22 January 2012

Intimidated by the French

When I was 14, I decided to take the road-less-traveled (in SoCal, anyway) by choosing to study French instead of Spanish for my high school language requirements. And I chose to stick with it for 4 years, plus some...well, it continues to this day. However, learning French in a Spanish/English/Spanglish speaking area meant that I found it difficult to speak the language, difficult to become fluent, difficult to just not forget! But, 14 years after I started learning the language, I still have the goal of speaking French like a native. 

Which is easier said than done - in either language! Through all the classes, through all the attempts, though, nothing was better for my comfortability than moving to Haiti - a country that speaks French (well...at least some of the population does). Last time I was here, my impatient nature translated into me not wanting to wait for the translator to translate my English into French when out in the field asking questions to our health clinic staff. So, I just started speaking! And speak I do!

With Haitians that is. For Haitians, French is their second language as well, so it is actually quite easy for me to converse with them, making mistakes, speaking like a 4-year old, and all. And they love it when I try to speak with them in French. 

Short story - while shopping for paracetamol, conversing in French, Haitian man at the pharmacy asks if I am European. I say, No, I am American. He is shocked! But Americans don't speak French! Well, I do! And then he loves it. And starts speaking way too fast for my liking. But hey, he loved it.

Dad, Mom and Me in Paris. I attempted to translate for them. 

But then, I go to an EU meeting, for a grant we are potentially interested in applying for. Which is all in French - this I can handle. I can understand the whole meeting; I know what questions I need to have answered. But - I don't ask. 

You see, European French is much different than Haitian French. It's intimidating. Because I speak French like a 4-year old, because I am afraid to be judged, because my French is decidedly sub-par, I don't speak. 

Even though, coming to Haiti has been the best thing for my French so far, there is still a lot of way for me to go.

I wish that there was just a switch for me to flick that would make me fluent. 

Particularly because it would be very beneficial for work here. Actually, in my case, French is more beneficial than Kreole. 

French tutor? French immersion course? Oui, s'il vous plait. Et vite, s'il vous plait.

12 January 2012

Commémoration de Deux Années - un réponse

Two years ago today, a cataclysmic earthquake struck Haiti.
And today, the media is overwhelmed with articles about what has and has not been done since the earthquake struck. 
In response to the BBC's article entitled, "Haiti's tent cities signal long road to quake recovery" this is what I have to say.

Cemetary in the rural mountains outside of PaP. 
It dramatically increased in size post-earthquake.

As an aid worker based in Port-au-Prince, I have seen many of the disparities and struggles of the Haitian people over the last 2 years.

You are correct - there are still many people living in camps, and much work still needs to be done. There is still a massive lack of access to good water and sanitation, a problem in a time of cholera, unemployment is still rampant throughout the nation, stable homes are difficult to find.

But much has changed. Many people forget that 2010 was a difficult year for Haiti - more than just the earthquake at the beginning of the year. The rest of the year included a cholera epidemic, a hurricane, political violence, followed by difficulties in creating a functioning government.

Aid work does not happen overnight, particularly in a complex context such as this. Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was struggling to get to its feet. If the international community was looking to get Haiti back to its status quo prior to the earthquake, you might be able to see all the work that has been done in the last 2 years.

But the international community chose to 'Build Haiti Back Better.' This takes time; this takes money; this takes stability. Two years is not enough time to see this change; money promised has not been disbursed; 2010 was not even close to being stable.

I was not in Haiti for a few months towards the end of 2011. When I left, cholera was still a major concern, donors were taking their time in approving projects and delivering money, and Haiti still did not have a Prime Minister.

When I returned, however, I found a different Haiti. Construction is happening everywhere; new businesses are being developed; the government is proving to be stable, although, as with any government, there are still many concerns. Initiatives are in place to assist those living in camps to move to more permanent homes. Haiti even decorated for Christmas this year!

One cannot look at what has NOT been completed without looking at what has, with the eye that development takes time. The US did not become what it is today in 2 years - no, it took hundreds of years! Why do we expect change in Haiti to take place in a minutia of the time?

Haitians are very impassioned individuals; they are dedicated to their country and to building it back better, as is much of the international community. Instead of saying alarmist statements, such as walking into camps to see a man pointing a gun at another man's head, why can we not focus on the fact that those living in the camps are committed to moving their lives forward, to finding whatever work they can to earn enough to send their children to school.

Change is happening in Haiti. President Martelly was correct in saying that yes, we want to move fast, but we also want to do it right. Please do not expect quality to happen overnight.

For those that are interested, I enjoyed reading these articles below.  
The Guardian -
The Miami Herald -

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/09/2581629/many-question-whether-haiti-quake.html#storylink=cpy


07 January 2012

A Part of Life

Things in Haiti are...a little different. And for someone who grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles with a clean freak of a mother, I find it interesting that these, below, are really just a part of life now.
  • Waking up to find that the flat is out of water. Usually discovered as one is flushing the toilet. Well, looks like a shower is not happening...
  • Oh, the office has rats! Well. Perhaps we should think about getting a cat.
  • Need draino, stat! I want a shower not a foot-bath!
  • Mice running beneath your feet at the mountain office? Meh. As long as they are not crawling up my leg.
  • And cockroaches as long as my pinkie? Well, I suppose now is as good a time as ever to get used to them.
  • Rice and beans for lunch. 5th time this week. 
  • 28 degrees C is definitely cardigan and scarf weather! 
  • Dirty feet? Yep. Still. Do I ever have clean feet?
  • Aw, dang! The microwave doesn't work. Guess I just have to wait to eat until we move off the battery inverter...
  • Is that gunshots or fireworks? I'll just tell myself it's fireworks. It makes me feel better

But no matter how strange it is, I love life here.

To end, here is a photo of my room. I kinda like it. It's cozy. There is a closet to the left of the bed, and a table to the right of the fan. And that's it!