Again..something I wrote, last night.
I’ve always been the kind of person who believes that when entering someone else’s country, you should not expect them to speak English, unless, of course, their native language is English. However, as an American it has been an easy road for me when traveling…even though I’ve always tried to learn a few words in the language of the place where I will be traveling (with the exception of the Czech Republic, which I could, by no means, remember how to say ANYTHING in that language) I have always found someone whose English skills far exceed my…fill in the blank…language skills.
In the years that I have been travelling to Haiti, I would say that my Kreyol skills are probably my best foreign language skills…unfortunately that’s not saying much. I still speak a simpler version of the language than most 3 year olds. Today I put every bit of my Kreyol language to the test.
At breakfast this morning, I was sitting at the table with Suze, Gertrude’s sister and we were having a conversation in my broken, BROKEN, Kreyol and she mentioned to me that her brother passed away the night before…I asked her to repeat herself and she said again what I had thought she said. Her brother, a man who used to drive for our guesthouse and work with us in Haiti, the man I assumed would pick me up at the airport, had passed away. (I don’t know all the details because no one here right now really speaks English, but I can say that he had been sick and had a tumor apparently. This was a new illness, and I’m assuming it moved very quickly. He was young and has a family that will now have to learn a new way of living.) I searched my brain but I couldn’t find any words in Kreyol or French that could help me in this moment. Not finding any, I did the best I could and said, “Desole.” Which means, “Sorry.” It didn’t seem like enough.
The rest of the day was filled with family coming through. I got to see our good friend Ti Jean…he is always sure to put a smile on my face, and he went to buy me Digicel phone cards so my cell phone here works now! I’m excited to get to spend more time with him! I also got to spend a little time with a guy who used to work for the orphanage here. I haven’t seen him in a couple years, and it was fun to talk with him a little more. We talked a lot…he in his broken English and me in my broken Kreyol. I learned a lot!
When I finished dinner, Suze asked me if I wanted to go with her to her mother’s house.
I said yes to the invitation and joined Suze and her daughter on the walk through the streets to her mother’s house. I should have known it would be a spectacle…it always is. If you look at me, and you look at a picture of the average Haitian, you would notice many differences, most notably, the color of my skin. The first time I travelled here and had someone refer to me as “Blan”, the Kreyol word for white, I was almost offended. Maybe offended isn’t the best word; I was more taken aback at the fact that it was possible that my skin color made me different. I won’t get into a discussion her about how that has affected the lives of people throughout the world and throughout time. That’s another blog altogether, but I will say that it was difficult for me, because I grew up in an environment where the color of skin did not matter. It’s taken me a long time in the streets of Haiti to get used to the people yelling out “Blan.” I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite thing, but it certainly doesn’t bother me as much anymore…because mostly it’s not meant in a derogatory way, and I am, in fact, “Blan.”
As we walked through the streets we gathered more people behind us and heard more and more people calling in our direction. Eventually we turned the corner to Suze’s mother’s house. There were people gathered all around. Suze told me we were going to the house to encourage her mother…at least that what I thought she said. We walked upstairs to find an elderly woman curled up on a mat on the ground with a fan blowing on her. She was clearly mourning. When I walked in, the other women moved. Again, my ability to give words of comfort failed me as I searched my brain for what words to say. All I could manage was a kiss on the cheek and a “good evening Madame” and “sorry”. I was then ushered outside to sit amongst more people quiet and somber…clearly I had nothing to add. I did feel rather helpless in the whole situation. So as we prepared to leave, I did the only thing I knew how to do, I prayed. I asked Suze, in Kreyol, if I could pray for her mother, but that I would have to do it in English. She said it was a good idea. So I knelt by this woman’s mat, told her I was going to pray for her in English, held her hand and prayed that God would bring peace and comfort that only the hope of the resurrection can give. She thanked me…and I left. Maybe sometimes it isn’t so important to know the language, or even the right words to say…sometimes, we’re still able to give encouragement and comfort those in need.
Just another day in Haiti…