The One Bad Cultural Difference – 01/15/14

There are several large cultural differences that I have picked up on over the past couple of weeks. The first is the fact that in Haiti, time is not money. Time is what you do, not what you search for. Money is important, but not the focal concern of most people. The focal concern Is food. Second, if a Haitian says you’re gonna go somewhere in 5 minutes, it really means 30-40 minutes. Third, you never really know what’s going on, or what people are saying about you if you don’t speak Creole. I speak French, but there are even some discrepancies between Haitian French and Parisian French. Fourth, everything is slow – dancing, walking, eating, talking. Lastly, if you’re a guest in a Haitian home or village, they will do everything in their power to make you comfortable and to protect you. All of these cultural differences have taken a little getting used to, but they show another set of cultural values. I grew up in a big family, so a lot of these differences (particularly about time) are actually somewhat normal.

But there is one cultural difference that I can never accept: Fish stew (it’s what’s for breakfast). This is a completely first-world perspective, and I admit that I am a freaking pansy. But I really try to roll with what happens. Fish stew can never happen. It’s a strong, briny salt/garlic broth that kills the taste of the mystery fish. Long dumplings and spaghetti are added, as well as bananas and spinach. I couldn’t tell you what color the soup is. I will post a picture to show you soon. Trust me, you wouldn’t like it either. So far, this is the only thing I don’t like about Haiti. Also, after hiding my feelings for what seemed like forever, Lacroix told us that he hates fish stew. I have never felt so understood in my life.

Before this episode, I went to observe Evens’ 9th grade class at 7:15. They were learning about architect vocabulary (something I consider to be a very low-frequency topic, as well as less important than other exercises (like speaking, for example). Anyway, a short text was put on the board, and Evens wanted to me teach it to them. I followed an American procedure, first helping them to pronounce the words, and understand the meaning of words that may inhibit their comprehension of the entire excerpt (Van Patten, 2002). Then, we talked about what the entire passage meant. I think  I was using more English than they were comfortable with (or than Evens’ thought they were comfortable with), so he translated quite a bit into French. Then, we all read the passage in English in order to work on pronunciation. Several student volunteers read the passage aloud to the class. Then, class concluded by 7:45.

The flag raising is when all of the students gather in the courtyard. They typically start with a worship song, followed by the Lord’s prayer. Then, the National Anthem is either played on the trumpet or sung by the student body while the flag is raised. All the students are in uniforms, with primary students in green and white gingham, and secondary students in navy and white with pink stripes. All of the girls have matching hair accessories, and they all look adorable.

At about 10:30, we walked to Lycée Demarseils Estimé to meet Wesly and Wesly – two of our trainees in the teacher workshop. Their English is very good. We met them in their schoolyard and talked to Club Wonderful about why it is important to learn another language.

At lunch, Père Noé talked to us about his plans for expansion. It’s clear that he has a heart for Haiti, and he’s always telling us that the best way that Haiti can be helped is by empowering and educating Haitian people. He has showed us several remote villages that are in need of a churches, schools and hospitals. In order to achieve these goals, Père Noé seeks American partnerships with organizations and churches who would like to “adopt” a school. He’s currently beginning a partnership with an organization called Amelie’s Angels. Amelie was a 24-year old girl from San Francisco who passed away in a car accident. Her dream was to start an orphanage for children in Haiti. Upon her death, her mother founded Amelie’s Angels. This is an organization that seeks to partner with Haitian humanitarian groups in order to

After lunch, we planned for our ESL class. We decided to review the vocabulary from the soccer game, and then we worked on superlatives and comparatives. Students seemed to have prior knowledge of these subjects, although they didn’t always demonstrate correct usage. We worked on comparing our peers, and then several students shared their thoughts to the class after a small group activity.

We’re looking forward to the teacher training workshop this weekend, and are glad that we took the time to brainstorm ideas when we created the calendar. No matter what, our days are always packed here. The amount of morning noise (whether it be cleaning or 6 o’clock mass or 5’oclock choir rehearsal) has us up by 5:30. After we are finished teaching twelve hours later, we often meet with our friends (Jean Louis, Lacroix, Evens, and other teachers form the workshop, Marc and Shester) to talk about any and everything. Our favorite place to go is to the Baldé’s, which is a  small shop right outside the church where Mr. and Mme Baldé sell soda, alcohol, cigarettes, toilet paper, razors and Pringles. There’s always a lot of laughter and a nice, cold Prestige. Our newest connaissance is a guy named Luis from Uruguay who doesn’t speak much English. He’s working with Minustah (a local water purification plant) in order to provide potable water.

The one enduring understanding I’m left with at the end of every day is that in Haiti, you’ll never know who you’ll meet next. You never know what will happen next. You’ll never know the next moment that will change your life.