Thursday, September 30, 2010

PAP and The Citadel

OK so I'm back in Port au Prince now. It was a long as heck drive to get down here. 8 hours in the car one way. Bumpy roads make for a sore bum. But it's ok cuz I'm here. Or at least I got here a week ago (most my blogs run a week or so behind).

That isn't cuz I don't love all of you. I do it's just difficult to get really awesome stories to write all of you, edit them (I'm not editing this one), and send them out.

I just wanted to let you all know I'm ok, I'm back in PAP, and I've been given a task I CAN do. My new job is to be the technical advisor to the sisters. I.E. I look at the engineers work here in Haiti and if they're doing something incredibly stupid, I get to catch it. Assuming I'm not feeling stupid that day.

This is better than before because when I told the sisters I wasn't an Civil Engineer they said... But you're an Engineer right? HA. Well I solved that problem, I talked to Sr. Monique and clearly told her that Aerospace Engineers can't do everything. I can build a plane, but a laser on the moon, and even solve world hunger, but building a house in Haiti is going to be a little bit out of my league.

Problem solved. Now I'm working on building a database for the sisters to keep track of their projects, learning Creole, and I'll be looking at any plans that come across my desk (a figurative desk).

Alright so why the heck don't my pictures match up to this at all? Well that's cuz about 2 weeks ago I went to "The Citadel." Today I'm finally telling you all about it.

This place was awesome: No lines, No harnesses, No rails, No boundaries, and Safety is OPTIONAL. Yup I went all over this place. It scared the carp (a fish) out of me. The pic on top was meant to be a joke but that's actually how I felt about the whole experience. The tour was in french so I didn't understand a whole lot.

This place was built by Christof Colom (Not Christopher Columbus) To ward off the french. By the looks of it this Haitian king was a master of overkill. One cannon and a pirate flag ought to do the trick...

I can't gripe about the plethora of cannons tho. I got to run around and ogle at them. I have no clue how they got these cannons up here in the first place. I had trouble walking up the mountain with a backpack full of water... They brought this cannon.

The view is breathtaking. I can't adequately describe just how gorgeous it was so I'll just let you look at the pics. The mountains you see in the pic surround the fort on 3 of the 4 sides. The other faces the plains to the South.

There is a palace at the bottom of the mountain that was destroyed by the last Earthquake to hit Haiti... Irony can be a sad mama jama some times.

Alright Lady's and Gents, this blog is raw but I'm hoping you like the pics enough to forgive me. Maybe I'll go edit it tomorrow or maybe I'll go play with some Orphans. Either way I hope you are all doing well!
From Haiti Adventures
From Haiti Adventures
From Haiti Adventures

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A good day in Haiti

From Haiti Adventures
I want you all to know that I have had some amazing days here. I tend to write when I'm upset and I just don't want to be around anyone. So today I'm going to try to break the trend and tell you all about a really good day.

As most days here start I rolled out of bed to the nuns singing in preparation for mass. Rather than being smoten(?) by a lightning bolt I roll out of bed and take the necessary 15 steps to go to mass. The priest today is my favorite so we’re already getting off to a good start.

My mind wanders to thoughts of Port Au Prince, Pizza, learning to program in Java (I’m a dork), and obviously my lovely girlfriend, Shannon. Why pizza you ask? Well, a few days prior, the sisters had asked me what my FAVORITE food was. I answered like any good America pizza and they promised to make me some before I left!

Following mass and breakfast, I wander looking for children to play with (usually one of the ones in the picture Ose right, or Wood left) or my books to study Creole (notice the capitalization). Renel stopped me to ask, “Eric, you want to go to Cap Haitian with us?” Excited to get off the compound I hurried into the car. The car pulls away as the munchkins grab onto the side repeating their mantra, “Eric Gade’m”.

A lack of the usual near-death experiences made for a pleasant ride. Without my life flashing before my eyes, I’m able to focus learning Creole with Renel and the bustling Haitian market place (which is located in the middle of the street). One of our stops was to get bread and PIZZA!

I admit it I enjoyed it, so sue me I'm no saint and I just love pizza.

Returning to the house I asked Renel (In the pic on the left) if we could go see the orphans again. Smiling he went to ask Sr. Gloria if we could borrow the car. A quick answer and we are off to see the orphans and Smiley-Mc-Smilerton. This time I got them all to make faces “Fe Makak”.

Smiley-Mc-Smilerton (in the other picture with his tongue hanging out) would glance at the pastor to make sure he wasn't looking then give me the best face he could muster. Afterwards we'd all laugh as we looked at the pictures. This process repeated 18 times (yup I counted). I gave the pastor some cash for food and we left.

Feeding 1 orphan for a week: ~$10
Pants from Northface: $60
Plane ticket to Haiti: $400
Camera from that I'm borrowing: Duh free
Pictures of orphans: Also free (see bullet above)
Never hearing this little diddy again: priceless

Later that evening Jean-Robert swung by for a Creole/English lesson. He brought a book with him and would point out words he didn't understand, like blushing. Living in a nation of blacks he has never seen skin that becomes darker due to sun, embarrassment, or anger. For a Haitian to redden their skin they get surgery (Michael Jackson's living legacy). I tried to demonstrate that my face turns red by holding my breath. He looked more baffled than ever but I tell myself he understood.

After our lesson I got the unique experience of watching a Haitian movie. The movie was corny and fun to laugh at, but I actually got to experience life with JR, Sippo, Nata, Ose, and the security guard. For once I wasn't the center of attention and I got to just sit and relax with my friends.

That night the sister's had made a pizza. It was absolutely amazing. They asked if it was the best pizza I'd ever had and unable to lie I said no. However, it was darn good and I told them as much! The sauce was a blend between tomato and buffalo chick sauce. The crust was fresh Haitian bread which is amazing. Only the cheese and and meat needed some attention. Given the situation I could NOT have asked for more. It made that day one of the best and I fell asleep feeling less like a stranger.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Visiting the orfaneles

I've mentioned Renel previously in my blog (He was previously known to me as Raymond...). At that time I wasn't able to paint you the correct picture of Renel (aka Raymond). I hadn't yet come to know him, his name, or just how much I would come to like him.

Renel is the chauffeur for the nuns and the church's guitarist. Being the chauffeur, he tends to invite me along when he goes on an errand. When we are on the compound he helps me study Creole. Often when I play soccer he is willing to join me. He has also taught me to play Haitian Casino (card game) and taken me to meet his girlfriend. Most importantly, he seems content to just be friends.

A friendship we began immediately, in spite of the language barrier. As far as Haitians are concerned he has been blessed. He plays the guitar for the church, eats on a regular basis, and donates to a local orphanage when he is able. Last week, he was kind enough to take me with him to the orphanage.

I didn't know it at the time but he was giving me a different taste of Haiti. I needed some cheering up and Renel knows I love playing with kids. As we are drove down the road we enjoyed semi-bi-lingual small talk. Our conversation died as we exited the patchy main road to dirt. Parking in a little area next to a local water pump he told me we were at an orphanage.

Usually I like to mentally prepare for these sorts of thing. Put up a little mental barrier and imagine bunnies with wings. I don't know why but it helps. No time to prepare, I just walked right in. The compound was paltry: a small classroom, writing on the chalk board that stretched onto the bricks, and a small house, sized for 1 American or 15 Haitians. I smiled faintly as I passed the two boys sitting in the class room. My brain instantly overloaded and I shut down, I was a walking recorder. Rounding the corner I come face to face with the orphans.

They are the shyest kids I've seen in Haiti, and hesitant to greet the goofy blan. At Raymon's suggestion, I began taking photos of the kids. Trepidations at first they stand and watch. The bait is set and I all I need to do is show them the first picture. The silence was replace with laughter and one of the few words I understand “Gade'm Gade'm” (Look at me!). They would wait for me to show them the picture rather than creating a mosh-pit so as to grab at the camera first.

These children were different from any others I've met. They were all leery of being hurt again. In their eyes I could see a tale of pain. The loss of a parent, brothers, sisters, and family to end up in a shelter with a kind stranger. Hunger, not a thing of the past yet less familiar than before. Deep wounds. The pain in their eyes was only a slight distraction from the smiles that sung a song of hope. One child in particular caught my attention.

I don't remember his name but I'll never forget his smile. The picture can not do justice to this smile. He warmed my heart again and reopened my eyes to the beauty around me. Such a small thing yet his smile had a profound affect on me.

As much as I want to say, “I inspired them,” I can't. I walked away from there with renewed hope and a longing to give more of myself to Haiti. After a few minutes we left and my brain slowly started thinking of bunnies with wings.

The orphans are all taken care of by a local pastor who doesn't have the means to take in more. He can hardly sustain the kids he's got and as you would expect relies on charity. Renel gives to them when he can, but for a struggling Haitian musician it isn't much. I remember his exact words, “God has blessed me so I like to give back.” I knew at that moment that Renel was going to be a great friend of mine.

Donations: I hate to give sales pitches so I'll keep it brief. I'd like to start giving the pastor food, clothes, and a couple toys. If you are interested in participating please let me know.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The stolen soccer ball.

A little background first: I borrowed a soccer ball from the convent and played soccer with all the kids so they knew I had a ball. If you were wondering, soccer balls are like crack for kids anywhere but in the US. You give them a new soccer ball and you are better than Saint Nick. So the fact that I, the rich American, had a ball meant that someone was more than likely to get their hands on it.

Ose lives on the compound with his father, Sipo. He's a little bit of a hellion but not a bad kid overall. He is more familiar with the layout and knows my room, he also has no fear of punishment.

Well in the morning Ose and his sister were sitting at the open door waiting to pounce on me like a pair of catnip starved kittens. “Where is the ball?” “Give us the ball!” “Please, give us the ball.” “You can come play too!” I told them later but I saw the ravenous look of an addict in Ose's eyes, but I went and ate breakfast like usual not thinking anything of it. After breakfast I went to go get something out of my room and found my door open. I didn't even bother to check if they'd stolen any money, my camera, ipod, or radio. Most of the kids wouldn't know where to look for my money and wouldn't know what an ipod was...Still in shock I went straight to Ose.

“You no go in my room!” I said. “Mwen Pa Kompran (I don't understand),” the little long-fingered fiend replied! (Instead of saying the nine-fingered discount here they say a person “has long fingers” if they are prone to thievery. And Ose isn't really a fiend the word just sounded really good there.) Lucky for me there were a half dozen kids around who understood me and were HAPPY to interpret for Ose. The little fiend (see it's just fun to say) relented and he acknowledged that he can't go in my room. P.S. there is no way for me to lock my room. Not possible, unless I get a new door and door handle...So, Sr. Valeria and I went to go get some sand paper from the store and I let them play with the ball. In all honesty, it is my fault that I never saw my beloved George again. I had a pretty good inclination George would be lost to me forever, I just didn't know how much I cared about him until he was gone...

The trip to get the sand paper was uneventful. We walked in, I was quiet and she did the bargaining. It is hard to bargain with a Haitian when you have a Blan (foreigner) with you but nunsseem to make due. When we returned the playground was empty, no playing kids, no Ose and no Jeff, err George.

I found Ose later and had an in depth conversation with him while my friend John Roberts was around. He speaks great English and has been helping me learn Creole. With him correcting myCreole, I told Ose I wasn't angry, I was sad. He betrayed my friendship and I don't like it when friends steal from me. It makes me not trust them. I also told him that now that I don't have a ball I can't share with all the kids. I wrapped this little motivational speech up with telling him that I wasn't going to tell his dad. If he didn't understand anything I told him he understood that meant no beating. This was about as far as my Creole could go so we hugged it out Bear Grylls' style and moved on.

In the long run, Jeff was a fairly inexpensive ball but the principle remains the same. I'm trying to let these kids know I don't have money just lying around. I want to pay for all their needs, but I just can't. Instead I want them to know I'm here to help them in ways I can. By teaching them English or by just listening to them. Money isn't the thing a lot of these Haitians need. Sure money will help a small non-profit reach out to more people. But when you start throwing money at a population, they expect it.

It doesn't matter who you are, entitlement is a feeling all people get some point: I deserved an A, I deserved a raise, I deserve a umpa-lumpa. I don't care who you are we all feel this. It's part of being human. It's only a problem when you decide to take matters into your own hands; whether that be by telling Willy that you want one of his Golden Geese, or my treasured soccer ball.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thank you but I've lost my appetite.

Preface: This entry was written on what I would like to call a bad day. It is intended to pull at your heart strings and help you get one step deeper into Haiti with me. While I usually write with humor, this is my attempt at trying a different approach.

I fall in and out of a mental funk here in Haiti.

I see so much suffering. The air is thick with it, and it gets in your lungs. At times this makes me want to turn and run. Run for the mountains, for the salty air of Seattle, or toward the embrace of my loved ones. There are days, however, that I want to breathe more in. I want to be a Haitian, to be part of the story of pain I see written on their faces. It stems from a need to completely relate to those people around me. Yet, I have an implicit knowledge, I’m Blan, and my suffering will always be at a deficit.

Even with this gap between us, I strive to understand. Fasting is one of the techniques I use to help me relate. My fasts in Haiti manifest in multiple ways, one of which being that I do not eat until I am full. Full; a memory of Thanksgiving, pants that seem to have shrunk during, and the famous American turkey coma. We suffer through digestion pain with our families. Its one of the few comfortable pains in life. It is a feeling that I miss and yet the memory of that feeling separates me from the people around me, because they will never know it.

It is in this memory that realize how different I am from the people here. I will never share their constant struggle for life. It is a conscious that is always with me. There are times that I try to escape my own thoughts by putting my headphones on, laying in bed, and shutting my eyes. Yet even, my mind has turned to Haiti. In my dreams people are tightly wrapped packages, made with skin, bone, and gas bloated bellies. Their tired eyes that have long since lost their luster. Hunger is a feeling they remember with fondness, and for some their bodies slowly stop responding.

While rare, these cases exist and I've seen them. I've seen the eyes of children who aren't lucky enough to get one meal a day.

Although it kills me to admit it, I've been protected from this side of the suffering every day or even every week. I'm not yet strong enough to see those glazed over eyes every day...

Time for a story:

I love to wander the compound here in Cap Haitian, usually searching for kids to play with. Sometimes I need something to do and Wood, my favorite kid, always cheers me up. Tuesday, I needed some cheering up so that's where I was, walking the compound. Yet my timing was off, it was noon, a time for people to eat what they can scrounge up.

Most of the people go home, but the compound always has a few stragglers. Some of the stragglers lazily take naps and others are just sit in the shade, to get out from under the heat. As I pass the nappers I tread quietly and politely greet those who aren't yet dozing. Yet this day, I saw an frail old woman taking respite under awning of the school. I didn't recognize her, and she looked as if she just walked in from the street. Her head was resting on the palms of her hands as she was bent over her knees.

The closer I came the more details I was able to make out. Her clothes was tattered, her body had the tell-tale signs of hunger; stick figure arms and a gaunt face. I give her my usual greeting and our eyes meet. She moves her hand to her bloated stomach, an indication that she wants food. Her eyes told me all I needed to know, she needs food, but I'm “not supposed to give anyone food.” Unable to bear the weight of her gaze I turned and walked away.

I don't know why this one woman affected me more than the others. It was the timing, it was my mood, it was the light, it was all of the above, or maybe it was just because at that moment I was hungry.

The hunger here is inescapable, it is a harsh reality that surrounds me. In these moments I turn to the serenity prayer and look to a future where I'm capable of doing more for these people, my friends.

If you don't know the serenity prayer here:

This photo was found at:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Keeping me sane, my friend Wood.

Last I left off I told you all I was in Cap Haitian. Tomorrow I will have been here for 2 weeks, on what Monica has accurately dubbed an island. My ride to Cap Haitian was accompanied by the superior of Cap Haitain, Sister Flor (Superior is the boss). The chafer's name is Raymon and he speaks a little English (emphasis little). We were able to make with the small talk. While small talk is not my thing it has been very useful to learn the small talk from Raymon. I'm since mastered enough language to tell people what i like, don't like, when I need to eat and that toilet paper is a necessity for life. Yet even though I can talk about poop with the hatians this doesn't satisfy my need for deeper conversation. I don't think I mentioned this but Raymon is the only person around who speaks English. My back up language is Spanish and I wish I had a dictionary. Although any of you who know my bull story know that I have the basics in that language too.

Day one was tough, and they just got harder. That first day I tried to ask what Sr. Flor wanted me to do. She handed me a drawing of the play ground. If I ever see the person who drew that I'm going to kick their butt. You laugh but I'm not kidding they ripped the sisters off. I could have got Wood (who you will hear about later) to give me a better drawing. Apparently Sr. Flor wants me to supervise the “realization of the drawing” ...crap. 2 days after giving me that gem of info she left for the US. That left me alone with Sr. Froslyn and Sr. Mary_SomethingOrRather, neither of whom speak English nor do they speak Spanish.

However polite I am to Sr. Froslyn and Sr. Marie_WhoJaMaCallsIts or vice versa, it can never be enough to overcome the language barrier that obviously frustrated them. This manifested in a exreem impatience for my Creole or Spanish and Me responding Mwen Pa Kompran a lot. Ahh dinner time, a time to converse and come together as a group. For me a time of reflection... But over the weeks my Creole HAS gotten better, I am now at the point that I understand when they would look at me and say something something Li pa kompran (he doesn't understand). This was good because they weren't talking smak but instead debating whether or not to attempt to open the tenuous lines of communication with the white dude at the head of the table.

Let me just address all you people who will ever encounter a foreigner trying to speak your language. Firstly, take it as a FREAKING compliment. They are trying. Secondly, when they ask you to slow down, slow the heck down. I don't mean slow down as in look at them for a few minutes slow to answer. I mean speak each word then pause. When speaking a word annunciate each sylable. Lastly and possibly the most important, if a foreigner asks you to slow down, DO NOT SAY NO. It's not nice and they will blog bad things about you later, take that Sipo (Sipo is the grounds keeper here and I actually adore him but I don't understand him...).

So needless to say I spend very little time talking to the sisters in the house. I usually go out to the courtyard and talk to or play with the kids. These kids crack me up. Especially when they want something outlandish. My 13 year old tutor (who is a girl scout) asked me to take her to America. Dumbfounded, I tried to pretend not to understand. Ahh, but this one knew better, because she has been tutoring me in Creole. Lucky for me I have a beautiful excuse in my girlfriend, Shannon. With a stroke of genius I told her I'm going to move to Ghana with Shannon. Now she wants to go to Ghana with me and Shannon...

Among all of this I've been able to develop a few amazing relationships. Mostly with the kids. They follow me around and say Eric Gade (which translates directly to a line from SNL “Look what I can do Look what I can do”). They say my name soo much Sr. Val (more on her later) made a comment on it. She said that I must wake up in the middle of the night hearing “Eric Gade.” I thought it was funny until I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and while that might be funny it is not a joke. Even with my mind playing tricks on me in the middle of the night these munchkins keep me sane. My favorite of the munchkins, who I have affectionately dubbed Munchkin King is Wood.

Yup that's his name, Wood. It means tree in English but to me it means kid who loves to be picked up. Among all the kids he is the one that doesn't seem to follow the crowd and talk to me solely because I'm the alien. He just seems to have fun hanging out. We played cards the other day, and he obviously doesn't know how. I wish I could teach him go fish, but my creole is not there yet. I also have a lot of fun getting him to say things in English such as, “I like farts.” Don't look at me that way he does!

In this pic we have Ose on the left (he stole my soccer ball *more later*) and Wood on the right. I don't know the girls names :-(

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ou Kompran?... Mwen Pa Kompran

Do you understand? And no I don't understand. The two phrases are the cornerstone of my Creole arsenal. Sometimes I get to use my big boy phrases such as, “I like ...”, “My name is ...”, “I want ...”, and lastly but not least “I have to poop.” Even though I've only been learning Creole for 3 weeks and I haven't really had anyone tutor me, it pains me every time I have to say, “Mwen Pa Kompran.”

You may be asking yourself, "why hasn't Eric had a real tutor?" Well there are a few reasons. First, in Port Au Prince I had the masterful interpretation skills of Monica. Who by the way was kind enough to interpret during a 2 hour meeting... This meeting was chaired by the most Italian woman I've ever met. I thought she was speaking Italian but alas it was just her accent. Monica is good, but apparently not Italian accent in French while talking about technical solutions to building earthquake resistant houses in Haiti good.

Second, the nun's have no interest in tutoring me to speak Creole... For some reason they think I should learn french. Quite frankly I don't like the french enough to use a capitol f. Yet, the stigma in Haiti is that you are more intelligent if you speak french. Well that's only because they teach french in the schools. If they were really smart they'd start teaching Chinese, Spanish, or English.

Thirdly, they keep moving me around. of my 3 weeks in Haiti I've spend at least 7 days going places in a car... (that's a story for another day) However, even among all this chaos, I have been able to find people willing to teach me Creole. In Port Au Prince that person was T Jack (a worker who lives on the grounds).

I freaking love T Jack. He does everything for the sisters in Port Au Prince and with a smile on his face. Everything includes killing poisonous centipedes for Monica. He has never asked me to give him anything but I would if he asked. I want to give him something more valuable than money. I want to teach him to speak English. So T Jack and I began studying together every night for about 2 hours.

We would take turns writing phrases on the board and trying to learn. 2 days after our first lesson Sr. Monique tells me I'm leaving for Cap Haitian. I managed to break the news to T Jack in my very broken Creole. While studying together before I left for Cap Haitian he wrote “Mwen vle Eric Pou Zanmi Mwen.” I want Eric for my friend. I told you all I freaking love this guy. I can tell he's got a great heart!

So jump ahead to new residence in Cap Hatian (where I'll be for 3 weeks). I have 20-30 pint sized tutors who fight to teaching me Creole. The best part is they love to play games like lets get Eric to say Kaka... I'm begin taught Creole by kids what do you expect? The nice thing about really young kids is that they love to ramble only stopping to make sure I haven't caught on to what they are saying. I thought the blank look would give it away. Luckily for me there are the best trait in my tutors is there patience for repetitions. They don't mind asking me to say things over, and over, and over, and over, and over. You get the picture? But it's fun. They laugh and even without being able to communicate I still make them laugh (To Laugh = Blag).

At least here I have a job. I'm supervising the work that they are doing to restore the school (HA!). I can't explain that I'm an aerospace engineer and I have no clue how to build houses, so I just said, “land a 767 here and teach school in that.” Yes, I do like to mix English in a little just to show them how it feels. I know the answer but I can't help but ask, “Ou Kompran?”

P.S. I'll add some pics of the kids and T Jack Later.