Friday, October 23, 2009

Our Lovely Abode!

Two weeks ago, I sleepily reached over and turned off the alarm on the night stand. Rubbing my eyes, I stumbled to the kitchen to put on a pot of water for coffee. I then took down a mixing bowl and happily started stirring water into a bowl of floury mix. Holding a lit match to the stove, I waited for the “whoosh” of a starting flame and then put a frying pan with oil on the burner. Today was pancake day!

That day also marked the first time in our marriage (nearly 3 months old) that we had eaten a meal in our own home. The unbelievable amount of growth this has brought to us defies any possible description, but I’ll take a few blog entries to recount some of the adventures that brought us to that glorious day.

When we arrived in Haiti, Andrea and I were unbelievably excited to visit our new, under construction home. We expected a ramshackle, tin roofed hovel; but we found a brightly lit, cozy flat with large windows. The carpenters were sending sawdust everywhere as they installed draws and cabinets for our room and the office. Another worker stood in the kitchen planning out where our kitchen sink would go. That whole week, we could see lights on in our house late into the night.

Although Haiti is a poor country, Haitians work incredibly hard when they get the chance. They will even work all day in tropical heat with no water and no food. Far from having a local Home Depot, the workers frequently scavenged parts that were lying around the complex. We watched the carpenter take long rough planks, cut them, then plane them down to smooth 2x4s.

After almost two weeks, the dust began to settle. The container had arrived with all of our furniture and we eagerly awaited moving into our new home. However, it took 3 weeks before we did. Let me first list what needed to be done so you can appreciate our frustration:

  1. Install gas line for oven

  2. Fix counter top

  3. Install kitchen sink and water for it

  4. Fix windows (close the six inch gap)

  5. Install screens

  6. Install a drain on the back porch (we found 2-3 inches of water in our house on multiple occasions)

From all outward appearances, this list is quite short. In fact, Andrea and I probably could have done most of it. As we waited for work to finish, we came to understand and hate three basic problems. 1) Too many “bosses,” 2) Lack of foresight and 3) Nobody “owned” the construction.

Bosses are the Haitian equivalent of a handyman. Fr. Medenel knows a boss for just about everything under the sun: “Boss Electricite,” “Boss Ceramic,” “Boss Mason,” “Boss Dlo” (for water), “Boss Carpenter” and the almighty “Engineer” (Architect-ish). Each boss brought their own skill set, but, unfortunately, not their own material. In some cases, they didn't even bring their own tools. Instead, they would come and inspect a problem, give a diagnosis and then leave Fr. Medenel with a new list of materials to purchase.

Let's take one example and see how it played out: the kitchen counters & sink.

  1. Boss Ceramic arrives and slaps down some tile to make us a counter top.

  2. The next day, after everything dries, Boss Carpenter puzzles over the sink and can't figure out how to put it in because the hole is too small. Rather than troubleshoot the problem, he simple leaves, never to be seen again.

  3. Fr. Medenel examines the sink and also discovers that the hole is too small. He assures us that “they” will fix the problem.

  4. A couple days pass and nothing happens.

  5. Water gets under the ceramic tile and separates it from the cement that is holding it down. Because we can easily pull it off with our hands, we do and show Fr. M. Andrea, on a whim, glues down some tile with a random bottle of glue that was sitting on the counter

  6. The next day Fr. M calls Boss Ceramic. He arrives and sizes up the problem. The problem turns out to be that the tile didn't stick down. Noticing that Andrea's experiment had worked, he asks for more glue. We don't have enough, nor do we have cement. He doesn't either.

  7. A couple days later, Fr. M goes to a hardware store in Cap Haitien. This involves an hour and a half drive through insanely bumpy roads in a truck that breaks down more frequently than the “Anti-Christ” from The God's Must be Crazy.

  8. A few days pass and Boss Ceramic shows up to repeat step 1.

  9. The next day, cracks again appear under the tile. Our opinion of “Boss Ceramic” plummets.

  10. 3 weeks after step one, nothing has changed and we still don't have a kitchen sink.

While at the end of this, polls regarding “Boss Ceramic” are coming in at an all time low, our opinion of Fr. Medenel could not be higher. The man worked endlessly to get our house done. Problem after problem came up and he was always there to help us. We had to remind him a few times, but I'll never forget seeing him stand in the middle of a group of bosses, talking on his cell phone with one hand and painting our kitchen cabinets with the other. (That being said, he didn't paint all of them and we spent an additional 6-8 hours on it.)

We're both glad beyond description to have a house. But it is too bad we won't see Fr. Medenel as often!

Problems #2, #3 to come in my next blog!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Masterful English Instruction Begins!

For those of you who don't know, I am now an English teacher in rural Haiti.

When Jack and I first contemplated working in Haiti, teaching was one of the few things we were determined not to do. Indeed, teaching was a profession I had long avoided. As a History major, one of the questions you hear time and again is, "Oh, so you'll teach then?" To this foolish and unwelcome question, I always gave a forceful, "No!" I have no idea where my aversion to teaching originated. I always thought that the profession, in the abstract, was lovely and admirable. But for my career? I couldn't be less interested, especially in the context of Haiti.

Jack also had no desire to teach. We were thus dismayed when everyone we talked to in Haiti--whether an aid worker, law student, priest, bishop, teacher, or principal--enthusiastically supported the idea. Surely, surely someone would express reservations? I helpfully mentioned our lack of knowledge and experience.  Somehow this proved no obstacle.

I thus came with some reluctance to the only logical conclusion: Jack and I were not meant to work in Haiti.

It can be attributed only to God's persistence that Jack and I now stand before Haitian students expounding upon the basics of English conversation and computer operations.

The real miracle is that I love it.

I teach 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. My classes have 56, 43, 33, and 48 students respectively.  My first class was the 7th graders. They have a set English curriculum and textbooks that are all geared towards the national exam required to enter high school.  Twice a week they are instructed by the former mayor of Ste. Suzanne, once a week they practice with me. Since they had had several English classes already, I was extremely curious about their proficiency. Class began promptly at 3 o'clock. The students stood as I entered the classroom and greeted me with an enthusiastic "Good morning!"

 So... they were going to need a little help. One of the activities I had planned was a game in which  teams of students raced to write down as many English words as they could. I thought this would give me some indication of their vocabulary level. I then planned for the class to correct and pronounce the words together.

Here is one of the lists:

Good morning
Good evening
Goo nigt

Good is goude
cood mornig
How mny
Good night
Good bye
Good morning
Very well
fine thank
Just fine thank

Vey welll thank you
I am sick
not veywelle

Other honorable mentions: "Fine just fine thank you," "consonants," "God is Goad," and "small lettre."

Frustratingly, I was undermined by one of the other teachers who had arranged with the principal to act as my "interpreter." He knows a little English, but imagines that he speaks quite a bit more.  I specifically asked students to write single words yet he gave them example after example of entire phrases. He then encouraged them to use their textbooks. Grr.

Despite his evil machinations, I was able to get some idea of their vocabulary and confidence levels.

The first 7th grade class was by far my most difficult.  I had been unable to ascertain beforehand what they knew and was therefore hesitant to insult the students by teaching them rudimentary vocabulary they may have already mastered. Forty minutes into the sixty minute class, I ran out of material. Emboldened by their vocabulary lists, I taught them basic classroom vocabulary. We also practiced introductions.

Since then, teaching has been amazing. My "interpreter" has left me alone. The students are incredibly bright and enthusiastic.  The other grades have had no other English instruction and I am their sole English teacher. They're quickly learning greetings, introductions, and polite conversation. The 6th graders, after initially acting "too cool" and "mature," have played games and sang songs with the same zeal as the 4th graders. With the exception of perhaps one or two students per class, all the students are participating and I have more volunteers than class time.

More updates soon,


Friday, October 9, 2009

Quick Update

Apologies for our blog negligence! In the last week Jack and I have:

-completed our house
-moved into said house
-attended a day-long confirmation mass/ fete
-attended a funeral
-bought food in the Cap Haitian and Trou du Nord outdoor markets
-picked and cooked guava with the help of a farmer we met on the road
-begun teaching (well, I have anyway)
-made and ate a TON of guacamole

We look forward to describing these things in greater detail soon...


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mouse Update!

I would just like to say, before you read any farther, that nothing in this post is exaggerated.

Last night Jack and I constructed the pill bottle mouse trap. We followed the instructions carefully and set the trap with some degree of confidence. I admit that Jack and I are becoming a little paranoid about the mouse. So last night when I awoke at 1 AM with a vague sense that something was in the bed, I sat up for a moment but sensing nothing, laid back down. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, a small four legged creature scurried over my legs! Jack and I sprang up, turned on the light, and there Msr. was! Leaning against the wall a few feet from our bed is a metal bedframe (we're currently staying in a bunkhouse of sorts). Msr. had run up it and stood there "hiding." We searched for something with which to hit Msr, but only small flashlights, books, and flip flops were at hand. We shouted, clapped, and ran at the mouse who of course ran for cover. Bizarrely, we discovered two tiny okra pods in the bathroom at the base of the toilet. A message? Threat? No idea.

We went back to bed disgusted and wide awake. Yet what could we do? There was no way to seal our room and nothing with which to kill the mouse. We put a flashlight and swiss army knife next to the bed and eventually managed to fall back asleep thinking surely the mouse would stay away for the rest of the night. Right? Wrong.

At 3 AM I was jarred awake from a dream in which I was trying to kill the mouse in my childhood home armed with an Italian leather purse.

The mouse was on my pillow.

Flurry of action, flashlight switched on, photo taken, knife thrown. The mouse again scurried away.

Needless to say, the trap did not work and we did not get much sleep.

This morning Fr. Medenel asked us how we slept. We told him that we had shared our bed with a mouse and he laughed and laughed and laughed. :-)

I cannot wait to move into our own house.