 5.  Which feels like a long time to wait.  The good news is that it should give me a good amount of time to start my independent study project.  I'm still determining what that will be, but Laurie has asked that I begin to investigate the ways that the university could contribute to public mental health in the community.  One of the first tasks in that will likely be understanding what forms of therapies would Haitians best respond to.  But my independent study is still very much in the ideas stage... nothing much at all on paper yet.

Thank you all for sticking with my blog, despite my erratic postings.  I would appreciate prayer these next few weeks in determining the next steps for my independent study as well as my internship.  Also, for patience in language frustrations and relationship building, as well as humility in understanding my role here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Posting Up

So I know it's been a while since my last post... my apologies.  I could use several excuses, but really I've just been lazy.  So here goes... the past two and a half weeks of my life included:

-My first full week of teaching.  My second week here, I taught a class of about 15 students a four day intensive English course with an exam on the fifth day.  The class was for intro English students who had failed last semester and were looking for a way to get their grades up in order to avoid repeating the class next semester.  I had a lot more fun teaching than I thought I would, though I have a new empathy for teachers with unresponsive classes.  It was like pulling teeth to get students to volunteer answers.  I was desperate for any sort of acknowledgement, a smile, a nod, eye contact, anything.  It seemed to get better as the week went along, though.  Sadly, the results of the test were not quite what I had hoped, and I feel bad that the students' outcomes were so dependent on so new of a teacher.

-Teaching a more long term class in Limbé on Mondays and Fridays.  Limbé is the nearby city (pretty big... about 100,000 according to Laurie).  There, I teach a class normally taught by Bob or Duky (the head of the UCNH English dept), though as far as I can tell, the school in Limbé isn't connected with the university.  It's been nice having a more consistent crowd there; I can actually learn and remember names.  I feel like I have a good relationship with my students there as we've been getting to know each other better.  One student told me he preferred my teaching style, so that was a nice little ego boost.  It is strange though to be teaching people mostly older than me.  I would say the average student, both in Limbé and at the university is around 23.  Some of my students are even in their 30's and 40's.  They are all very respectful of me, though, and seem to appreciate what I have to say.

-Lots of diarrhea.  And I mean lots.  I'm still recovering from what was either a really bad case of traveller's diarrhea or a mild case of cholera.  I keep thinking it's gone but then it comes back.  A few weeks ago I spent the hours between 12:30-3 a.m. moving between my bed and the bathroom, and one final hour between 3 and 4 exclusively on the toilet.  I've had plenty of medication and am keeping myself well hydrated, so the whole experience has simply been inconvenient rather than potentially dangerous.  To those HWP members who were lucky enough to hear Dr. Vendeland describe the effects of cholera, I now know exactly how that feels.

-Soccer.  Haut-Limbé is currently caught up in the Copa America (the Women's World Cup seems not to matter here) and everyone's always talking about the latest match.  Budry and I went to the "cine" last week to watch the Argentina/Bolivia game.  The cine was a classroom with a 30" TV at one end and about 75 people packed in facing it.  The transmission was extremely blurry and it was hard to distinguish Argentina's white and blue from Bolivia's green.  We had a good time though.  There's also been a 5 v. 5 tournament going on this week that Budry has been officiating.  It's a lot of fun to go to the games and just hang out with people from the community.  My Creole is improving to the point where I can have basic conversations with people I meet and generally follow conversations if I'm trying very hard.

-Church.  Unfortunately, my church experience has been a little disappointing, though it's not really anyone's fault.  The church here is just so big, it's hard to meet people or feel connected; there are probably around 500 people at the service I go to.  The way that it's structured also makes it hard to chat either before or after.  In addition, the services have been around 2 1/2-3 hours long and entirely in Creole.  Right now, it just takes too much effort on my part to try and follow, and I typically end up drifting off into my own thoughts.  Hopefully as my language develops, I'll be able to connect better with  my fellow worshippers.  We did have communion this past week, which I appreciated a lot.  I miss celebrating the eucharist every week, not to mention the several other comfortable and accessible rituals of Rez.

-Improved communication.  Like I said, I feel like I've gotten right to the beginning of the conversational level of Creole.  My host mom and I are communicating much better; last week she asked me which foods of hers I liked and I was thankful for the opportunity to express my gratitude.  I'm really embarrassed by how easily I forget peoples' names here, but I'm slowly starting to remember more and more.  Please pray that these relationships will develop and grow in good time, and that I will not get impatient with myself or others.

Well this seems to be a good overview.  Again, these past few weeks have been up and down, but I feel myself fitting in more and more.  My schedule is pretty set through Friday, but I have no idea what I'll be doing next week.  I'm trying to be flexible, but prayers for patience and humility are always appreciated. Please keep commenting and sending emails... it's always good to hear from people back in the States.  Also, let me know how I can be praying for you too... it's something that I'm trying to work on to get me out of my self-centeredness.  Thanks for your love, prayers and support.