Regards, le pays – 01/19/14

Today began at 4:30 when we woke up to go to church in Pacasse. Pacasse is another rural location where Père Noé wants to build a bigger church building and a school.  It took us two hours to get there. I’m not trying to be a pansy, but I really thought we were going to die. We took a pick-up truck that was manufactured in 1950, and fit 6 people in the cab, and had the entire St. André’s women’s church choir (Espérance Divine) piled on benches in the bed of the truck. Also, when I looked over at the speedometer, I discovered that it was broken. I guess that’s information you don’t need to have when you’re not driving on a road and there’s no speed limit. The only times I really got scared was when the shifter got stuck on steep upgrades, when the headlights kept going out, and when we were going about 50 miles per hour around gravelly sharp curves. I have never lived so much in a moment.

On the road, we saw people walking with machetes (to cut sugar cane), and many people in their church clothes. Church is the main event of the week in Haiti. As we discovered, some people had walked four hours to get to Pacasse. The faithfulness of Haitian parishioners across the board is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I think their heavenly reward will be great.

Today’s service featured Father Roger Bowen, an Episcopal priest who has been coming to Haiti for over 30 years, and is a close friend of Père Noé. He travelled to Hinche with several staff from Trinity Episcopal School in Miami, Florida. They spent two nights in Pacasse, sleeping in the car. Our group was originally supposed to meet them on Saturday and spend the night, but Père Noé got a flat tire, and we had to go up in the morning. We consider this flat tire to be a bit of a blessing in disguise, especially after seeing the morning faces of the Miami group.

We learned about a little boy named Oginel. He is eight years old, and doesn’t live with his family. His father is a voodoo priest, and has many different wives. Oginel mother would beat him, and he never got enough to eat. So, he ran away and lived on the street. He would go to a hospital to get food when he could. Oginel is smart as a whip, and can speak some French and a little bit of English. He made it to the Saturday evening service in Pacasse, where one of the Miami team members adopted him (meaning will send money to support him – for food, clothing and school). Père Noé found a home for him to stay until March, when his American dad will come back for him and take him to the US.

Oginel really likes taking pictures. He took me and Marie to a couple of hills where we could see everything. When a perfect panorama was in sight, he told me, “Regards – le pays.” I looked around, and that’s exactly what I saw. Sometimes when people look at Haiti, all they see is poverty. While Pacasse is one of the poorest places I’ve ever seen, I can’t write it off as just another small Haitian village with hungry people and sick children.  It is breath-taking, the people are beautiful, and everything is so full of life. There is a lot of potential in Pacasse, and I see Père Noé’s work there as an investment, not a hand-out. As I was reflecting, Oginel took Marie’s and my cameras and didn’t give them back for a very long time. When I got my camera back, I had struck an ethnographic goldmine. Oginel had gotten pictures of every passer-by, what Antoinette was cooking for lunch, his friends riding a donkey, an angry cow, a baby, and a lot of adorable selfies.

There was a celebration today because it was the day of St. Peter’s confession (two Sunday’s after Epiphany). Many choral groups from various churches (even Loranette) came to perform. There was even a brass band that led us in a procession Everyone was dressed in their best. The room smelled like baby powder, incense, and hot people. The service was about 2.5 hours long.

Antoinette killed a chicken today. We ate it for lunch. She’s a professional. Marie watched her, and didn’t run away. Champ.

After lunch, we made our way back to Hinche. Marie and I sat in the back of Père Noé’s truck, and got a sunburn. All of the pictures from today have a particular glow about them.

We had told all of our students (ESL and Teacher Workshop alike) that the certificate ceremony would start at 5:30 pm, right before evening Mass as per Père Noé’s instructions. However, we soon discovered that we would be having the ceremony after the service. The sermon this evening was about the responsibility of knowledge and the empowerment of the youth. The youth are the ones that will change the country. At around 7:30, we began distributing certificates. I said some words before the distribution, and then three students came up and gave speeches to us, about what they learned and to say thank you. At one point during the ESL classes, one of my students asked me if I had a nickname. I said that my close friends call me Hales. When he thanked us, he thanked Marie, Gregory and Hales.

Gregory introduced the honorable mentions, and Marie gave a speech for the teachers. I hope I can type it up for all of you to see at some point. Then, Evens, Marc and Shester all gave speeches as well. This was originally supposed to be a time for them to present their exposé’s and for us to grade them as a kind of summative assessment. This didn’t work out at all. Afterwards, we hung out and took pictures with a lot of people.

It was raining during of all of this. Cats and dogs, it sounded like. For me, it always rains on goodbye days. Even though we’re still in Hinche until Wednesday, this ceremony marks the closing of a chapter. To prolong the closing, we went to the Baldé’s to get a Prestige. It tastes just as good in the rain.











Cupid Shuffle – 01/17/14

Fridays are the busiest days of the week. We always say we will start lesson planning at 7, but nothing ever really gets done before the coffee’s ready. Let’s be honest. After breakfast, we plan our ESL lesson and our teacher workshop lesson.

Because today’s topic in the syllabus was writing, we decided to address several topics. The outline of the lesson looked like this:

– Warm up about what we talked about last weekend and check if teachers have journaled this week (highly unlikely)

– Intro to free output à assign a free write with a topic. The topic is “classroom management.”

  • Concepts of freewriting (timed writing, free output, topic selection, context, summarizing the freewrite)
  • Give teachers about 5 minutes to free write, then discuss

– Spiel

  • Decontextualization doesn’t work
  • Grading (don’t grade/correct everything)
  • Timed vs. untimed writing
  • Feedback and peer feedback
  • Importance of production

– Vocabulary development

  • organize by topics
  • take notes on what vocabulary has already been taught
  • mind map (use the classroom mgt vocabulary)
  • lemmas (inform, manage, transport, person) à do an example on the board

– Reading in relation to writing

  • importance of journals and vocabulary logs

I think that the writing workshop went pretty well. It didn’t get underway until about 2:30, but we did have time to address everything. A more detailed lesson plan can be provided later. We decided in advance to have an unofficial last class with our ESL students, in which we would discuss party vocabulary. We made a mind map on the board, and then moved to different types of music and dance. Marie and I tried to teach students the Macarena and the Cupid Shuffle, but to no avail. The volume on my computer wasn’t loud enough to be heard in the courtyard, and all of the high school students were too cool to dance. However, they were very impressed with our efforts, and took the time to tell us so at the end of class.

Tonight, we went to the disco with Lacroix and Jean Louis. Evens met us there. The name of the disco is called Zenith Nightclub, and Lacroix’s uncle Fred owns it. There are no lights except a blacklight and bar lights. Everything is outdoors, except the pavilion which is shaped like a circle. We go get Prestige and then sit at a small table with folding chairs. The DJ lives in a box and can’t see the dance floor, so he doesn’t know which songs people like. They always play either kompa songs or Dominican music. Kompa is always love songs that have the same rhythm. There is a distinct Haitian flavour to it – it’s slow and happy.

So ends another full day. Tomorrow is the Teacher Workshop where we’ll talk about how to teach reading. Afterwards, Evens is going to take us to Bassin Zim. We’re so excited! Search it right now on Google images. So rad. And look at this site:


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.

Spaghetti for Breakfast – 01/13/14

Today we woke up in time to go to Simon’s 7am English class. Yesterday, he invited us to come observe and possibly assist him. However, when we looked for his seventh grade class, we soon discovered that he was mistaken, and there was no English class until 8am. We were unable to observe any English classes today, because Evens also told us that he was to teach at 1pm. Yet, because he was late, the students left after ten minutes. So, we spent most of the day taking it easy, and planning for our ESL lesson for this afternoon.

When it was time for breakfast, we had spaghetti with pieces of hotdog inside. It’s really good with hot sauce, even at 8 in the morning. It was served with a side of bananas and grenadine juice. I think this is Creole for grapefruit, even though that makes no sense at all.

At 10:20, we went with two of our students in our Teacher Training Workshop, Wesly and Wesly to their high school, Lycée Dumarsais Estimé, to partake in an English club that they founded. We first spoke to their Philosophy class, and they asked us several questions. The most recurring question is that students ask Gregory about his nationality. They all think he’s Haitian, so there is always a small discussion at the beginning of every introduction about how he’s actually African American.

Wesly and Wesly took us to their club, which meets in the school yard under a tree. For about 15 minutes, we answered questions from club members about every subject – why we like to teach, how to improve in English, and even how to decide if one should get married. Questions were posed and answered in English. They are hoping that we can come back to their school to continue to work with them. Pere Noe told us that he’s happy to provide this workshop for free to the English teachers, in exchange for potential help from them in the future. With this, we decided that it was in the interest of the program to network with this English club.

Lunch is always big. We ate a lamb sauce with rice and peas. Then, we waited to observe Evens’ English class. However, as mentioned, this didn’t work out. So, we planned our lesson for the remainder of the afternoon. Students had requested to learn the numbers in English, so we decided to include dates, birthdays, holidays as well as ordinal rankings, and playing cards. We also wanted to talk to them about how to tell time, but there was no time to do this.

Today’s lesson plan looked roughly like this:

– Explicit teaching of numbers, both in Arabic and in written form. On the board was written the numbers 1-10, then the numbers by tens all the way up to 100.

– Cards. A shuffled set of cards from 2 to Ace (of different suits) was distributed to the students, and they each had to stand up and talk about what cards they had in order. We scaffolded by teaching them “to have” and the different suits.

– Ordinal ranking of numbers (1st-10th). Then dates.

– Practice with birthdays and dates, including a partner task which required students to ask their friends when their birthday is.

– Dictation. Today’s dictation was an exercise in writing numbers. The first two sentences were “John is fifty-five years ld. His birthday is October tenth, nineteen fifty-eight.” The students have expressed to me that they like dictations, because they have the opportunity to listen.

After class, a St. Andre’s student named Wendy came over and shared an exercise book with me. It has the translations from Creole to French to English. Very helpful for next semester’s Curriculum Design group.

That’s today. Tomorrow, we are going to visit Marc (a member of the teacher training workshop) at his school. More to come.

Samedi, the Second Teacher Workshop Day 01/11/14

This is a late blog post. I’m sorry, readers. I bet I could tell you what we ate for lunch (you got it – peas, rice, sauce and goat). Today was our second day of the Teacher Workshop, and we decided to talk about teaching speaking. Our rationale for this was that the teachers have all expressed at different points their desire to improve their personal speaking abilities. Additionally, they have acknowledged the deficit of the Haitian educational system when it comes to speaking.

Our lesson outline looks like this:

1) going over the syllabus and calendar

2)  journal sharing/writing in pairs

3) admonition of authentic texts/situations

  • budget speaking time in lesson plans
  • create authentic/relevant situations
  • purpose of task à how do they want their students to learn English?

4) Take 5: students stay in same pairs, choose a picture, come up with five vocabulary words about the picture, identify their lexical category, then share with the class à THEN create a dialogue, role play or sketch that incorporates the five vocabulary words. Everyone performs

5) Inside/outside circles (students rotate on a timed schedule, 30 seconds of fluency building)

6) Debate à should children be allowed to use cell phones in school?

7) Practice OPI, stage an interview

8) Think-Pair-Share about the OPI

On the whole, the lesson went pretty well. We didn’t get to give as much time to the OPI as we would have liked, so we just explained it to them. This session was 3 hours long, and the teachers seemed tired by Sunday (the following session). I don’t know if there’s a way to improve this for future workshops.