Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A little distance, A little perspective

At the risk of sounding like every blogger who has ever blogged, I sincerely apologize for the delay of this post! Since last time was photo-less, I was mostly just waiting until I had enough photographs to justify a new update. It comes at the right time, however, as I'm beginning to wrap up my work here and prepare for a new chapter back in the States.

With less than 3 weeks in Haiti to go, I'm finding myself even more reflective than usual. I'm grateful (and a little sad) to have the chance to already distance myself from my placement a bit and gain some perspective on what will have been an incredibly life-changing ten months. I'm sure that once I'm home, I'll have enough distance that even more things I've experienced here will come into focus, but for now, I can state with certainty how I feel as I come away from a few aspects of my life in Cap Haitien. I'll talk about a few of these here.

Teaching: If I had to be completely honest, teaching ESL has been no walk in the park and at times more frustrating than I wish it had been. I have found myself spending a lot of time focusing on the students in my classes who were struggling with speaking and understanding English (understandably so), and forgetting about those who were excelling and improving. While my lack of teaching experience undoubtedly made my classes less helpful than they would have been had a certified ESL teacher been in my place, the fact that most of my students learned at least how to have a very basic conversation in English isn't worth nothing. When I think about it, some people really took to the language and will undoubtedly continue learning on their own or in a class long after my departure.

General Impact: Like every missionary who has ever served, I spent a good chunk of time this year wondering, "what have I actually done?" I had been told that it was all about the relationships, but there was always the temptation to say, "yes, but what about something I can point to? What about something tangible?" I probably spent more time feeling uncertain and slightly discouraged about what I was even doing here, what purpose I was actually serving. I think God must have heard my uncertainty, because this past Friday I was given more affirmation of my work at St Barnabas than I have ever received. The students, faculty and staff of CASB gathered together for a going-away celebration for Alan and myself. Quite unexpectedly, we were both showered with songs and words of praise and appreciation from the students. It was incredibly affirming for me to that part of my own joy came from the realization that I, after months of not speaking Creole and stumbling by with French, was not only able to speak with ease with everyone, but was comfortable around them. And they were comfortable around me, too. That somehow means a lot.

When it comes down to it, despite my musings and the obvious affection that the students and staff have expressed to me, I'm still not sure if I can really articulate what it is my impact has been. Perhaps it's not even for me to say or understand, but only for those who have somehow benefited from it to do so.

Self-knowledge: Living in Haiti has forced me to develop self-care habits, mainly spiritual disciplines, that are now an important part of my daily life. Centered prayer and journaling have been instrumental in keeping me accountable for motivating myself and remaining positive in difficult times. I have derived tremendous comfort and emotional stability from these practices, as well as an ability to force myself to dig deep into my thoughts and feelings, recognizing how they made need to change, if even just slightly, in order to do a better job here and be a better person in general. As a result of seeking God's wisdom in challenging situations and embracing a life of greater solitude as a chance to get to know myself on a deeper level--the good, the bad and the ugly--I've pushed myself to be more self-motivating, more considerate of others and more conscious of God's presence throughout my day. This journey to "self-betterment" or greater holiness, as I like to call it, is one of the biggest blessings of this experience. I hope to continue to live out the changes in my attitude and actions long after my return home.

As I said, I'm sure there will be plenty more reflections and feelings to post about once I'm home, but as I reach the end, I feel myself feeling profoundly grateful for the love from others as well as the inner change that I've experienced in the past ten months. I feel an even stronger need to express this gratitude to all of you who have faithfully read this blog and followed me in my journey. Many of you have prayed for me, sent encouraging messages, and donated money to the church on my behalf. It is thanks to you that I can look back and say with certainty that I did something, and that that something has turned into a loving attachment for a place and a group of people that I hope to visit and remain involved in for many years to come.

And now, pictures of stuff I've been up to during the last leg of my placement...

Two of my students, Chresliana and Loune-Kendal, both from Terrier Rouge, at our party last Friday

One of my students, Phara, from Trou du Nord

Our English class

Me with two of my students. Left: Jouvelie from Mont-Organisé, and Rosemène from Trou du Nord

Me with Yves-Marie Étienne, CASB administrator and our wonderful partner

Some of my students and other working on our meal of kabrit fri, diri, salad bètrav and bannann fri (fried goat, rice, beet salad and fried plantains)

Two of my students, Limage from Gonaïves, and Cléante from Carice

Our kabrit before it's fri!

Alan with Madame Vivienne and her assistants

Madame Vivienne, one of my favorite CASB employees. She's always smiling!

Everything is so green now that it's summer and we've had plenty of rain.

Alan, Monsieur St. Ange, our CASB Fields Operations Manager, and I all went on a little trip to Dajabon, Dominican Republic. I hadn't been to the DR yet, and wanted to make sure I at least made it across the border before leaving Hispaniola. We made it across, did a little shopping and had a nice lunch before heading back to the Haitian side of the island. Even though Dajabon is not exactly a large metropolis and there wasn't much to do, I was fascinated by the cultural exchange that is so visible right at the border between the two countries. On Mondays and Fridays, the border opens temporarily for Haitian and Dominican vendors to cross country lines and sell their goods.

Though this river may not look like much, it has actually been the site of two events that characterize the history of tension and hate that has existed between Haiti and the Dominican Republic ever since the Spanish and French fought over the island. This river is called "Massacre River" first because it was where bodies were dumped during the battles between the Spanish and the French back in the seventeenth century. The river served again the same purpose--body dumping-- during the "Parsley Massacre" (or "El Corte" in Spanish, "The Cutting") in 1937 under the orders of Dictator Rafael Trujillo-- a genocide of the Haitian population living in the borderlands of the DR. To learn more about Dajabon, named the "largest border crossing between Haiti and the DR" and about Massacre River, read this: https://news.vice.com/article/in-photos-life-at-the-largest-border-crossing-between-haiti-and-the-dominican-republic

The Haitian Consulate in Dajabon

Town square in Dajabon, DR

This is a yummy Haitian butter cake with rum that I made for my birthday. Some of you may remember I made the same cake back in December. I've got to say it turned out much better this time!

My lovely students in the back of our glamorous Ford Nissan: Loune-Kendal, Phara, Rosemène and Sonia.

My St Esprit students did presentations called "Tell me how," which involved using imperatives and English to show the class how to do something. Here, Samanta is teaching us how to style your hair.

Weldienne shows us how to wash your hands.

Guerda shows us how to do your nails.

Chrislin shows us how to salsa dance.

This was taken at Rustik Hostel in Fersy, which is near Kenscoff, Haiti--a mountainous area just outside of Port au Prince

Lunch at Rustik

Rustik Hostel