Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Monday night, July 14

When I had supper at about 4 pm, I thought it seemed a little early, but I’m a guest so I accept what’s offered. I didn’t expect another meal tonight. Then at about 8:30 a guy knocked on my door and told me in English that they were waiting on me to eat. Oh, there’s another meal? (I’d been taking a little nap to make up for the short night of sleep last night, before jumping into some work.) I don’t know what meal times are normal here, but supper #2 was appropriately light for a later meal: some sort of delicious soup of who knows what color (it was too dim by the one energy efficient light bulb to tell) and some tasty flat bread. I waited until after the meal was over (in case it was somehow impolite to ask during the meal) to ask what the soup was. I asked the guy I’m claiming as a friend because he seems to be the only one here tonight that I can mostly have a full conversation with. He asked Izania (spelling made up by me, but it’s a cool name that I’m remembering because it sounds like lasagna without the “L”) who said that what to me tasted slightly like lightly flavored cinnamon oatmeal with the consistency of thick soup was actually made out of beans and plantains. I sure didn’t taste the beans. Anyway, it was a tasty mystery, and it was fun to try to guess what it was. My lunch and supper #1 were tasty too.

Today has been go with the flow day, and that might even be an understatement. The day’s been more reminiscent of some of my Africa travels in that regard. It has particularly reminded me of Layton’s (the British photographer I worked with in Uganda) and my travels to Kalongo and Patongo. We were dropped off by a MAF plane and knew very little about how things were supposed to proceed from that point. Someone from Kalongo Hospital was there to pick us up, and from there we felt our way around and managed to get our job done, making up a plan as we went. While in Kalongo and Patongo we spent time with GOAL and Medair, both relief and development organizations.

Similarly, today I was dropped off in Hinche with little confirmation of who would be meeting me there and who was expecting me on the other end. Two Save the Children employees were in the plane with me, returning from spending the weekend back home in Port-au-Prince. So the driver, Sylvester, picked the three of us up and drove us the hour or so to Maissade (pronounced something like mah-ee-sahd) where Save the Children’s offices are. The road, by the way, took us through rivers at least three times and through some spots that were muddy even though it hasn’t rained a ton. It seems like it wouldn’t take much rain to make that road pretty nearly impassable, even for a driver with skills like Sylvester’s.

When my work for Save the Children was being coordinated, no one ever asked whether I speak Creole or even French. And Patrick, my guide for the day, has only moderate English. So he was appropriately nervous when he found out I can’t conduct interviews without some serious assistance. But we decided we’d do our best, and off we went to visit a summer camp program that helps prepare kids who will start first grade in the fall and to meet some of the children in Save the Children’s sponsorship program. Between my fledgling French, Patrick’s probably better-than-he-thinks English, and one consultation of the French-English dictionary (the word cabinetmaker had us stumped; I didn’t know that French word, and Patrick didn’t know it in English), I think we managed to get what I needed for those assignments. It was one thing to do interviews through translators last year, but it’s quite another to do them with only half a translator.

Since I’ll never be Haitian (isn’t that a news bulletin?!) and I don’t know enough Creole to have an in-depth conversation with someone who is, this adventure is about the closest I can get to tasting Haitian life right now. And I love it (the getting to taste part). Though it’s also very hard not knowing what to expect and just deciding to be okay with anything and there are moments of overwhelmedness at being thrust into a day like today, I also feel like I’m really experiencing Haiti today. There’s no buffer of other Americans to lean on. And I actually enjoy the challenge of trying to communicate when there’s not a full vocabulary of shared language to use. Because then anything you do communicate is rewarding. And it also helps me learn a few more words. My new friend gave me a little Creole lesson after the second supper (as opposed to the Last Supper), so that in the morning (“de meme matin,” however that’s spelled in Creole) I can nicely ask for some water (“mwen vle dlo”) and check to see if people slept well (“ou bien dormir?”…the Creole may not have the “r” on the end).

I have to say, though, that I’m very glad to be having this adventure in a country whose language is related to the only one I’ve ever formally studied. At least I know what most of the signs say and can figure out every tenth word of the conversations I try to understand. Put me in Russia or Saudi Arabia or China, and I wouldn’t have so much to work with.

And I’m trying to figure out how to articulate what I feel tonight and how it relates to what God’s calling me to. But I don’t think I can sort it out all the way yet. Basically, life is different here, it’s true. I’m staying in a room at the Save the Children guest house/compound. I’m happy to have electricity, a fan, a little desk/table, a surprisingly nice bathroom in a structure that looked like it would be an outhouse, wireless internet, and lizards everywhere that are hopefully eating the mosquitoes I’ve seen flying around. But the water isn’t working in the nice bathroom tonight, I haven’t been able to view a web page through the wireless connection yet, I couldn’t talk much with people over supper, and folks here just walk from their room to the outhouse bathroom wrapped in a towel (I’m thinking I’ll keep some clothes on for my bathroom trek). The roads are bad, food is tasty mysteries, and I’m just trusting that they know how to make clean drinking water if they’re an organization that teaches people about good hygiene and such. But somehow all the things that are different from home don’t seem strange or like a big deal. They are how life is here. And part of me fits that. That part of me doesn’t feel like I’m supposed to stay here long term, but it’s strange how, after this past year, this life almost feels normal now too.

I guess maybe the strange thing I can’t quite sort out yet is that Nashville life feels fully normal when I’m there, yet now this life feels normal too, even though I don’t know completely yet how this developing country life works. And it seems like it shouldn’t be possible to feel so reasonably comfortable in places, in lives, that are so different from each other. The comfort level is such that they don’t actually feel that different after all, even though cognitively I know they are, at least in external accoutrements. And maybe that’s the thing I can’t figure out, the thing that doesn’t make sense: that it doesn’t feel that hard to flit between worlds.

I’m thankful that, during my months in Nashville between returning in March and leaving for Haiti, I feel like I was really able to be fully present in and fully committed to the people and place of Nashville. And now here in Haiti, I feel like I’ve been able to do that too. And I’m thankful for God’s gift of that. I think only coming to Haiti for a month is helpful in that it’s long enough to really taste the place but short enough not to be overwhelmingly long and short enough not to need to pay bills or have someone pick up my mail while I’m gone. And somehow enjoying and being fully present in the normal life of Nashville doesn’t keep me from wanting to come to places like Haiti, while enjoying and being fully present in the new normal-feeling life of places like Haiti doesn’t keep me from wanting to return to Nashville.

So, anyway, those are some semblance of thoughts-in-progress. I should probably wrap up for the night since I’ve committed to playing basketball at 6 am in the morning with the new friend. He does physical education programming for the schools and kids connected to Save the Children. I think that’s why he was asking at supper, the second one, what exercises people liked to do in the morning. According to him, other sports that are popular here are soccer, of course, badminton, and ping pong. No baseball here, that’s for Dominican half of the island and for neighboring Cuba.

If you want to pray for Mr. New Friend, you can. I discovered in our conversation tonight that he’s still deciding what religion to choose. I don’t really get the sense that he’s on the verge of making a decision or is ripe for the harvest, so to speak, but it’d still be cool if God chose to plant some seeds through our interaction until I leave on Wednesday. He knows I’m a Christian, but we haven’t had any theological discussion of what that means or anything yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you take your water purifying stuff this time like you did when you went to Africa? Might not hurt to use it or to inquire if the water is boiled or purified by your host/hostess in Hinge-not sure how you do that without a good idea of the proper words to use. A case of the gunge might lessen your enjoyment of this trip. I know...I am just being a mom and you are definitely not a child and you have international travel experience that I don't have. But, I can't help putting in my motherly two cents. -Mom-