Immersion

June 3rd, 2013

Where to start?

It is night time now. Rain is softly falling on my tin roof. An oil lamp is warmly lighting my room. And I’m safely underneath a mosquito net.

The sounds of people talking on the porch waft through my house. A little ways off, a child is crying.

Everywhere I hear Creole. Several hundred people live in this village, and I have yet to meet one who speaks good English. Most are too self-conscious to even say, “I speak a little English,” in English, rather phrasing it in Creole, “M’pale Angle piti-piti.”

My Creole isn’t great yet, but I was able to hold a simple conversation with a guy nearly an hour this evening. He was very patient with me. Besides that conversation, there were myriad other interactions today in Creole. These aren’t making my head hurt like they used to, but do tire me.

Ryan came with me Saturday, and stayed for several days, leaving this morning. It was a huge plus having him here to help get settled in. We cleaned up the house together, moved the furniture around (included), bought groceries in St. Marc, setup the mosquito net, figured out the internet situation (it’s dismal), visited with folks together, went swimming, and were able to bounce first impressions off each other. I’m so glad he came for these last few days! Now he’s gone though, and it’s a bit lonely being the only English speaking white person within miles, now living in a sea of Haitians.

Special treatment. Being a foreigner, I always receive special treatment. Sometimes it’s good, like when given the best seat in a tap-tap, or the best food, or a bigger serving of food. Sometimes it’s not good, like people cat-calling at me, “Blan! Blan! Give me dollar, give me dollar!” But sometimes it’s just tiring, like today at the hardware store the clerk tediously wrote out on a piece of paper all his contact information, including his occupation as Engineering Accountant (though he was checking people out at the hardware store), and gave it to me in hopes we could get together later so I could help him with his English? It took him awhile to write all this down, and plead his case, all while people waited in line behind.

The rain is now coming down harder, lightning framing itself against my windows. That’s good, because rain brings two things: 1) Cool air, and 2) replenishing my rain barrel.

Water comes from three sources: Rain, Well, and “Town.” For drinking I have two Culligan water jugs I bring to “Town” for re-filling, as needed. Washing dishes, clothes, and myself all come from either the well or the rain barrel. The rain barrel is easier than well-water. The latter requires walking to the well (not super close), pulling buckets up from a hole in the ground with a rope, finishing by hauling said water back to the house. I’m glad it’s raining hard, because tomorrow I’m planning to wash my clothes which takes a lot of water.

Washing clothes is by hand, as is doing dishes and showering. I have no running water (or sink), so dish-washing is done in plastic tubs, the used water tossed out back when finished. I have no shower, naturally, so that is accomplished with a bucket of water and a cup to pour the water over myself. The toilet is an outhouse. Creature-comfort wise though, what I miss most is cold drinking water. My drinking water is luke-warm. And I feel I’m drinking all day long, it’s hard to stay hydrated in this heat.

Yesterday evening I played a game of soccer with the local young adults. It was a lot of fun, but a long game, and intense. The end score was 1-0, our favor. Most played barefoot. The field was covered in cow poop.

One might think I would be bored here already, this being my 3rd day in a village with no schedule. Not so. In fact, I’ve been wiped out each evening, and often before that. The amount of work required just for “living” is a full-time job. Cooking is not my forte, and here I’m forced to cook.

Then there’s the aspect of interacting with everyone. Kids sit outside my door. Parents want to talk. My host contact lady is great about keeping tabs that I’m doing fine, but that is another person to struggle through Creole with. The pastor came by to visit, and would I be free to come see his school tomorrow? The fisherman are discussing who gets to take me out fishing first.

For someone who dislikes being the center of attention, and often prefers slipping quietly away to be by himself, this is a bit of a challenging situation. But, I guess that’s why I’m here: to learn more about the language and culture, and to do it through purposefully putting myself into a stretching, uncomfortable situation that I would naturally avoid. It’s like forcing oil and water to mix together.

The hardest thing about hard things is that they’re so hard.

Privacy here is very little. And modesty is to a different standard as well. I’ve also seen this in other rural places such as Ethiopia and Indonesia. Out here, little kids run around naked. And I see people bathe openly. As well as women breast-feeding publicly.

In fact, one never knows what they will see next: The first evening there was a fight in the street outside my house. A couple guys were going at it, one hitting the other with a stick, a third guy trying to split them up, and a topless lady right in the fray, doing who knows what? Several rocks were thrown as well, a couple landing on my tin roof with a bang.

The storm has moved in closer, and peals of thunder now roll across our valley.

There is a beach within a two minute walk of my house. The water is azure, clear blue. Unfortunately, the beach is covered in trash. After playing soccer yesterday I jumped in the ocean to cool off. And consequently got stung by something on my shoulder. It welted up and burned awhile, but thankfully after several hours the stinging went away, and this morning there is no evidence of the sting. I was lucky?

My house is a simple concrete structure with two rooms. In each room voodoo fetishes hang from the ceiling. I keep meaning to cut them down, but they’re kinda high.

Whatever the fetishes are good for, they do a lousy job at neutralizing mosquitoes, because I’ve gotten bit by so many it’s not even funny. Hard to stop scratching. When I think about America, what I think of first is the ability to live in a bug-free (particularly mosquito free) environment where I could heal up from every bite and be 100% healthy again.

The village has now quieted down. It’s about 10:30pm. People are heading indoors, to bed. The rain has cut the evening shorter than usual. The noise and activity will begin again tomorrow, bright and early.

That’s my quickly writ report for now.

And I want to thank everyone who is praying for me, I really appreciate those, and I need them too.

6 Responses to “Immersion”

  1. Suzan hicks Says:

    Nick you are a great example to me of going the extra mile to learn how to love people. Thank you.

  2. Allan Hicks Says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this experience and for braving through such experience in order to become one with the culture and language. I look forward to meeting again in a few months.

  3. Danny R Says:

    I read this to Heather in our nice bug free room! It was a lot to read out loud, I now will take a long sip of cold pure water… Hope to see you again soon

  4. Krista Says:

    Well, with friends like Danny….. 😉 I’m praying for you and hoping those mosquito nets work well so you can sleep at night. Also that you’ll quickly master Creole; I’m glad you can have conversations already though. Glad you can use the dismal internet to blog still!

  5. Jimmy Says:

    Thanks for keeping us updated. Take care out there.

  6. Amanda Says:

    The thing that surprised most, out of this whole narrative, is that you actually HAVE internet, and in your house no less.
    I didn’t figure we’d see a post from you ’till you visited “civilization” again.

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