Greetings from Ayiti. This week we update you on our activities and a little reflection on gratitude.
Sanitation here is not for the faint of heart. There are no public waste facilities. When we misplaced a bottle of hand sanitizer we went into overdrive until we found it. It reminded me of some of the Biblical Parables, especially the ones in Luke’s gospel about the lost coin and lost sheep. This morning we both lamented about how nice it would be to wash our hands with soap and water and dry on a towel and not use hand sanitizer. Over the weekend we could not get the shower to work. We wondered if we could take a bath with a bottle of water. Monday we had water. A cold shower in the dark was actually enjoyable. As far as food, the meals are quite tasty. Maxo is an excellent cook. He doesn’t serve and we don’t eat any fruit that isn’t pealed. We don’t know whether our dishes and tableware are washed with soap or merely rinsed but I’m afraid to ask.
I’ve had two encounters with critters this week. The first was with fleas. There are dogs, cats and chickens in and around the guest house. It gives new meaning to the health food idea of free range. The dogs are infected with fleas as is the cat. They love to sleep in the rattan chairs on the veranda. I sat in one and now I understand more clearly why they scratch and shake themselves as much as they do. Flea bites aren’t fun but I thanked God it was not mosquito bites. Now I avoid the dogs and the chairs as much as I can. Although we have not encountered a lot of mosquitoes we do sleep under a mosquito net and take precautionary medicine. Last night was another experience. I got up to use the bathroom. Without electricity we carry a flashlight down the stairs to the bathroom. I flashed the flashlight on the floor at the bathroom door and in front of it was this tennis ball shaped and sized creature. It had multiple pod type feet. When it began to move toward me I freaked out. I went in the second bathroom which has a little step hoping it would not follow me. When I opened the door it was on its way to greet me. If I hadn’t gone to the bathroom I probably would have done it on the floor. I was told this morning that it is a type of spider. This by far has been the freakiest part of the entire trip. My hope is that it will not be there to greet me tonight—I just may make Bob accompany me to the bathroom. I think it qualifies as part of the “worse” aspect of our wedding vows.
It is amazing what the health and beauty industry has done to us as first world nations. Most days a little shampoo and a bar of soap are it. I’ve learned to let my hair dry naturally, our clothes are wrinkled after being washed by Loulouse but we are very happy and content. Do we still like creature comforts—YES. Will we enjoy our newly remodeled master bath when we return—YES. But we will always look at if through different eyes.
We spent a lot of the weekend preparing for classes, having quiet time with each other, listening to the sounds of Jeremie (the town we are in). Saturday night we had a deluge. Perhaps we should have taken a bar of soap out in the rain and bathed. It might have been the best shower we could have taken. Sunday evening we attended a benefit concert of the Orchestra Tropicana d’Haiti. It is the 50th anniversary of the band. It is a Cuban music (those who are old enough to remember Xavier Cugat) with an African Haitian twist. They call it compas (cumpa)
We are not complaining nor are we martyrs we are just trying to help you visualize life here and to see the challenges that are here now and in the future. It has some semblance of “Little House on the Prairie” just in a little bigger town and with much of the building having decayed. Haiti was once called the pearl of the Caribbean but ineffective leaders have allowed it to become what it is. The infrastructure has had no attention in decades. We never quite know when the city will provide electricity but there is a converter in the house that provides enough for computers and cell phones to get charged and a little light for a few hours each evening.
The students are amazing. They have a tremendous desire to learn. The U. S. is Utopia to them. They don’t want to live in the U. S., although some would like to visit. They want Ayiti to have a little of what the U. S. has. They understand quite clearly the difference between giving a person a fish and teaching them to fish. They want to be taught to fish. Whatever your political leaning is, it isn’t important but Barak Obama represents hope and a genuine role model for them. (Please don’t have your first thought be “they can have him.”) The Haitians want their lives to be better, they want something more for their children, and they want to work. The real challenge is helping that to happen here. We have met several young Haitians who are trying. There are many NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) of which the University is part of, that are doing a myriad of things to improve life here.
This week we’ve been thinking about the grace of gratitude. We are so grateful for little things—that we have a bathroom when most don’t, that while we have 2 meals a day, we don’t go to bed hungry. Hand sanitizer is worth its weight in gold for our mental health and likely some of our physical health—we are grateful. For being persons of faith and believing in our hearts and souls that God sent us here—we are thankful. For the faces of Haitians with their captivating smiles we say thank you. For the gift of our relationship with each other, for the ability to be each other’s guinea pig when we are preparing lessons, for being able to lie next to each other under the mosquito net as we fall asleep, for the little exchanges with our eyes across rooms, for having children who love and support their crazy parents, for being blessed to be here we give thanks. Being here puts new meaning to the Genesis creation story, “God looked at everything he had made and it was good.” All is good in our lives. Thank you, God.
Rita has covered our living accommodations and experiences pretty well. I would like to reflect on the teaching experience. I am teaching a math class with 40+ students ranging in age from around 20 into their 30s. The teaching conditions are a challenge, to say the least. The class runs 4 hr/day for 15 days. I give them (and myself) a 20-30 min break somewhere in the middle. The classroom is too small. When I have them work in groups, it is very difficult to move around among the groups. It is hot and there is no air conditioning or fans. The students have no textbooks. Fortunately, the University has been generous in allowing me to make copies. I brought an original and two copies of the text, so I give one of my copies to an assistant who gets them copied off campus overnight. Anything I type is emailed to the vice rector, who has a printer. She makes a copy and gives it to the assistant to finish the process. I use a camera to take pictures off paper copies email them off to be copied or insert them into a PowerPoint slide (I do have a projector available.) Of course the book is in English and many of my students have very limited English skills. That means that I have to work with an interpreter who translates into French and Creole. I have been told that using an interpreter allows you to cover 40% of the material you could without. At this point it looks like I may be lucky to cover a third of the material I had planned.
With all the obstacles you would think I should be tearing my hair out, but I’m actually having a great time! This is easily the most motivated class I have ever taught. My students want to learn and try very hard. They are not shy about making me clarify something they don’t understand. When I hear: “Teacher, teacher!” I know there is a question coming. The Haitian educational system is very weak and my students have essentially no problem-solving skills. It took me a while to figure out what was behind what seemed to me to be odd responses to my questions. As I began to understand the issue I started to address it directly and we came to a breakthrough. There was a sudden recognition that I could see on faces all over the room and there was a stirring that reminded me of the biblical account of Pentecost. Then we all cheered for ourselves. For a teacher, it doesn’t get any better than that. Each time since, as we reach a milestone, we cheer.
This is hard work and constantly challenging, but we keep working together. The students are incredibly grateful and often one or two will stop to thank me. It energizes me.
Rita’s classes are after mine and I wait in an office next to her classroom and can hear her teach. The religion teacher is somewhat out of her comfort zone, but I hear her interacting with her students and I am certain that they are very lucky to have her.
As we have talked about gratitude this past week, I am aware of how grateful I am to God for the opportunity to be here. I pray that my efforts will greatly benefit my students and am grateful for their smiling faces and zest for life. This has been a good time for the two of us. Rita and I have had some quiet times together as well as with other people we teach and interact with at the University. We ask lots of questions about Haiti; learn much about it as well as their desire and hard work to transform the country. Through all the inconveniences and challenges I find myself unstressed and at peace. This week gratitude is easy.
If you have time this week reflect for a few moments on what you’re are grateful for. We reached midterm this week. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers as you are in ours.