Monday, September 29, 2014

Just a few days ago ...

... I returned to Haiti from 3 weeks in New England. Time with my family, time with Chop Point kids and adults, time to pick berries, time to attend 2 weddings, and time to walk barefoot in that miraculous stuff called "grass".

When I got to Haiti, I stayed in Port-au-Prince for a few days to reconnect with a family that had adopted three children from HFC and NLL, where I lived and volunteered during my earliest months in Haiti, back in 2007. The family was visiting Haiti with all but one of their children and it was great to see how grown up the Haitians kids are - Bernadin, below eating a mango, is 22 now, and Lucy, in the purple chair, is 8 - and to meet their American siblings for the first time.

I also popped by Dorothy's and played with Lovena. She is in school and she is talking, jabbering in Creole, answering questions and parroting things that I say. She even knows how to say "Cheese" in English when asked to pose for a photo.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


All my graduations follow a similar pattern. The students sing, the "godfather" and "godmother" of the class (sort a combination of sponsors and commencement speakers) give speeches, and then I give out diplomas and honorary first scrubs.

Then all the graduates and I pose for an eternity while the spectators takes photos.

Then the frenzy begins. Everyone wants to take individual photos with their spouses, children, their own graduation "godparents", and of course with me, their beloved professor.

Smiling for that many photos can get quite exhausting!
The best moment during the photo-athon is this: someone I have never met before grabs me, and says, "May I have a photo with you?!" And next thing I know, I'm posing with a complete stranger. I promise you, no exaggeration, this has happened at all of my six graduations.  
My students always give me a "thank you" gift. It's generally an ugly picture frame or an ugly flower print. However, my students who graduated in May came up with something a little more creative.
I was relieved to discover that the giant present was not an enormous hideous picture frame, but a custom-made plaque which reads: "Class of 2014 - Miss Keziah, We will never forget you."
I think it's quite nice. But all of my Haitian friends reminded me that the students' choice of words is precisely what people put on the banners that get hung in a church or neighborhood whenever a well-known personage has died. "We will never forget you." We now refer to it as my death plaque.
The most memorable moment in any graduation thus far happened yesterday. At the end of the ceremony my students made me stand in the front of the room and they all lined up before me. One by one, they walked up to me, kissed me the ceremonial kiss on each cheek, and thanked me in their own words. It was a very sweet touch.

It generally takes me 2 months to realize that my students are no longer new, and that I actually like them a lot. By the time I have this revelation, class is almost over and graduation is bittersweet. Most of these students I will not see again, and if I do, it won't be the same because we won't be in the camaraderie of the classroom. Now I have to break in a new group of students who I most certainly do not like yet. Oh, well. Give me another 2 months and the whole cycle will repeat.

Congratulations to all my students -- to all my graduates!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pirate Day

I bet you didn't know that pirates played a role in the history of Haiti. In fact, all those movies that show swashbuckling pirates wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and hiding out on the Island of Tortuga are based on fact. There really were French boucaniers (hence the word "buccaneers") living on Tortuga or Isle de la Tortue, in French, who made their living hunting on the island of Hispaniola, which was under Spanish control. As the wildlife grew scarce, the boucaniers switched to piracy, attacking and looting ships on the crossings between Europe and the New World. Eventually, their harassment of the waterways was a large factor in Spain relinquishing half of the island of Hispaniola to France, setting the stage for the creation of the nations we know as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
In honor of our glorious and questionable history of piracy, this week the children at Jubilee School celebrated Pirate Day! Arrrrrrgh!
Everyone got costume pieces and pirate tattoos. The students made treasure maps, and crafted daggers and swords.

Even our Haitian teachers got into the spirit of the event! Fresnel and Wilkens had the job of giving the kids face-painted moustaches and beards. I think they got a little carried away...

Somehow moustaches and beards became Indian war paint!

The festivities culminated in an extensive treasure hunt, which took the pirates all over the school and clinic grounds, and finally to a long-lost treasure trove! The kids eagerly dug it out and returned triumphantly bearing a chest full of gold and jewels, which oddly enough turned out to be edible and quite delicious.  


I have conducted this kind of fun and games for children my whole life, so it seems quite normal to wear a silly costume or be out late at night burying treasure in preparation for the next day's activities. But for kids from Jubilee and even teachers from other parts of Gonaives, something as simple as Pirate Day opens their minds to a whole new realm of creativity. I never realized how important having an imagination was until I came to Haiti where imagination is not a common thing. The lack thereof affects everything, from the way people raise their children to the way they teach, from the way they relate to God to the way they try to make money. Some creativity and some imagination could go a long way here - fathers might find an alternative to beating their children for discipline, teachers might do more than demand memorization, young people might learn to understand the scriptures themselves, and women might choose to sell something that will actually make a profit, instead of selling the same thing that all their neighbors sell.

And even if none of that happens, at least the 45 kids who tramped around Jubilee all day yesterday looking for treasure had a good time and a full belly. That's something.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sock Day

My favorite activity with the kids: Sock Day!
I told a made-up story about a boy who wouldn't wash his socks, and then I taught the kids a great little ditty that claims, "Black socks, they never get dirty, the longer you wear them, the stronger they get. Sometimes I think I should launder them; something keeps telling me, don't wash them yet. Not yet, not yet."

And then we made sock puppets. The older kids, ages 10-13, sewed eyes, noses, mouths, hair and clothes onto their socks using scraps of fabric and plastic sequins. The littler children, ages 5-9, used markers and pipe-cleaners to make their dolls.

Some of the older boys opted to make sock bombs instead. To make a sock bomb, we simply stuff the foot of a sock with old wood-shavings and then tie the ankle off. The boys then had Sock Olympics, competing in the "Underhand Sock Toss", the "Overhand Sock Toss", the "Between-the-Legs Sock Toss" and the "Facing Backwards Sock Toss." Obinio (2nd photo below) was the overall champion!

I had feared that it might be difficult to maintain these rowdy ghetto children's attention for an hour-long art and crafts project, but they truly enjoyed it. They also got surprisingly creative, adding things like ears, eyebrows, arms, glasses, and even one apron complete with pocket.

When the kids heard that it was my mom who sent the socks for them, they responded in kind. Two of the third graders immediately brought me their puppets. "Miss Keziah, I want you to give mine to your mom!" "Give the one I made to your dad!" Several kids tried to give me theirs to keep but I insisted they at least take them home to show their families first. Children in Jubilee don't have much to be proud of, and I don't want to rob them of this opportunity.

Lesson learned today: the kids love arts and crafts!