Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My First Week in Cap

I have finally arrived in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, for my year of service as a YASC missionary this past Tuesday! I have moved into the house that was rented for Alan Yarborough, another Episcopal missionary from Asheville, NC, and me. I’ve mostly spent this past week becoming acclimated with the city and with the differences in daily living. I am excited to get into a routine once my work starts, but have enjoyed the free time to learn as much as I can about my surroundings.

I will be trying to shape my future blog posts around spiritual themes; however, I thought that since this was my first post living in Haiti that I would treat it as a more informative post. So much has happened just within the first week!

I have settled quite comfortably into our house, which is spacious and has a nice covered balcony and a beautiful, enclosed courtyard area. We are literally smack-dab in the middle of Cap-Haitien, with the Place D’armes-- the main central square which includes the largest Catholic cathedral in the city-- just a couple of minutes away on foot. I have been getting more and more used to being able to hear every sound from the streets at night, including at 6 am when the cathedral bells first ring to mark the beginning of morning mass! The streets are busy in the mornings and afternoons with vendors, children on their way to and from school and people socializing and enjoying meals together. I have been to the outdoor markets twice to buy produce. The markets are a one-of-a-kind experience; the pathway runs through stand after stand of merchants who have set up their produce under umbrellas. I’ve enjoyed watching Alan, who can speak Creole fluently, communicate with the vendors when buying fruits and vegetables.

Speaking of Creole, I am becoming more and more persuaded that it would be good for me to take a real stab at learning the language. While I initially thought I may be able to rely on my French (and I have still been very glad this past week that I speak French, because it’s allowed me to communicate with some people), it’s becoming more and more clear that at least some grasp of Creole will be a valuable tool in my work here. Lucky for me, there are enough similarities between the vocabularies of French and Creole that I have used some French words to communicate with others. I’ve begun studying a Creole language learning book for children and have found that I can figure out the gist of the text due to the vastly similar vocabulary. Although the Creole words are often spelled differently from the French words, if you sound them out properly, you’ll often be able to identify the creole word with a French word. An example is “aimer,” the verb meaning “to love” in French. In Creole, the world for “to love” is “renmen,” which, though you may not think it has any similarities with “aimer,” when you sound it out with the correct phonetics, it sounds like “reh-may,” which sounds very similar to “aimer.” 

Since it's September, it's been extraordinarily hot here. However, I was lucky enough to experience my first rainfall last week. After it stopped thundering and lightening, it instantly became cooler outside, and everything and everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and the streets got quiet. I decided to sit on our back porch and enjoy the temperature, which gave me a wonderful view of people watching the rain from their own balconies and front steps, doing laundry or just chatting with one another. 

We have a water pump that pumps from a well for our shower and sink water. We usually turn on the pump for about 20 minutes every once and a while when we can tell that the water pressure is getting weaker. Because there’s no filtration system in the house, we buy treated water at a nearby store (you will see signs in windows of establishments that advertise “Eau Traitée”). We also have a small washing machine that we hook up to the sink. We filter the excess water out into the gutter by the side of the house and hang up our clothes on clothespins! I did my first load yesterday morning, and enjoyed the scent and feel of my freshly sun-dried clothing, which is somehow much better than that of an electric dryer.

On Saturday, Alan, one of Alan’s friends and I went to Belly Beach, near Labadie Beach, where some Caribbean cruise lines will often dock. It was absolutely gorgeous, to say the least! On the ride out of Cap-Haitien, I got caught up in the breathtaking landscape. We went up into the green hills, passing through villages and waving to people sitting outside their homes as we looked down at the sea below. When we finally got there, we swam, laid in the sun and ate a hot lunch. As you can see from the pictures below, I had very chewy grilled conch, rice and plantains! 

Yesterday was my first day of church at St Esprit Episcopal Church here in Cap-Haitien at the 8:30 am service. I never knew that an Episcopal service could involve any more singing than the services at my home parish in Raleigh, but boy was I mistaken! Much of the liturgy was sung with vigor and joy by the congregation, along with the assistance of drums, a trumpet and a keyboard piano. The sermon was preached quite passionately by Priest-in-charge, Père Auguste. Since the service was in creole, I couldn’t exactly understand all of what he was saying, although I do think I got the general gist of the message, which was the call for Christians to serve others as Jesus himself served the suffering. I was especially surprised when, during announcements, Père Auguste asked me to stand up and introduce myself. He asked me to tell everyone where I was working, where I was from and expressed the hope that I would continue to attend services there. I sincerely hope that I can develop a stronger connection with the parish and possibly with the adjoining school, Collège St Esprit.

I will be beginning my work as an English teacher with St Barnabas Agricultural School (CASB) in due course. I will keep everyone up to date with when classes begin! Tomorrow, I will be visiting the school for the first time, and I am really excited to see the campus! Alan and I will also be joined by a representative from Episcopal Relief and Development, an international relief agency of the Episcopal Church that is interested in the school and in its revitalization campaign.

Enjoy the pictures! Until next time.

Mango tree overhanging

Front door of house