The days are starting to go by a lot faster. As of today, we’ve been here for 3 full weeks, we’ve been doing field work for 2 weeks, and we’ve collected over 30 surveys. We’re also starting to learn the strategies for survival in this country. Every day, we are reminded that living in Haiti is not a cake walk, that we can’t take anything for granted. And that includes electricity and running water at the guest house, decent weather, and, most importantly, good health.
I think the best thing we can do right now is get to know our bodies and recognize when we need a break. For the first few weeks I think some of us took our health for granted, but now we’re realizing that feeling strong and healthy is never a guarantee. Nausea, stomach pains, dizziness, or just plain sickness can hit you in a matter of minutes, and you never know when it’s coming. Almost all of us have had bouts of stomach problems, and Caroline, Martha and I just recently fell sick with a cold. Our cook, Yvette, thinks it’s because we played outside in the rain a few days ago, but I hope not because I love playing in the rain. Having sniffles and a sore throat back home is bad enough, but it’s even 10x worse when you’re living with 8 other people in close quarters and intense heat. So far nothing too bad has happened yet; when I start to feel myself getting sick I just take some Pepto Bismol or drink some water and usually I’ll feel better within a few hours.
Today we lost power for a majority of the day because of our dysfunctional generator. We were stuck without lights, refrigeration, chargers, and running water. I took my first bucket shower! We joked that we were finally being forced to live like real Haitians, after being spoiled for so long. Having no power is really not that bad – I entertained myself by sitting outside and reading – but with no fans or AC, the heat is really unbearable. If I tried to lay down in my bed, I’d quickly find myself in a pool of sweat. And with no cold water or breeze outside, it’s literally impossible to cool yourself down.
Another thing we’re learning is that two months is a long time. A lot longer than we had realized, especially when we have so much down time. I’ve been fine so far – the only time I’ve felt homesick was after seeing a photo of my family at my brother’s graduation on Sunday – but some people are starting to get the feeling that the next 6 weeks are going to be tough. It’s hard to believe we’re not even halfway through with the summer. It doesn’t help that we’re kinda stuck in the guest house with limited transportation. No more trips to the beach or up to the mountains until we get the van back, which won’t be until July. But I just keep reminding myself that in just a few weeks I’ll be wishing I could rewind time and go back to our first week.
We’re still finding ways to entertain ourselves and expose ourselves to Haitian culture. On Saturday, we walked to a rec center in the village, where we had dancing lessons and learned the bachata (a form of cha cha). It was a lot of fun! We’re hopefully going to start doing salsa lessons soon. We also rode a tap tap, which is the local form of public transportation. It’s essentially just a colorfully painted truck with an open back that people pile in to – not so good for those of us who are claustrophobic. Earlier today, my research group went the biggest outdoor market in Leogane. It definitely matched my image of Haiti, with rows of stands and people crowding all around, buying and selling everything from clothes and shoes to cell phone chargers to fruits and vegetables. The market was exciting but very overwhelming!
Sunday morning, we went to church services at an Episcopal church near Hopital Sainte Croix. It was quite an interesting experience, with worship and singing in French and Creole. We went to the front and gave a quick announcement to introduce ourselves and talk a little bit about why we’re here. Even though I didn’t understand any of the songs or prayers, going to church is definitely something that you have to do if you want to gain a better understanding of life in Haiti.
Haitian culture is not even close to what I had imagined. I’m not even sure how to describe it. Kind of how Creole is a mix of many different languages, Haitian culture is an amalgam of a variety of cultures around the world. It has some French influence, some western African/ tribal influence, and a lot of American influence. People have a very western style, wearing almost exclusively American brands. We’ve seen everything from Apple Bottom jeans to an Obama hat to a “Viva la Tri Delta” shirt. This morning we even saw a guy on a moto wearing a Duke Lacrosse shirt! We weren’t able to stop him to take a picture, though. There’s also not a specific style of music or dance – I’ve heard everything from Haitian hip hop to Spanish pop, and I’ve seen some salsa and some cha cha. To be honest, I had expected something different. I thought I’d be able to go into the village and see people selling handmade, tribal type skirts, jewelry, paintings, etc. My mom even asked me to bring her back some traditional Haitian souvenirs, but I haven’t yet figured out what exactly that means.
Although Haiti doesn’t have a specific style of dress or type of music, it definitely has some unique customs. For example, Haitians only say “bonjou” (hello, or good day) until around 11:30 AM. After that, they begin to say “bonswa,” which means good evening. It could be 5 minutes before noon and people will already be saying good evening to you! Another interesting greeting comes from a majority of the children we pass on the street. Somehow they’ve learned that the phrase “Hey you!” is the best way to get the attention of a foreigner. So as we’re walking down the road, if we pass by a school or a household full of kids, we are almost guaranteed to hear a chime of “Hey you!” or calls of “blan! blan!” It’s not the most endearing greeting (it’s actually pretty offensive, but I’m sure they don’t know that), but it has definitely caught on in this country. Ric says they learned it from the US Marines, who would call out “hey you!” to get someone’s attention. Another interesting strategy Haitians use to get someone’s attention is by making kissing noises. For a while I thought they were just doing that to us because we’re a group of 7 young girls, but then I realized they also sometimes do it to each other as well, if they’re passing by on a moto or trying to walk through a crowd. The endless honking on the motos is another common (and annoying!) occurrence.
Our Creole lessons are going well. We’ve already learned the past tense and the present progressive, and last night we learned the future tense, body parts, and a ton of new verbs. Mwen renmen aprann kreyòl. M’ ka pale byen! My group has also been trading off reading the consent forms to our research subjects, which are completely in Creole. They take us about 10 minutes to read but we’re definitely improving.. the Haitians can actually understand us! On Thursday, I’m going on a radio show and translating the lyrics to an American song. I worked on the translations a little bit today with one of our interpreters. I’ll let you know how that goes. Dako, pita!!
Here is the link to a blog post by one of my group members, Divya. She captured the essence of yesterday’s fieldwork better than I ever could: