I realise now that maybe the previous two entries were a little removed from what exactly I personally am here to do, so I thought maybe I should address that for a change.
It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived in Gros Morne, and I’ve just about adapted to the dual culture shock of living in an American household in Haiti. For those who have been in Haiti with UCDVO before, I would say it is very different. Firstly, thus far, the pace has been far removed from the manic nature of the summer projects. When it’s a four-week project, you are on a very tight schedule, where every day is pretty precisely mapped out. You really have very little time to stop and smell whatever it is that’s burning at that time. Second, is the obvious lack of the Irish group’s presence. Having a group of people of a similar age and cultural background with whom you can contrast your life at home and life in this new environment is one of the best aspects of the summer projects. You know like, we’re sound like, aren’t we? Third, everyone in the house has a work schedule that they are already familiar with, so it’s a bit more along the lines of ‘what am I going to do today?’ and then making a list.
Currently, the item at the top of my agenda is to become as close to fluent in Haitian Creole as possible, my fluency being a rate-limiting factor for much of the other work. Easier said than done, eh? I am, at the moment, the only one of seven in the household without sufficient Kreyol to have a phone conversation. This, I feel, may be an advantage, in that it puts more pressure on me to ‘up my game’. Jenny, one of the American volunteers, has very kindly offered to give me hour-long classes, and I can honestly say that I haven’t read anything other than the grammar book ‘Creole Made Easy’ since I arrived. But the biggest benefit is obviously talking to Haitian people. I never previously realised the eagerness of Haitians to teach their language to non-native speakers. A few of the people I’ve met who have had some English, have expressed how much of a bon bagay (‘good thing’) it is to learn Kreyol, and of them, most have offered to teach me. Prior to this excursion, I had no French, and just enough Kreyol to get by at the camps, and had considered learning the language a laborious task. Two weeks in, I am now of the opinion that the language itself is relatively very simple, featuring very little in the way of tenses, and many of the nouns and verbs relating easily to their English translations. This grammar book I found in the house comprehensively explains every aspect one would require in everyday speech in about 40 pages. I emailed the book out to this summer’s volunteers earlier today, and joked that if volunteers had had this book in previous years, there might not be any work left for the new group to do here. I’m giving myself another two weeks to get to a more independent stage, where I will hopefully be able to hold a conversation. Watch this space.
Another of the current day-to-day jobs is helping another of the American volunteers, Mitch, on his construction projects. This week he has just finished construction on a two-room house for a single mother of four. The house is located near the Fon Ibo school where the American summer volunteers run their summer camp, and it is a very good house, with a latrine and a water cistern for harvesting rainwater. There was a construction team of five Haitians working on the house, who were, again, very keen to help me out with my Kreyol, and also very keen to learn my wife’s name and all my childrens’ names. That one took some explaining. Mwen pa yon masisi. Having just completed the house, Mitch’s next project is to oversee the building of an additional five classrooms for the Fon Ibo School. This is due to start next week, so over the next few days, I’ll be helping him with some renovation work on the existing classrooms.
As the work is still in its planning stage, it’s a bit too early to say what the projects for this summer’s Irish volunteers will be for certain. Liam Doyle, from the board of UCDVO, was here for my first three days in Gros Morne, and we looked at some potential projects. One of these was the construction of latrines for the people living on a hillside area of Gros Morne known as Empas Kade. It appears as though there are some latrines in the area, though not nearly enough for the population there, and given the recent cholera epidemic in Haiti, there is certainly a direct need for sanitation facilities. Part of ongoing projects in the area also includes the construction of stone walls, to stem the flow of rain water on the hillside, and thus preventing houses being washed away. There is a Ravine Committee, consisting of seven locals, who decide where and when to build these walls. UCDVO has also been involved in the construction of these walls in the past, as evidenced by the wet cement handiwork of ‘Don, des Irlandais’ on 23/7/07, and one Conor Tonry, at some stage in 2010. Other projects will undoubtedly come to light over the coming months: having a reputation of doing work in the community, people are not shy about suggesting future projects to the nuns or their associates.
But, as they say, it’s not all work. In fact, rarely do a few days go by where the household does not have an event of some type. Last Wednesday was the Feast of Manman Lachandeleur, the patron saint of Gros Morne. This was quite a big deal in the town, both to those with religious inclination and those without. The streets were lined with stalls, selling religious paraphernalia such multicoloured rosary beads and commemorative tshirts, and others that were straight-up gambling. This included one table with a roulette-style rotating wheel, only instead of numbers, it bore toy animals attached to the top, and bets were placed on painted pictures of the animals on the table. The true religious aspect of the feast did not go uncelebrated, however. Pilgrims from as far away as Port-au-Prince came to the overnight vigil in the church, and following the mass on Wednesday, a procession of about sixty to eighty priests, nuns and pilgrims attended a lunch up here in the sisters’ house. I kid you not, it was like a scene from Father Ted. And lo and behold, like there is at every religious gathering worldwide, there was a nun from Ireland present. Blanchardstown, in fact. Just goes to show how far Irish nuns will go for a good mass.