Monday, May 30, 2011

Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are????

Yes, I am currently on a Jean Knight kick, but rest assured that the song and title of this blog post couldn't be more perfect. Just keep reading!

The other night I decided to stay at the office through the rain to get some extra work done and putz around on the internet while I had the chance. A student, Richard, was willing to stay and escort me home.

We left the office around 8:15 at night. Once it's dark out, I usually take the "safer" route home, which is slightly out of the way, but has street lights. This time, though, there was a police car stationed along the quicker route, so we decided it was equally safe and headed that way. What we failed to evaluate was how this might appear to police, who aren't accustomed to seeing blan (white people), let alone a white woman, walking at night down vacant streets with a young Haitian male.

So the chef (Creole for policeman) called us over. "Bonswa, ti blan. Sa w ap fè avek ti neg sa?" (Good evening little whitey. What are you doing with this little Haitian?) I'm thinking: okay, that's reasonable. I guess this does appear to be a little out of the ordinary. So I explain to him in my best Creole that we are on our way home, and that Richard is accompanying me there. There is no problem. I'm fine. I'm not afraid. I know him; he is my student.

He responds (in Creole, but I've translated it), "Why are you walking? Where is your car? Blan don't walk in Haiti, especially not at night."  Ah, yes chef! You are right. I am the only blan in Haiti without a car, so that is why I walk. I also live very close to where I work, so I don't need a car. 

Chef: Where are you from? Let me see your passport.
Me: I'm American and my passport is at my house.
Chef: "Si ou pa gen piyes didantite, n'ap arete w." This means, "If you don't have an ID with you, we're going to arrest you."

All this time, the student I am with isn't saying anything. He was obviously afraid of the police, and whether or not they were serious, he didn't want to mess around.

Me: "Tann, tann, tann." (Wait, wait, wait). "Ou pa ka fè sa. Mwen pat konnen. Sel bagay mwen genyen se yon kart dasirans." (You can't do that. I didn't know. The only thing I have is my insurance card).

Until then, I thought it wasn't too serious, but they kept threatening arrest, so I started to get concerned. I turned to Richard. Still nothing. He just reiterated what the policeman said, saying that I needed to carry an ID, otherwise I could be arrested. Grreeeeaaaaaat! Garry (my big boss, HELP's country director) was out of town, so who was I going to call if I ended up in Haitian jail? It would be an experience, that I knew for sure. How many blan ever get arrested in Haiti, let alone an attractive, young lady blan?

After accepting my insurance card as a form of ID, I figured it out. They just wanted to talk to me, and keep me there as long as they could. So I indulged them a bit in conversation. Told them a little about myself, blah blah blah. Which of course led to, "Eske ou gen menaj?" (Do you have a boyfriend?)

The correct thing to say would have been, "Wi, m geyen menaj. Ayisyen memn!" (Yes, I have a boyfriend. A Haitian one even!) But I am seriously bad at dealing with these men, and said, "Mwen pa bezwen menaj" (I don't need a boyfriend). This only invited them to continue.

Oh bel famn (pretty lady) I'll be the best boyfriend. I want to take you to Petit Goave, the most beautiful beach in the South. You can be my queen, and we'll start an empire together. Let's join our names, and have children. Obama's mom is white. We can be like Obama. Please, give me your number. I have to have you. Insert any other pick-up lines or come-on's you want. This chef was intense, and it went on for about 20 minutes.

I finally appealed to them to let me go home because it was late and not safe for a lady to be out on the streets at this hour with a big backpack. It was around 9 pm by then. Oh, but that just got me into more trouble.

Chef: "Wi, se twop ta. N ap menen ou lakay la." (Yes, it is too late. We'll take you to your house)
Me: "OK. An ale. N ap mache ansemn? Se tou pre" (OK, let's go. We'll walk together. It's very close)
Chef: "Ahh no, cheri! N ap menen ou nan machine la" (Oh no, sweetie! We'll take you in our car)
Me: "Se vre?" (Really?)...." ale." (OK, let's go)

And off we went, literally down the street 200 yeards and around the corner, me in the back seat with the lights flashing and everything. Escorted home by the police. What a riot! At least I didn't go to jail, nor was I fined, AND, the kicker, I got away without giving them a real ID or my number. SUCCESS!

Mr. Big Stuff! Who do you think you are? Mr. Big Stuff! You're never gonna get my love!

Come on, really? You're going to use your "authority" to holler at me? Uh-uh buddy. Not gonna happen...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's like thunder! Lightnin'! The way you love me is frightenin'!

It's been almost 4 months since I last wrote, and I know that all of you out there are aching for me to write. Instead of trying to catch you up, I'm just going to continue from this point forward. Maybe I'll make some "looking back" posts, but judging by my current blogging statistics, it's unlikely. Anywho...

It's officially the RAINY SEASON in Haiti. That means hot, hot heat during the day with about 99% humidity and thunderstorms throughout the afternoon/evening to cool everything off for the night. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of experiencing a Haitian rainstorm, allow me to elaborate:

It begins with a sprinkling, seemingly harmless, but nonetheless persistent. This could last anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple hours. Then, BOOM! The downpour begins, and is often accompanied by thunder so powerful it rattles your eardrums and shakes your heart from within your body. It's unsettling and invigorating all at once; I have yet to keep myself from jumping.

The duration of the storm is unpredictable. Sometimes is will only last about 30 minutes. If it lasts much longer, the consequences become worse. This is largely due to Port-au-Prince's TERRIBLE drainage, which means the more it rains, the more the streets flood. And when they flood, you better not plan on going anywhere, otherwise you'll be trudging through a foot of water. But the streets don't simply fill with rain runoff. No, sir! The floods carry all the mud and trash that people throw in the street, too.

Once the water level settles, banks of said mud and trash become visible throughout the streets. Seemingly shallow puddles disguise themselves in 6-inch deep potholes. Unpaved "sidewalks" become slippery, slimy mud pits. This makes for eventful walking, especially since it's rarely light out after the rain stops and street lights are few and far between.
Who wants to mail me rain boots?

I discovered a good portion of this the other night when I was making my way over to the
Hotel Oloffson (a beautiful old, run-down gingerbread mansion--once a vacation palace to the presidents, now a hotel and low-key hangout for journalists and RAM fans--see link). Michael, Hervé, and I went there for their Monday night twoubadou performance.

twoubadou! It's considered traditional Haitian music which includes guitar, drums, saxophone, accordion, maracas, banjo, and singing. There aren't many young people who play it anymore, so it's also fun to go see these old guys rock out. They're the cutest! And they still have moves! Crip Prestige (Haitian beer), the Oloffson porch, a slight breeze, some dancing, and of course, twoubadou, make for a great night. Next time I'll take some photos.

In other news, I am become my own
ti menaj (little boyfriend), as I bought myself a bouquet of flowers. My students tell me that a beautiful woman in Haiti isn't supposed to buy herself flowers, but I could care less. They're pretty, they brighten up my room, make me smile, and it supports the guys who trek those flowers down from the mountains. Plus, I retort that if getting flowers the "right" way means having to get a REAL ti menaj who is possessive and jealous , then I am better off being my own boyfriend. They think I am totally NUTS! And I think I'm the best boyfriend I've ever had...well...minus the obvious setbacks.

Alright, I need to get some rest before a big day of teaching (superlatives for a few classes, and a podcast for the advanced group). Thanks for tuning in folks...
A pi ta (Until later)!

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I live in Haiti! WHAT?

Just having one of those days, looking out over my desk onto the courtyard at work, thinking "Holy cow, I live in Haiti. How did I get here again? Why am I here?"

But then I snap out of it and realize how normalized my life has become here, and how proud I am to be working for HELP and with HELP students. Every time I feel like giving up because of loneliness or frustration, I remember all the sacrifices my students have made to get to where they are, and how much they are still willing to give up. Throwing in the towel and fleeing home is always an option for me. I am lucky to have choices because my students don't. At least not in the same sense that I do. This is their one chance. It's all or nothing, so how could I desert them just because I've had a pretty bad month? I can't. They mean too much to me to leave. I don't really know if I am making that much of an impact on their lives, but I am certain that they have already changed mine forever.

(For those of you waiting for the Oscar memorial post, it's coming...I've just been struggling to find the right words)