Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bon Ane! Happy New Year!

A lot has happened in the 7 months since my last post, including the end of 2011 and the completion of my first year in Haiti.  On the work front, I am still with HELP, teaching English and directing the waste management program, but I have since become the ESL Program Leader, an official resident advisor, and a Leadership teacher. Throughout the summer months, I developed and wrote the ESL curriculum, trained a new teacher, and implemented an intensive ESL orientation program for the incoming scholars. It was a challenge; I made some mistakes, learned A LOT, and, ultimately it’s proving a valuable and successful experience. I feel honored to have this opportunity, even though those who are close to me know that it has made me cry, celebrate, scream, and even think about quitting my “job” on multiple occasions. The hard work paid off in a congratulatory and satisfied compliment from my directors. SCORE!

Personally, I have made many more friends and explored more of Port-au-Prince and Haiti. I’ve enjoyed getting better acquainted with Haitian music and culture, and my command of Haitian Creole has made leaps and bounds. None of this would have been possible without my dear friend Winter, who has played a primary role in introducing me to all things Haitian, including the language. I’ve also started playing Capoeira (a Brazilian dance/martial art). It’s a ton of fun, a great way to stay in shape, and has exposed me to a whole new community of Haitians and foreign workers. I love it…and might even take it seriously enough to get “baptized” and try for my first belt! I want those cool, white pants, man…

I am currently back in PAP (Port-au-Prince) after a 2-week winter vacation in California. When I left, I felt so sad to leave Haiti. I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t ready to leave Ayiti Cheri. I even shed a few tears on the airplane. Of course, once at my mom’s, I thoroughly enjoyed hot showers, salads, lots of bandwidth, my plush bed, and the company of good friends and family. The Monday or Tuesday after Christmas, though, I was ready to return. The celebrations were over, I had seen my dearests, and my soul was yearning for Haiti. But, I was still looking forward to the trip to our family’s cabin in Aspendell (Bishop, CA). I hadn’t been since August 2010, right before I left for Haiti.

Mwen te sezi vre. (I was in total awe). It was as if I had never been there before, or seen anything like it. Every two minutes (from the drive to the walks in the mountains) I exclaimed, “It’s so beautiful!” Jarrett thinks I am NUTS and have emotional problems. I think I am simply present and conscious of how profound my connection is to nature, particularly with the Eastern Sierras. Anyway, the long of the short is that I love it up there, and that trip marked a shift in my experience Stateside. Why would I keep myself from that? There is a lot of history there. I grew up in those mountains. Was it just nostalgia? Was it appreciation that I couldn’t have had until I experienced the absence? I still don’t know, but not a single day has gone by when I haven’t thought about it up there. Whether it be the view of the porch and aspens from our dining table, or the feeling of inhaling that crisp, clean air with views that simultaneously take that very same breath away, I can’t get Aspendell off my mind.

At present, neither place is feeling “right.” The States were sterile and cold. There is sadly no sense of community in the suburbs of SoCal. When I am away, I miss my walk to work and the people I see on the way everyday. My students, my banana lady, my neighbors out chatting on the corner, the school children in colorful uniforms of all shapes, patterns, and styles, little girls with ribbons and bows bouncing with their braids with every step, the guys playing dominoes and blasting Konpa out of a boom box on the street, my gas station friends…they are my community. Just thinking about it brings the biggest smile to my face.

At the same time, I can say: Ayiti kole nan bounda m’ tankou yon pete (Literally: Haiti is glued to my ass like a fart. Correctly translated: Haiti is annoying me!). Everything here can be a challenge. Going to the market can take 3 hours. The dust, the traffic, the harassment from policemen…it’s exhausting!

My respite is teaching. I adore my students and my time in the classroom. Yesterday, I taught one of my favorite lessons so far. I’ve designed the 3rd year ESL curriculum to be more of an English style ESL class. Essentially, we’ll be studying ESL through various readings (and other materials, like images and film), and then doing a lot of discussion and writing to troubleshoot lingering grammar challenges. If that’s confusing shoot me an email and I’d be happy to explain more. It’s a really interesting course, and is proving effective and engaging for both the students and myself. (Much gratitude is due to Grace and Libby, two of my best professors at Oberlin, for they always created dynamic courses that continue to inspire me in my lesson planning and teaching)

Would you like to know what we did? What a silly rhetorical question, of course you do!!! We are wrapping up our “ESL through Media Literacy” unit and before the break had been discussing profiles. Who do we profile and why? What are the advantages and disadvantages of focusing on one person? How and from what sources do we collect information? etc etc. They responded quite positively. One of our sample profiles was about one of my favorite actors, Viggo Mortensen. (This is the privilege that comes with being the teacher…you can indulge in yourself a bit, but in all seriousness it was an excellent example).

For homework over the break, they had done some vocabulary, comprehension, and analysis work. This class period, however, we steered away from the interpretation of media and focused on the creation of it. I asked the students to review the Viggo article and come up with a list of questions they think the author asked Viggo and the other interviewees. Then I asked them to generate their own list of general interview questions that one could use to start any old interview. We discussed what details made the Viggo article compelling, and how that information might have been collected. I asked them to think about how to get those anecdotes and specific details, noting that descriptions of environment and physicality can be advantageous.

Then, I turned them loose on each other. We finished the last 45 minutes of class conducting our own interviews in English. Everyone got the chance to do an interview and be interviewed. They loved it! They were completely immersed in the process and had a lot of fun talking about their personal stories. I didn’t even have to scold anyone for speaking Creole once; they were so into it! Naturally, there was an odd number of students, so I had to be interviewed. My interviewer was truly excellent and asked me some pertinent and probing questions about my “life story” and my personal experience in Haiti. Their homework is to write a profile of the person they interviewed based on their notes. I am really excited to see how the profiles turn out next week!

On a more somber note, today marks the 2 year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and, by default, much of the country. Jodi a nou sonje tout moun ki mouri e tout moun ki kontinye ap viv malgre tout difikilte. AYITI CHERI.

I'd like to take a moment to remind my few readers that Haiti is defined neither by its poverty nor its tragedy. Do not look upon Haitians with pity. Be compassionate. See them as equals, as real human beings whose stories include pain, suffering, struggle, victory, and celebration...just as any of our lives from the "developed" world. Haiti is a beautiful country, with a rich and triumphant story, full of incredible people with souls, hopes, dreams, and intelligence, and a culture that rivals those esteemed in Europe/the West. 

Until next time everyone! Thanks for reading, despite my lack of discipline to post. 

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