How Time Flies

 11 hours left until my flight takes off and my 5 month stay in Haiti comes to a close.  As these remaining hours tick away I’m finding myself unable to think about anything else other than time.  My perception of time has baffled me for a number of years.  I couldn’t comprehend how it feels: a second lasts roughly a millennium, a hour is approximately a lifetime, a week usually takes around a month, a month lasts for only a week, a year normally passes in a day, and my life thus far has taken place in less than a blink of an eye.  Time moves at a steady constant pace but outside of the present it appeared to follow no logical pattern.  I knew the answer, could explain the answer, yet I still didn’t understand it.  The answer to this riddle was given to me through the teachings of Catholicism, the principles of Quantum Mechanics, the teachings of oriental religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and in countless other places.  It seemed every religion and philosophy I researched answered this question in a remarkably similar way but the more times I saw the answer the less I understood.

The moment it all made sense is a night I will not soon forget.  I couldn’t sleep and it was a beautiful clear night so I went up to the roof to lay on the resovoir.  The resovoir is concrete but suprisingly comfortable; I, along with a couple other people, have fallen asleep on it multiple times.  The most remarkable thing about that night was it was completely silent. Solino didn’t have EDH (the Haitian electricity department which appears to have no system for when it decides to give power) so there was no music playing nearby.  A lack of music isn’t extremely rare but there were also no roosters crowing, dogs barking, or noisy cars driving by; that almost never happens.  The only sound was a gentle breeze blowing through the palm trees around the community.  I laid there in this rare moment of peace, closed my eyes and just listened.

My thoughts eventually stopped as I laid there soaking my environment and it was then I understood.  There was no “Aha!” moment, not even a stray thought about the matter; I just understood.  I was completely enveloped in that present moment without a single thought or sound to pull me away.  I understood how God could be outside of time and present in all time simultaneously, what is meant when Siddhartha said “During deep meditation it is possible to dispel time, to see simultaneously all the past, present, and future, and then everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman.” and, the signifigance behind Schroodinger’s claim that “For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”  I finally understood that time doesn’t make sense outside of the present because it doesn’t exist outside of the present.  The peaceful silence of that night taught me the importance of living in the present moment.  It is only in present I can find myself and who it is I am called to be.

It’s strange, for the past two months everytime I’ve sat down to with an idea of what I’m to write I end up writing about something completely different.  I had no intention of discussing what I just wrote but it’s what my fingers decided to write about today.  I say “my fingers” because at times I feel oddly powerless to choose what I am going to write about.  Once I fall into a rhythm the words just start pouring out; regardless if it’s what I intended to write about or not.

I owe all my readers a huge apology for failing to fufil my promise to keep you updated on what I’ve been doing here in Haiti.  I still don’t understand what made it so difficult for me to write the last half of my time here.  There are so many things I can say about my experience and so many stories I’ve yet to tell but everytime I try to write it’s as if something is holding me back.  I haven’t even been able to get anything down in my notebook.  I hope once I return I’ll break free from this and start writing again about my experiences.  I’ll be sure to post anything I write on here.  Thanks to everyone who read my blog so intently when I was actually writing posts.  Though I failed to show it, your support during those first few months really helped me through the rough transition into life inside a slum.

Only 8 hours until my flight leaves.
Goodbyes are so much harder when I know I’ll probably never see most of these people again.  I’ll return to Haiti in the future there’s no doubt but I have no way to contact most of the people I’ve met, especially those in the camp.  Only one of my students has a computer and there’s no reliable mail system in Haiti so I really have no way to communicate.

N’a we Ayiti.  M pa konn lè men m pral we ou anko.  Moun ou yo te jwenn yon espas nan kè mwen.

Enben kouraj Ayiti, M pa pral bliye ou zanmi’m.

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I’m Alive!

I’m alive!

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve last updated my blog. I hit a phase where not only could I not think of anything to write about but I kinda lost touch with the world outside of Haiti. I hyper-focused on what’s going on here which in the end, made it harder for me to focus on my work. Regardless, I should have let you guys know I’m still alive and all is well. I’ll make sure to at least post a quick update in the future.

I’ve fallen into a steady routine the past couple weeks (which makes it hard to think of something to write about) and have been busy. I’m teaching three 2 1/2 hour classes a week, taking a creole class two days a week, and steadily working on redesigning the SOS DRS blog. My class is turning out to be a challenge; teaching a variety of age groups, in a language I’m not fluent in, is as hard as I expected. It’s especially hard to keep the younger students focused; they have school in the morning from 7-1 and my class from 2:30-5pm. That’s a lot of school for 13-16 year olds. But I’m making progress and my lessons are getting better each class. Though, I have to admit I’m probably learning more Creole than they are English. I try my best not to speak much Creole during class but I end up having to quite a bit. Especially when I’m giving directions. I speak Creole the most during break and after class and it’s helped my Creole a lot.

I’ve found I’m much better at answering students questions than I am at teaching to a lesson plan. Obviously, I have to stick to a lesson plan during class but my favorite part of teaching is helping my motivated students individually after class. I’m pretty good at explaining hard topics to a group of 2 or 3 and I love being able to see the effect I’m having on my students. It also gives me the chance to converse with them in Creole and get to know them better. I have three students in particular who I’m getting to know well; they usually stay after class for at least an hour. All three of them are laid back and very intelligent so spending time with them is enjoyable. With them after class there’s a good balance between studying and just hanging around talking with each other. All things considered my class is going pretty well. I had some difficulties at the beginning but I’m starting to move past them and becoming more confident in my teaching ability.

Sorry for not posting anything in such a long time! I’ll post another update soon, even if I can’t think of anything to write about, so you guys have an idea of what’s going on down here in Haiti.

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Filed under Creole Class, ESL, Haiti, Port au Prince

Computers, Languages, and Playing with Kids!

Computer problems have plagued this past week and a half.  First Jared’s hard drive started to fail so I spent all of last weekend being a nerd and attempting to save his computer (attempting to make an ISO bootable in a VM, repairing his files, and a whole score of other things).  Thanks to Windows I managed to mess up my computer while attempting to fix Jared’s.  While attempting to install Windows XP on an external hard drive Windows decided to rewrite the menu that allows me to boot into both my operating systems.  It took a couple days but I finally have my back to normal; unfortunately I’m still struggling with Jared’s.

Apart from that things are going well here.  Yesterday, Jared, Father Scott, and I drove to the Haitian-Dominican border so Jared and I could renew our visas.  I can now say “I’ve been to the Dominican Republic!”  But not really, I was there for about five minutes.  I got my passport stamped to enter, walked out the door, turned around, went back in and  asked the same people to stamp my passport to leave.  Then I got my passport stamped to re-enter Haiti and voila!  A new three month visa.

I started my second English Class Wednesday; the first two classes went great.  I have 12 students, including Sebastián, and it’s going to be a challenging class to teach but I’m looking forward to it.  The hardest part is explaining English Grammar rules in Creole (and Spanish); I’ll probably end up learning more about foreign languages than my students.  It’s going to be a great experience and I’ll learn a lot about teaching from this class.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Sebastián and I’ve been learning Spanish at an incredible rate.  The only downside is the more Spanish I learn the more I confuse Spanish and Creole; I frequently use both languages in a single sentence.  For example earlier I said: Me gusta manje a cocinaste por supe.  Me gusta (Spanish – I like) manje a (Creole -the food) concinaste por (Spanish – cooked for) supe (Creole – dinner).  This causes a little confusion sometimes but I’m still making significant progress with both.  It’s a good feeling being able to speak (err, more like make a point) in all three of languages spoken in the community.

I’ve managed to become on the main translators in the community even though I’m nowhere near fluent in Creole or Spanish.  My funniest translating experience was today when, Shannon (only speaks English), Sebastián (only Spanish), and Papi George (Gatekeeper who only speaks Creole) and I went to the mache (place where food is sold on the street).  It was challenging and I couldn’t translate a number of sentences but it was a lot of fun.  Jumping between all three languages is great practice and helps me short my languages out a bit.

The Haitians that heard me speak in three languages treated me noticeably different than normal.  Instead of the usual “ou Ameriken, wi?” “You’re American, yes?” most asked “Ki nasyonalite ou ye?” “What nationality are you?” They seemed surprised when I told them I’m American.  A few even started casual conversations with me and didn’t ask me to buy something or give them something, which is a huge change.  I can barely converse in Spanish and Creole and I’m already seeing the benefits of learning them.

The highlight of the past weeks has been finally going out and playing with the kids in the camp!  I wanted to go out into the camp more my first couple months but no one seemed comfortable with the idea.  Sebastián changed that; less than a week after his arrival he started playing games with the kids.  Sebastián and I go out and play with the kids a couple times a week.  I absolutely love it.  We play games, exercise, and talk with the crowd of kids, usually 20 or more, that end up with us.  Sebastián has a gift with kids and somehow with barely speaking Creole he keeps things pretty organized.

I noticed very quickly the children are very violent with each other.  They push, shove, and hit each other over small things like who gets to stand next to us; it gets even worse when we’re trying to get them to take turns jumping rope.  Slowly but surely they’re learning not to be violent, at least when we’re around.  I find myself saying “Si nou goumen nou pa kab jwé avek nou (If you fight we cannot play with you) and pa goumen pa goumen (don’t fight, don’t fight) quite a bit.  This presents some difficulties but overall they listen pretty well.

The kids love playing with us and I’ve started to get to know a couple pretty well.  Sebastián and I have both had numerous kids latch onto us for an hour or more wanting to hold our hands and sit in our laps; it’s adorable.  On Friday, I had one boy about the age of 7 who stayed right next to me the entire time we we’re outside.  He barely talked, I never learned his name, but he held my hand, hugged my leg, or sat on my lap whenever possible.  I’ve met a lot of adults in the camp from playing with the kids, especially mothers.  People who walk by stop and talk with us; anyone who speaks any English wants to practice with me.  I usually spend a part of my time outside conversing in English with a person or two correcting them as we talk.

Walking out into the camp and hearing kids yelling “Josh! Josh” instead of “Blanc! Blanc!” gives me a strong feeling of accomplishment.  Having the kids run up to me smiling whenever the see me helps me know I’m making a difference.

The girl I’m holding in the pictures is pretty much the cutest thing ever.  Her name is Angeline and she lives in the little shop right outside our gate.  I’m convinced she is the happiest 1 year old in existence.  She never stops smiling and absolutely loves Sebastián and I (and everyone other person she meets).  She runs right to me every time I see her and wants me to pick her up.  She’ll stay in my arms for as long as I can hold her but never gets fussy when I put her down (though she may latch onto my leg).  I taught her how to play peek-a-boo and she covers her face giggling every time I see her.  She’s absolutely adorable.

Overall it’s been a busy, but very good couple weeks.  I’m going to be writing posts for the SOSDRS blog (sosdrs.wordpress.com) soon.  I’ll be sure to post a link whenever I do; I just started working a series of posts about CRS.

Hope everyone reading this is doing well!  Thanks for all your positive feedback!

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Filed under Camp, Haiti, kids, Port au Prince, Solino

CRS Shelters

The run-off election between Martelly and Manigot was held this past weekend.  I didn’t hear anything about excessive violence or corruption and apart from some difficulties with the voting process it appears to have gone well.  The preliminary results will be released on March 31st and the final results on April 16th (my birthday!).  Hopefully things stay calm when the results are released but I’m doubtful they will.

CRS resumed building shelters yesterday and as of today they’ve constructed a total of and will continue to build four a day.  They’re building 200 to start and if things continue to progress well they are planning on building even more.  I’m not exactly sure on the plans, all the meetings have been in Creole, but I think they plan on building a 1000 more shelters and ten schools if they are able to continue.  The houses are only given to people living in the camp so this project is going to drastically reduce the camp’s size; the first 200 shelters will remove between 800-1000 people.  I’ve posted pictures of the camp from today and as the project progresses I’ll continue to post pictures; the camp should noticeably reduce in size if no new people move in.

The Project Coordinator Micheline (you’ll see her in one of the pictures) is the right person to be tackling a project of this magnitude in an area as difficult as Solino.  This entire project has been a fight for her and her love for the Haitian people really showed through on the first day of building.  She couldn’t contain her excitement as the first shipment of wood was brought into Solino; it was by far the happiest I’ve seen her.  I’m  happy to be playing the virtually non-existent role I’ve personally had in this project and hopefully as I learn more Creole I can be more involved.  It’s going to amazing to see the camp slowly decrease in size as people are moved out.

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Hope everyone back in the states is doing well!  Thanks for all of your comments and support, it’s great to hear from all of you.

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Filed under CRS, Housing Project, Solino, Ti Cheri

Anpil Bagay (Many Things)

It’s been a busy week here in Port-au-Prince. My ESL course ended last week and a lot of my time has been spent preparing for the class beginning on March 30th. The problems in Carcasse set the first ESL course off to a late, disorganized start which caused problems throughout the entire course. This time around things are well-organized and everything is going smoothly. We learned from the mistakes we made in the first class and the next course is off to a good start.

Even though I’m not teaching I’ve been spending just as much time in the classroom. We created a placement test; testing 28 students who sporadically show up over the course of two weeks is time-consuming.  22 of these students are able to take the course.  Only six of these students are able to attend class in the morning so we moved both classes to the afternoon. Since the ESL class is primarily my responsibility I had to tell these students they would not be able to talk the course. This was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in Haiti.  I felt awful but neither Eric, who’s going to be teaching the other class, or I have time to teach two classes a day.

Remarkably, we easily split the remaining 22 students into two 11 person classes. The advanced class is composed entirely of men between the ages of 21-31. Eric is teaching this class because he doesn’t speak any Creole yet and he wont need to with that class. Five of his students (four of them my old students) can converse at a high level and can translate for students who are struggling. So this leaves me to teach the beginners class.  Teaching this class is definitely going to be an interesting experience. Only one student can converse at all; the rest know nothing more than a couple memorized phrases and some basic grammar.  This means I’ll have to explain thing in Creole on a regular basis.  I can hold simple conversations in Creole and follow a conversation but teaching is going to test my speaking.  My class has eight girls and three guys. Five of them are 21-24 years old, two girls and all three guys, and the other six girls are between the ages of 12-16. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to deal with this age gap but I’ll think of something.  I’m going to have to organize this class much differently than my first class.

In other news, CRS constructed their first four shelters on Wednesday. It was an exciting day; Micheline, the project coordinator, was beyond ecstatic. It was impossible not to get caught up in her emotion as she proudly shouted things in Creole from the back of a pick up truck driving down the market street as the supplies were delivered. She fought tooth and nail to get this project approved and it means the world to her that it finally has begun. I’ll post pictures and go into more detail about CRS tomorrow.

After I spent the morning with CRS on Wednesday, Sebastian, Shannon, Reginald, and I went next door to the Missionaries of Charity. The Missionaries of Charity are a group of religious sisters who’ve been in Solino for (I think) around 20 years. They have an entire building dedicated to housing the sick and we spent about an hour visiting the floor for girls and women. They have patients ranging from 5-75+ years old and most of them have Tuberculosis.  Apparently Wednesday is one of the days families are allowed to visit so I spent a majority of my time talking to patients with no visitors.

The female TB patients are primarily between the ages of 18-30. Seeing so many beautiful, sweet, young women suffering is a brutal reminder of the fragility of life even in our prime. Despite their pain many still had eyes filled with hope and a warm smile when I stopped to talk to them. They were patient as we talked in Creole and they laughed with me as I repeatedly confused my foreign languages and used Spanish words. The little girls, like all the children I’ve met in Haiti, had big smiles and laughed the entire time we played dominoes with them. The children too shy to talk always make me smile. They just stare at you with big eyes giggling uncontrollably never answering a question. A small number of these women have slipped into a state of despair, misery, and depression. There eyes are glossed and completely void of life.  Most of them didn’t respond when I talked to them; they just looked at me then went back to staring into space.  I can’t begin to describe the emotional affect the girls in this state had on me.

The Haitian people have secured a place in my heart and being able to converse with them makes my love for them continue to grow. I find myself enjoying Haiti more each day; the simplicity of life here is oddly comforting.  My perspective on life is constantly changing for the better here enabling me to look at the things I’ve learned throughout my life in a new light.  This has helped me to better understand subjects, ideas, and concepts that I stopped thinking about long ago.

One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is how much my understanding of foreign languages has increased. I had an “Aha!” moment recently and all at once realized the best way for me to study and analyze languages. This realization pushed me past a plateau I was stuck on and I’ve been learning at an incredible rate since then.

Overall it’s been a good week. Sebastian, Shannon (two new members of the community) and I get along great and they make life here more a lot more fun. I’m not quite sure how, but we manage to have conversations despite the language barrier; Shannon speaks absolutely no Spanish, Sebastian speaks very little English, and I know nothing more than the basics of Spanish.  We manage to make it work. Sebastian and I are similar in a lot of ways and I badly want to have a normal conversation with him but the language situation makes a normal conversation impossible. As frustrating as this is it gives me extra motivation to study Spanish while I’m here.

The longer I stay in Haiti the less I want to leave. I have such a greater sense of purpose and belonging here than in the US. I’m planning on staying her for an extra three weeks; I’m learning so much each day I want to squeeze the maximum possible days out of this experience. I’ll have finished teaching by then and I’ll be able to converse comfortably in Creole. I’ll be able to accomplish a lot in these last few weeks.

Blaring music, barking dogs, the faint murmuring of voices.  Sitting here listening to these sounds of Solino I’ve grown to love I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.  If I could I’d stay here the entire summer.

 

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Filed under CRS, ESL, Housing Project, Port au Prince, Solino, Ti Cheri

The Garden!

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Earlier this week we finished planting the garden!  I wish I had taken photos of the area before we cleaned it up; it was a mess.  Trash and rubble covered the entire area.  We planted a number of different plants including lettuce, corn, tomatoes, and eggplant.  We also started composting about a month ago, you can see the picture of what we have so far.  Hopefully in a couple months we will have some soil we can use in the garden.

Our next project is figuring out what to do with the garbage fire pit that is in pretty rough shape.  It’s cracked in half and filled to the brim in ash as you can see in the photo.  The only way we can dispose of the garbage is burning, which is a shame, burning plastic is definietly not good.  But there’s no other way we can get rid of it besides throwing it in the canal like everyone else.

There’s also a picture of Sebastian I took while walking around taking pictures of the garden.

Hope all my readers are doing well!

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Filed under community, Garden, Port au Prince

An International Community

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The number of people in the community has grown to 14. Our latest arrival is Sebastian, a 24-year-old from Chile who just graduated from university. He worked with SOS Drs after the earthquake in Chile and is going to be in Port-au-Prince for six months. His arrival makes the language situation here even more interesting since he only speaks Spanish. This hasn’t been much of a problem for him, he’s an incredibly outgoing person and somehow still manages to communicate with everyone; even the people he doesn’t share a common language with. Earlier today I walked outside to find him talking with a group of Haitians waiting to be treated at the medical clinic on our property. None of them spoke Spanish so he just sat there with a notebook and asked people how to say random objects. At multiple times he had the entire group of people laughing as he tried to ask a question through charades. He’s only been here for two days but I can tell he’s going to be a great person to have around the community.

I’m sure my Spanish is going to improve a great deal over the next three months I’m going to be spending here! Hopefully I’ll walk away from this experience conversational in Spanish and Kreoyl. Now that we have three languages spoken here we have started to designate a certain language that will be spoken at each meal. It’s a lot of fun and dinner table conversations are where I learn the most Kreoyl. I’ve learned enough that I can follow a conversation and sometimes even participate a good amount. It’s great to finally communicate with the members of the community who can’t speak English very well.

We have five different nationalities represented in our community; Haitian, Indonesian, Chilean, Belgian, and American. Theresia is from Indonesia; she has worked with Father Scott ever since the tsunami struck there in 2004. She is incredibly organized and does a lot to keep the organization running smoothly, she takes care of pretty much all the small things (as well as many of the big things). She speaks more languages than I can keep track of including, Indonesian, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Swahili, Kreoyl, English, and she’s working on Spanish. Sister Claire-Marie was born in Belgium but now lives in Italy. She’s been here for a couple of months and will be leaving soon she’s very talkative and has conversations with random people from our roof pretty much every day. Her first language is French but she speaks English almost flawlessly. She also speaks Croatian, Italian, and some German.

There are 6 Haitians living in the community; Msyr, and Madnm. Michelle (we call them Mama and Papa Michelle), Vickens, Wesbee, Marc Daly, and Reginol. Mama and Papa Michelle are a married couple in their sixties who do most of the cleaning and cooking in the house. They are both incredibly sweet and very patient with everyone learning Kreyol. Mama Michelle is shy and doesn’t talk all that much while Papa Michelle talks more and always take the time to make sure we understand; he’s a very good teacher. He has a lot of knowledge about agriculture and is a huge with the garden and composting. Vickens is a 19-year-old originally from Port-au-Prince. I’ve mentioned him before; he’s the one who drove when we went to Carcasse. He works like crazy and his main job is fixing the cars (pretty much a full-time job) and managing any other electrical needs around the house. He does all of this and more while still attending school. Wesbee, my Kreoyl teacher, is originally from a part of Northern Haiti ,Gonaives. He speaks Spanish along with a good amount of English. He taught Spanish along with Kreoyl before the arrival of Sebastian. Next we have Marc Daly, one of the lead project managers from Jeremie. He’s in his last semester of law school, speaks very well, and has a very strong presence about him. He’s politically active and strives to bring about change in Haiti and break the negative mindset of the Haitian youth. A dream which he very well may fulfill. Lastly we have Reginol, the newest Haitian to enter the community. He’s a funny guy and loves to joke around with everyone. He doesn’t live at the community but he eats with us and spends the entire day helping out around the house.

The 5 Americans here are Jared, Shannon, Eric, Father Scott, and me. Jared is from a small town in Kansas and this is his second time in Haiti. He’s very good at fixing things, he works as a carpenter right now, but he also has completed medical school. He’s been here since February and probably will be staying for more than six months. Shannon and Eric both arrived recently and I haven’t gotten to know them very well yet. Shannon is from Wisconsin and just graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in International Studies and is working alongside Theresia to lighten her workload. Eric is from Chicago and is going to law school in the fall. He’ll be here for three months and will be teaching an ESL course along with me starting the last week in March. Father Scott, like Theresia and Sister Claire, speaks an absurd number of languages. He speaks all of the Romance languages, Indonesian, Kreoyl, and I’m sure others I don’t know about. He decided to become a priest after he graduated from medical school so he is also a trained doctor like Jared.

I’ll write about certain people in more depth in the future but this will give you a general idea of the people for now. The couple in the pictures is Carrie and Dr. Andrew who I’ve mentioned before, they left Haiti a few weeks ago. I don’t have pictures of Shannon, Eric, or Sebastian yet but I’ll try to post some tomorrow.

 

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Filed under Creole Class, Haiti, Port au Prince