Friday, March 09, 2012

Day Two - On a Deeper Adventure

A week ago this morning, our team set out with three Haitian guides on a long hike up the mountain from Bayonnais to Nicholas to visit the OFCB satellite school. We left the guesthouse at 6:15 am and arrived around 7:45 am. 

The landscape quickly changed from deep greens to dry browns. Drought sucks. So does hunger.

At one point, one of the members of our team asked one of the guides the name of a certain flowering plant we saw. The guide's response was sobering: "I don't know what that is called. We don't eat it." In other words, they aren't interested in daffodils or roses or tulips or crepe myrtles. If it cannot be eaten, it is not important to them.

A short while later, we passed a family of pigs rooting through the underbrush, digging out their breakfast. We stopped and took dozens of pictures, oohing and aahing over how cute the baby pigs were. The same guide asked us if we have pigs in the United States. It was challenging for Genny, one of our team members, to explain the concept of "factory farming."

Throughout the entire walk, as we passed small fields of peppers, peanuts, banana trees, and the like, as we watched the people bent over at the waist, tending, pulling, pruning, and lovingly caring for their plots of land and their small herds of animals, I was reminded of how far removed most of us are from the production of the food we eat. And I was also challenged to comprehend the fact that the fields and animals we saw would not be enough to feed the people for very long. I spent much of the day praying for rain.

At the top of one of the mountains, at the end of the trail, stood the school at Nicholas. Nearly 200 students are enrolled there. While we struggled, stumbled, slipped, and slid up and down the hills approaching the school (to be fair to my rather agile teammates, I should change the subject of that phrase to "I"), several students ran past us on the trail, easily leaping, lunging, and skipping along in order to arrive ahead of us. Once again, we were welcomed with song - "Lord, I lift Your Name on High" in Creole. Do I even need to say that I started to cry? That I wanted to hug every single one of them?

Above - one of the school's two classrooms, an open-air affair. What do they do when it rains???

Below - the other classroom. The two photos below are taken from the same spot in the doorway. That's a whole lot of kids in one small space. In the second photo, the little boy with the red and blue striped shirt is sitting in "the back row" of the section of the room that caters to the younger students. Notice the the children on the far side of him are facing away from me. And, yes, there are many students who are standing. 

The woman in the green dress is a teacher's assistant in the larger classroom. The woman in the middle is one of the cooks for the school. The woman in the hat needs a better fashion sense. The small building behind us is the kitchen.

Making our way back down to Bayonnais, some of the landscapes were truly breathtaking. I apologize to all the folks who were walking behind me for the dozens of times that I stopped to take pictures. In four days in Haiti, I took over 800 photos.

I owe Pressley, our lead guide, the man in the photo above, a public thank you for allowing me to hold onto his backpack whenever I felt unsure of my footing - which amounted to approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes of our 3 hour hike. I probably should have tipped him with more than a fistful of Orange Mint Lifesavers. But he certainly enjoyed the candy. Interestingly enough, Pressley and I spoke to each other only in Spanish.

Pastor Amilor, the one with the velvety voice, served as ferry and tugboat when we crossed this rather shallow river. He took each one of us by hand and walked us across the rocks, soaking his jeans and shoes over and over. How he and Pressley made that hike in jeans baffled me - it was soooooooo hot!

The two photos here are of the left and right halves of the same classroom
at the main OFCB school in Bayonnais. 
Yup, that's over 50 students in one Spanish class. 

The high school Spanish teacher and I traveled from one classroom to another all Friday afternoon and I had a fabulous, fantastic, fun, wonderful, and wildly enjoyable time conjugating verbs, telling them about my family, asking them questions about their lives, and inviting them to the board to correct my "mistakes" in verb conjugation. They laughed at my teaching antics and silly anecdotes.

They asked me the same questions in every class: what is your name? how many siblings do you have? how many children do you have? what are your parents' names? what is your job? how old are you? In every class and in every one-on-one conversation I had with young people around the school grounds, they asked the same questions. One of my teammates told me that in one of the English classes, she flipped through a student's notebook and those were the questions that were listed in order on one page. They had learned their lessons well.

I showed them photos of my family - and they were struck by the fact that, not only am I an American and not a Haitian, (many students said things like, "But you look like me." And "where were you born? Where were your parents born?" They simply do not have much exposure to Americans who are also brown skinned.) but also that my husband is white. The boys couldn't believe that Kristiana doesn't have a boyfriend. After staring at her photos for a few seconds, one boy raised his hand and said, in English, "I love her."

This young man asked to have his picture taken with me. How could I resist? 
My only concern was that all 50 of the students would ask. No one else did. 

When he put his arm around my shoulder a wave of low pitched "oohs" rolled across the classroom. For all of their frenetic movement, hand-grasping, and requests for photos, the children of Bayonnais are not very physically affectionate. Unlike the children we met in Nicaragua, they did not ask to be picked up or carried, and other than one or two of the smallest children, they did not try to sit in our laps. They shook our hands rather politely when they introduced themselves to us, but otherwise they didn't touch us. Both children and adults alike flinched slightly when I put my arm around them to have photos taken. I was surprised by that and a little bit sad, especially because I wanted to grab up a few of the little ones and bring them home to Charlotte! 

A front view of the two-story school building.

Intramural soccer is the highlight of each school day. The competition is between the students of various grade levels and the teachers. Last Friday, the game was between the 7th grade boys and the teachers. The student team won 1-0. And it was not because the teachers "let" them win. It was a hard-fought game, with students and teachers alike being pushed, shoved, and chased up and down that rocky battlefield. The crowd roared at every shot on goal. What energy! And what a rowdy celebration when the game ended.

Nothing clever to report here - isn't he adorable?

My two friends, Stenson and Phito, sought me out on Friday after school was done to say good-bye before they went home for the weekend. I saw Phito, the boy on the right, at church on Sunday morning. He introduced me to his father and said, "See? He's short like me."

Knowing that I would not understand or remember their names easily, I asked the children to write their names in the back of my journal so I could try to sound them out. They LOVED that idea. In the photo above, the girl in the lavender and white shirt in the back row oversaw the proceedings, making sure that everyone wrote only on the back pages, that they wrote neatly, and that no one - except her, of course - wrote their name more than once. In the foreground, the children are carrying out their usual antics whenever they saw someone pull out a camera. They sing, clap, jump, pose, bug out their eyes, and then they ask to see the photo. What the what?

Then I remembered: I'm the adult here. Several times in a row, I pointed at the ground and demanded, rather loudly, "Sit down." Isn't that stereotypically American? If someone doesn't understand you, repeat yourself slowly and loudly. Well, by golly, it worked. 

There were a few panicked seconds when I looked up and saw the children flipping through my journal. I wondered, "Will they think I'm too emotional, too detailed, too religious in how I write?" Almost immediately, I laughed as I reminded myself: "They can't read English, Gail. And even if they can, they probably won't be able to decipher your terrible handwriting."

Soon after taking this final photograph, I collected my pens, my journal, and what was left of my energy, dragged myself inside, and fell fast asleep. Those kids wore me out!

It was another fabulous day in Haiti. And the fun was only beginning.

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