Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Top Twenty Causes of Culture Shock

Jack and I arrived in the United States last night and compiled a short list of our first reactions:

  1. Glass windows, non-fortress like houses; the incredible amount of wealth (in everyday houses)
  2. Lawns
  3. Cars (not trucks) gliding on perfectly smooth asphalt—moving like silent car commercials versus something out of Jurassic Park.
  4. GOBS of electricity; flew in over Fort Lauderdale and freaked at how much power was being used… tried imagining how much generator fuel would be required and then freaked out some more.
  5. Water pressure; Jack and I spent several minutes giggling and marveling at the kitchen sink (note: Jack first thought the kitchen sink was broken because the water came out too quick)
  6. Jack: Urinals! And being a little frightened of them.
  7. Flushing toilets… EVERY time
  8. The amount of space and order; everything is neat and beautiful
  9. Mass organization—water, electricity, propane, city planning, etc.
  10.  Holding hands
  11.  Unlimited downloads
  12.  Cheese and roast beef.
  13.  Straight lines. Everywhere.
  14.  Shiny, straight hair
  15.  Gracious customer service
  16.  Automatic sinks, silverware dispenser (what?!), etc
  17.  Not having to worry about cleanliness at all
  18.  Silence.
  19.  A well fed cat that meows (versus continuous yowling) and is disease-free
  20.  Clean air

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Predicted Causes of Culture Shock

Jack and I will be returning to the United States next week for a series of holidays and fundraisers in addition to an agriculture conference and a family wedding. In anticipation of our trip home (after about three months in Haiti) we compiled a list of things that will likely weird us out:

1. Not having to remember which light switch to turn off when the electricity cuts off at night.
2. Not hiding flashlights in every room in anticipation of losing power.
3. Not refilling water bottles/ filter every morning.
4. Having sink stoppers that work.
5. Washing dishes without using bleach.
6. Not carefully planning what to take out of fridge each time it's opened and executing plan as quickly as possible.
7. Drinking tap water
8. Brushing our teeth with tap water.
9. Not washing produce for an hour after returning from market.
10. Speaking English.
11. Not taking emergency rations, flashlight, hand sanitizer, dictionary, and two cell phones on every excursion.
12. Amusements beyond cribbage, gin rummy, and fly hunting.
13. Electricity 24/7. Weird.
14. Not carefully planning when to plug and unplug the fridge.
15. Not needing a match to light the oven/stove.
16. Not having to ration internet use.
17. No mongrel dogs howling at the 5 am, 5:30 am, and 6 am church bells.
18. No mongrel dogs sleeping on our door mat.
19. No church bells at 5 am, 5:30 am, and 6 am.
20. Mass in English.
21. Music in English (other than Celine Dion)
22. Market (grocery store) less than an hour away
23. Eating meat in dishes other than soups or stews.
24. Not haggling over produce prices
25. Not hearing "blan!" ("whitey") wherever we go
26. Being anonymous.

27. Cars other than Toyota or Daihatsu trucks.
28. More than 5 vehicles in the area.
29. Driving.
30. Andrea wearing engagement ring.
31. Lunch without "Diak" (the deacon)
32. No Anouse! SAD!
33. Not running out of gas for generator at crucial moments
34. Not using generator power.
35. Not obsessing over ways in which solar panels, generator, and batteries are incorrectly installed.
36. Not having children break local water source weekly.
37. Not having children operate local water source.
38. Not anticipating spiders while removing items from medicine cabinet.
39. Hot water.
40. Seasons. Winter?!
41. Bitter coffee.
42. Not having rat poop on front steps.
43. Not worrying about trash disposal.
44. Dairy.
45. Mass less than 2 hours long.
46. Not eating beans and rice everyday.
47. Not wearing skirts everyday.
48. Not constantly smelling like bug spray.
49. Washer/ dryer and dishwasher.
50. No hordes of uniformed kids smiling at us on their way to school.

We're very happy to see our friends and family but unexpectedly sad to leave the place we now call "home."


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Haitian pleasantries?

So you know how difficult it is to remember somebodies name sometimes? Apparently Haitians have absolutely NO TROUBLE at all remembering the name of that one “blan” (white person) they met one time. Let me tell a story:

A couple weeks back, Andrea was sick so Anouse (the rectory’s house keeper) and I went to Trou du Nord to do some shopping. We had to get eggs, meat, limes, etc. I was pumped to see what their market was like and to get away from the normal 200 feet that I walk between our house and the computer classroom. The first thing we bought was meat. Meat is found in a little hut where you go to a walk-up window. As you approach, flies fill the air like something out of the book of Exodus. Then a woman appears behind the window with a pleasant smile and a cleaver. You buy meat by the cost so I got 100 gourdes (about $2). She proceeded to walk over to a large cow leg suspended from the ceiling and very deftly cut me some choice meat. With this secured in a black plastic bag, Anouse and I continued on our way.

Down that street I was shocked to see someone I knew. He had a very familiar face and came over to shake hands with me. “Bonjou, Jack!” All I could think was, “Oh my goodness, how in the world do I know this guy!?” Two weeks later I still don’t know. However this didn’t bother him at all. He asked how I was, how my wife was and if I liked Haiti. He then went in search of a slip of paper to write down his phone number and told me to call him. I thanked him and went on my way, convinced that I certainly would do no such thing.

Last Saturday, I heard somebody shouting my name and went outside to see what was going on. One of the kids at the rectory said a man was here to see me. Sure enough, my “buddy” from Trou du Nord had showed up again with HIS buddy. They cornered me and asked how I was, and how my wife was, and how I liked Haiti. His friend spoke English quite well. After the pleasantries were over (about 15 minutes of them), his friend (named Jovenal) asked if I could help him get a scholarship to study in the US… Recall, I still have no clue how on earth I know guy #1 (Marcellin). I said I’d be happy to help, but kept things at an email distance. However, the Haitian concept of boundaries is not quite as distinct as the US’s. Here is an excerpt from Jovenal’s first email to me:

“This is your friend Jovenel Durosier who has came to see you on 7 saturday november 09 with my friend Maslin at holysuzan.Are you doing,brother?your whole family?You know since the day i met you,i never stop thinking about you”


It’s funny thinking that behaviour we would consider wierd (guys hold hands all the time) or downright stalking at home is merely polite in Haiti.

So I sign this as Jovenal signed his letter to me:

May God bless you and recieve a shakenhand from me,


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Well Update: Giving a hand up?

I have some VERY exciting news!

As a background, please recall the previous well update wherein I had lamented that the wells broke so quickly. Although I wanted to get to fixing them, we had almost no time and were working furiously to get ready for classes and move into our new house. I also knew that Ron had promised to come back very soon to help fix them.

About two weeks ago Ron did indeed come back and with an expert hand guided us through the repairs. We had a lot of help again from Lucien and the guys and managed to fix both wells in less than 24 hours! The rest of our time was spent attempting to "fish" a pump out of the bottom of a well hole. Because the well is over a 100 feet deep, this was not an easy task. In fact, if you know how to accomplish such a thing, we'd love to hear ideas!

Unfortunately, both wells broke down by the time last Tuesday rolled around. Unlike last time, Andrea and I now have our feet on the ground here. Ron had generously said that we can use all of his specialized tools to repair the wells. These tools are VERY expensive and losing one is not acceptable.

Lucien tracked me down last week and asked when we could repair the wells. I had to teach morning and afternoon everyday but Friday, so we waited until then. On Friday, we went to work. Lucien and his crew have begun to get a handle on the common mistakes and quickly had the well disassembled and the problem (a broken pipe) diagnosed. This we replaced and had the well back together in less than 3 hours! I could not be happier.

On Monday, we had no gas for the generator and I couldn't teach my afternoon computer science course. Instead, Lucien and I went to work and soon attracted the attention of the students who had come for the course. Though I am certain they were disappointed not to have a class, they never once complained and even helped us to fix the well. Once again, a pipe had broken, which we replaced; once again, we lowered the pump back into the ground as the sun began to set. Lucien took the reins for the last ten minutes and guided the helpers through reassembling the well.

In less than one week, Haitians (Lucien specifically) took initiative and fixed the wells. True, my presence was necessary when they didn't measure pipe sections accurately and to enable the use of tools. But generally, I think this is a big step to giving the citizens of Ste. Suzanne the ability to repair their own wells!

Lucien has already mentioned trying to set up a time to repair any of the other 5 broken wells!