Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer in Haiti

Summer in Haiti is a lot like the rest of the year. I teach community health to adults and high school students.
I go everywhere on my bike. I pump water. I meet with former students for advanced training. I do my laundry by hand on the porch. Normal life, just like the other 9 months of the year.

There are, however, a few differences. It's always hot in Gonaives, but summer in Gonaives is stifling. From the moment I wake up at 7am until the moment I fall asleep at 11pm, I am sweaty. Actually, I'm often sweaty all night too. Being sweaty all the time makes me dehydrated; despite all my best efforts, I cannot drink enough water to keep myself from being light-headed and fatigued most days.
The heat is paralyzing. I'm an active person. I love biking and exploring, taking long walks around town, even just cleaning house. But in this kind of heat, I am exhausted by noon most days and I barely have energy to prepare a cold lunch for myself before I collapse.
When we have electricity, I can run a fan. When we don't have electricity - most afternoons and some evenings - my favorite place to be is the narrow hall leading to my bedroom. It becomes a miniature wind tunnel (except on days when there's no wind!). I have spent many hours in that corridor, reading or watching movies or sleeping on the cool tile floor.
Fortunately, there have been things to distract me from the incessant heat. First, I fell into a decrepit tomb when I was walking Tug in the cemetery. I was lucky: I only bruised my ribs, and there was no corpse in that particular grave. But I was stiff and pained for a while...actually, I'm still in some pain. I also got the chicken fever a week after my near-death experience (near-death, cuz I fell in a tomb, get it?), but I seem to have recovered nicely. 
The World Cup was another excellent form of distraction. For a month, there were games nearly every day, and I would watch them on the porch of my neighbor's house with a dozen kids and adults. I was the only white person. Making friends with neighbors isn't something that just happens naturally. In Port, it was an earthquake that bonded me with the neighborhood; here in G-town, it was the World Cup. Now that it's over, I still go sit on my neighbor's stoop and just chat with people. We go to concerts all together, and sit in the plaza in the evenings and people-watch.
Probably 20% of Haitians root for Argentina; everyone else wildly supports Brazil. The last game was 2 weeks ago, but you can still see Brazil flags on many of the motorcycles, cars and buildings around town. People celebrated each goal and each Brazil victory like it was Boston winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years - parades, drumming, music, dancing, and lots of screaming. I'm not a Brazil fan, but I got into the party atmosphere too: Brazil-themed cupcakes for my little neighbor's second birthday!
The other uniquely summer activity is "Club", a sort of day camp program that I am running with a few of the Jubilee School teachers. Most of our elementary students spend the summer bored in Jubilee. Bored children usually become mischievous children and mischievous children can often become trouble children. So we combat boredom and trouble by having activities for them several times a week. Last week, we read the story of God calling the boy Samuel. We learned a song about the story, and we played a "Marco Polo" style game. We've done other stories from history or the Bible and linked them to games such as bowling, limbo, and musical chairs. My favorite was when we learned about the Holocaust and played a hide-and-seek game called Sardines.  

I've really enjoyed getting to know the kids better, and bringing a taste of camp to Jubilee. It's been a while since I worked with elementary aged children, and it's been a nice challenge. I've also really appreciated the time I've spent with the Jubilee School teachers. Each conversation, however simple, opens my eyes more to Haitian culture and to the things that make them tick. It seems like the longer I'm here, the more I realize how much I don't understand.

So what can I say? Summer in Haiti. I'm still praying for the thermostat to get turned down, but other than that, I'm glad I'm here.