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Tea and a Tête-à-Tête

May 14, 2011

Today I’m just going to have a leisurely chat with you.  I have my tea, so pour yourself a cup of your favourite brew and I’ll share a few things about my last few days.

If you’re familiar with my blog, you may have noticed I changed the header picture.  What you now see was shot from the beach in front of my house last evening.  Sunsets are often arresting here, but they are oh so fleeting.  My little photoshoot was very much planned.  If I had seen the sun setting and gone to get my camera it would have been gone before I got back.  Darkness falls like a curtain within minutes.

Thursday when we stopped in at the children’s home in MacDonald (near Saint Marc) run by our friends Al and Bev Carpenter of Touch Ministries, the boys dubbed me Granpapa Long Cheve, (Grandpa Long Hair).

Yesterday Michelet felled a large tree to open up my patio to more light and air.  The man is very sharp with the machete.  He kicked off his shoes and clambered up to the crown, lopping smaller branches and hacking off larger limbs with a few powerful blows.  He apparently has learned what martial artists, tennis players and some baseball pitchers have known for some time, and sports scientists have recently verified:  grunting increases one’s power by 15 to 20%.  Working his way down, he hewed the trunk into manageable pieces.  The job was done in a few minutes.  I don’t think I had ever spoken with Michelet, and the work provided an opportunity to get to know him a little bit.

My Internet connection has been nearly comatose lately.  Don’t you hate it when your mind is working much faster than your computer?

Speaking of slow, my Creole is coming.  Slowly.

Every morning I greet our workers and ask how they are.  They return my greetings, and niceties completed, they often attempt to extend our conversation.  Unfortunately for all concerned all they get is a sheepish uncomprehending smile. Walking down the mountain trail from church last Sunday a young man inquired if I spoke Creole.  When I told him I was learning, he emphatically reaffirmed what I have heard from others, “If you do, it will give you great respect.”  Edmond has been helping me put together the sentences I need to communicate with the other Haitians.  I write down my best efforts and take them to him for correction.  He is an enthusiastic teacher and seems to enjoy it a great deal.

I am still looking forward to showing Preval, our welder, some of the tricks of the trade, but that will have to wait until my command of the appropriate terms is more solid.

I had the Rollings and our current guests, Ashley and James, over to my house for my version of a Haitian chicken stew on Thursday.  My bannann fri  (fried plantains) were a hit with Olivia.  She didn’t quit until they were all gone.  I got around to asking Yonese if she would teach me Haitian cooking.  Writing out the question I took it to Edmond.  Still somehow I didn’t think it was quite right so I went to Leslie.  Ultimately she had to ask Yonese herself how to word the question properly.  To my delight she told me she would show me any time.  Yonese takes the time to help me put a name to things when we are together.  She commented very positively when this week I wrote out my market list for her in Creole.  Check out the Rollings blog (it’s in the blogroll on the right; just click on it) for a wonderful tribute to this great lady.

I helped Leslie with payroll last Friday.  That of course involved Haitian money.  For me it’s a bit of a mind twister.  Leslie says it will become automatic after a little while.  Let me try to explain it.

If one is at most grocery stores or at a gas station, prices are expressed in the national currency, gourdes, or gouds in Creole.  Elsewhere prices are in Haitian dollars.  Usually.  But not always. Since there are five gouds to the Haitian dollar, in these situations one has to pay by counting out one’s gouds and dividing by five.  Or taking the price and multiplying by five to arrive at how many gouds one has to shell out.  But here’s the thing about the Haitian dollar.  It doesn’t exist.  Not a single one has ever been printed.  It’s really just five gourdes.  The term harks back to the time when the gourde was pegged to the American dollar at 5 to 1.  That ended 22 years ago.

To make things even more interesting some businesses deal in American dollars requiring a further multiplication by a factor of eight.  So it’s five gourdes to the Haitian dollar and eight Haitian dollars to the American dollar.  That makes that 1000 gourde note in your hand worth $25.00.  That’s American.  Or $125.00 Haitian.  Pretty straight forward wouldn’t you say?

The other thing about money here is that it stays in circulation forever.  Since very little of it ever makes it to a bank that uses those counting machines that require nice crisp currency, there is no need to take old bills out of circulation.  So the bills get tattered.  They are usually limp and often so worn and dirty it’s difficult to make out the details on them.  People often just crumple money up rather than fold it.  It’s difficult to count out bills from a stack because they often stick together.  The term “peeling bills off a wad” takes on a whole new meaning here.  The old sideways shuffle most Canadians use simply doesn’t cut it here.

Chris has involved me in a search for grant money.  I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, but I think I may have stumbled upon a few solid leads.  Whether they will bear fruit or not is another thing.

Last night I was enjoying an episode of Lark Rise to Candleford on my laptop.  For the uninitiated, this is a British series set in the Victorian countryside that contrasts the lives of the rustic farm folk of the tiny hamlet of Lark Rise against those of the genteel residents of the much more prosperous neighbouring town of Candleford.  I absolutely love it both for the quality of the production and for the earthy life messages it conveys.  Suddenly the pulse of the lawn sprinklers joined the other night sounds.  Fortunately I finally remembered to adjust them so that when Chris turns them on I no longer have to run to close the storm shutters to keep my home from being inundated.  No glass in the windows, remember?

Saturday morning.  I swing wide the doors to my patio and fill my lungs with the gentle morning air.  The Caribbean spreads before me in an amazing palette of blues and greens.  A kindly breeze ripples the surface.  Sun-dappled clouds float lazily in the warm sky as a tropical haze gives the whole canvas a soft wash.  There is just a suggestion of La Gonâve in the distance.  I watch as my neighbours cast off and row their dory out for another day of dropping their nets on the reef.  I can just pick out the white triangles of sails in the distance.  I could sit and gaze out at this halcyon view forever.  It becalms the mind and nurtures the soul.

I keep telling myself (and others) that I am not going to write so much.  But life here is so full of wondrous things.  I pray it never grows old.  And I pray you don’t tire of reading about it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Bari Castle permalink
    May 14, 2011 10:03 am

    Hello Granpapa Long Cheve!

    Your picture of the sunset is stellar! However, the pictures you paint with your words are the ones with the greatest beauty and clarity.

    I found some items of yours in the church: binoculars, a yellow box, etc. Are these things you want sent to you, or simply kept for your return?

    May God continue to bless you with insight, patience, endurance and joy!

    Rev. Bari

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