Friday, January 21, 2011

Sen Rafayel - tet anba (upsidedown)

Some days stand out because there seems to be an energy which gathers speed as the day progresses, hurtling one towards an exhausting yet anticlimactic finish. Those days seem indelible, as though written in the brain with a  permanent, bold marker. Those are what I've labeled  'awareness days'.

Yesterday was one of those days. Awake at 4 a.m., time for yoga under the net,  out of bed at 5 a.m., open security doors, light the gas stove, haul water, boil water, feed the animals, make sandwiches, coffee and tea for Sen Rafayel, check emails, load the truck with Jack and Auguste -- out of town before 8 a.m., leaving all in the capable hands of Mme Joceline and student staffer, Rosema.  Unfortunately the road up the mountain was slow and treacherous - we arrived in the village (28 km) at 11:20. The route was very dry - not a drop of mud. I always thought the  mud slowed us down. Mud seemed doable compared to 3 and 4 foot deep ruts which felt like concrete.

Djohn attempts a jerry-built causeway in front of our office
Sen Rafayel took us by surprise. We drove past our 'biwo-a' (office). It took a moment to realize that our neighbouring carpentry shop was no longer there and our parking space out front  was now a deep trench. This made the roadway considerably narrower. Thursday market exacerbated the problem. Two large projects are taking place in the village:  construction of a covered market place set  away from the main road  and canals which will hopefully stop the frequent flooding endured by villagers. Every year gardens and animals are swept  away and all too often drownings occur.

Jack and Auguste before the fireworks.
After backing the truck into a pile of gravel which did not block the road, Jack and Auguste began to unload provisions, when a truck marked POLICE skidded to a halt in front of us, effectively  blocking our exit.

Within seconds a parade of men with guns, women and children ran past us down the side of our office. Shots rang out, bottles and rocks flew everywhere,  and several voices shouted  " Mete Madam  machin-an" (Put Mme in the truck). Mayhem. (dezod)

Long story short - staffers informed us that the area surrounding our office was always prone to violence but this has escalated since prior to Christmas. Now I understand  why Djohn has been sleeping on the floor in the office nightly. The shop next door was destroyed by youths brandishing rocks and bottles. Our shared  latrine, which is 2 houses away, in the 'hot' zone,  is now off limits. We need the situation  to resolve itself quickly.  Short term we need a toilet, long term a safe place for staff and students so  we are on the lookout for a new space as the lease expires August 1st.

Francois D. - classe Rheto
 In need of a safe place to leave the truck, we imposed upon our friendship with  Soeur Ginette, parked at the clinic,  and walked back. Once inside, down to work. Pay staff, explain distribution/recording systems for supplies.  Revise student lists -  6 were left off although paid for. Auguste  worked with staff while I met with Francois, a Starfish who had dropped out last year to look after his ailing mother. As he is in Rheto, which means he will write state exams, he can begin without first term. We have at least 30 on our waiting list in the same situation. We just need the financial support. When I asked how his mother was (father predeceased) he said it was a miracle she lived as she is very old. "Konbyen ane li gen?" (How old is she?)  I asked. "Senkannzwit" (58).

Consienne dropped in to pick up the stipend her sponsor sends. In an email to a friend last week, I noted the difference observed in her sponsored student, Camiose.  I saw the same in Consienne yesterday. It is not immediate - I think it takes awhile to trust that the 'soutyen'  (support) will not disappear. Having a sponsor (or group of sponsors) is transformational. Every student with outside support has a new confidence. They present themselves differently, carry themselves differently.  It has been informative. Worth documenting  and following up.

Consienne signs the receipt book. Djohn, Auguste, Kesner

Roadside entertainment for 100 gds
So much to pack into a brief time - we're always late getting away for the return trip and I feel as though we rush everyone and every activity. There are always students left standing we did not get to. It was suggested on the way home, that if I can find a place where we can stay, it would be easier for everyone and we could accomplish more if we stayed overnight and began interviews etc about 6 a.m.  So I'm on it. The trip home was eventful, this time instead of funerals we stopped for entertainment. This gentleman  was playing homemade maraccas and performing a song and dance in honor of the Haitian flag.

No matter how many times I make the trip, entering Cap-Haitien is always a jolt - the difference between rural and urban Haiti  thrown into relief. The poverty of the village  has space - the poverty of the city has no privacy. Both are hazardous.

Above the gas station on Rue L (Barrier Boutey)-no personal space 

Home at last - 5:30 p.m. and Carmene and Joceline along with the dogs gave us a heroes' welcome. Again we survived Granjil as did our tires. Tired, covered in dust, thirsty , exhausted,  Jack, Auguste and I retired to our respective desks, brought log books up to date, then sat on the gallery debriefing the day. We returned with 51 new letters from students sitting out this year.
My day was not over until I had read everyone. In addition to many who lost support in the earthquake there were 3 who had recently  lost parents  to 'kolera'.  Today we've had intake interviews and this afternoon, home visits. On the weekend I'll translate and prioritize the letters. If it weren't for the fact that I'm retired, I would say that I have the best job in the world.
(Daniel here - You can read samples of student letters here.)


Market day - Sen Rafayel - room to move

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