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English Class Continues

August 9, 2011

My Friday appointment with Olivier did not work out.  The Painters and the Fox family decided to throw a little birthday celebration for me and consequently I spent the evening in Montrouis enjoying a delicious brownie cake.  Yonèse had already prepared me a special birthday meal of  diri (rice), sòs pwa (red bean sauce), poul e legim (chicken fried and then stewed with vegetables), pickliz (Haiti’s absolutely fantastic spicy pickles) and papitas (thin slices of plantain deep-fried, kind of like potato chips).  As always, she saw to it I had a generous supply of passionfruit juice.  Olivier called several times and did not seem to understand the situation.

On Sunday he appeared at our beach gate.  He had called, but uncharacteristically I had allowed my phone to completely discharge.  We went and sat on the edge of the neighbour’s pool again and worked on another English lesson.  We shared a little about ourselves and I learned that he is 20 years old.  Working with this young man makes me stretch my proficiency in Creole, and writing the words out for him somehow makes them stick in my mind.  Communication with him is effective, as unlike many Haitians he always tells me when he does not understand and I have to search for alternative ways of wording what I want to say.

On Monday Olivier was back.  He wanted me to come to his home.   He led me down narrow footpaths that I had never traveled through the gardens between Clean Water and the town of Pierre Payen proper.  The people here call their tiny fields gardens, which is probably more appropriate considering their size.  One can only work so much ground with a hoe.  Every few feet he would stop, point to something and say, “Again!” wanting to know what the English word was – banana, breadfruit, oranges, corn, chickens, pigs, ocean, path.  Occasionally he would review what he had learned.  We passed through a sort of outdoor museum at the edge of Pierre Payen with marine artifacts, most of which were painted in bright colours.  I would have liked a closer look, but Olivier didn’t seem to take much interest in it despite my questions.  I will go on my own to get some pictures another time.

Reaching the highway Olivier stopped to exchange a few words with a group of people who were drawing water from a communal well.  No doubt they were wondering what he was doing with me.  I noted how cautious he was about our crossing the highway; he waited until there were no vehicles in sight.  I would have taken one of many opportunities I considered completely safe, but I am aware of how many Haitians are injured or killed on the roads, so I understood his care.    On the other side of the highway we stopped at the store he owns, a tiny palm frond hut whose only furnishing is an old chest freezer.  He rummaged through it and came up with a Coke for me.  Since the freezer is not connected to power, the drink was only slightly cooler than air temperature.  But I realized the magnitude of this gesture.  Even for one of our workers a Coke represents nearly an hour’s pay.  For Olivier I strongly suspect it is much more.

We then set off on the path up the mountain.  On the way he introduced me to two young women, his sister and a cousin, whom we met on the path.  Olivier was concerned about how I was doing on the climb, and I must admit that I was breathing pretty heavily by the time I reached his home.  He noted that this was his father’s home, a typical tiny structure of stone and mud with a tin roof set on the edge of the mountain.  The only door is a sheet and the porch consists of poles supporting a tarp that covers only part of the framing of crude poles.  The tidy yard is surrounded by gardens of tall corn and melons.

A venerable woman appeared from inside the house as we approached and Olivier introduced me to his grandmother, the family matriarch.  His sister, who had gone on ahead of us, came out cradling an infant.  Olivier went into the house and reappeared carrying two plastic chairs which he set under a tree for us.  He immediately wanted his lesson to continue.  His mother emerged from the house and Olivier introduced me.  It began to rain and Olivier moved the chairs under the shelter of the tarp.  Brothers drifted in (Olivier has five and a sister, all younger than he is) and gathered round.  A friend of his, Welner, also joined us.  Welner and Olivier’s cousin took advantage of the lesson, participating from time to time.  The family occasionally interjected with questions for me.  His mother asked typical motherly questions:  Did I have children?  How many boys and how many girls?  Did I have a wife?  No?  Then do you have a lady friend?

Olivier expressed great interest in Canada.  He told me he would like to visit.  The few questions I posed quickly revealed that he knew virtually nothing about my native country.  He told me he wanted to get a passport but had no money.  The inferred question was obvious:  could I help?  I explained that getting a passport was not overly difficult but that for him to get a visa to enter Canada would be very difficult and time consuming.  I also explained that by Haitian standards things are very expensive in Canada and he would need a great deal of money to visit.  I told him a plane ticket alone would cost more than most Haitians make in a year.  Although his friend confirmed the information I provided, it did not seem to dampen his dream in the slightest.  Despite telling him I couldn’t help I was sure I hadn’t heard the last of that subject.

The rain stopped and Olivier positioned our chairs under the tree again, mainly, I believe, so that he would not have to share my attention with his family.  That was short-lived, however, as the rain started again and we moved back under the tarp.

Olivier took out his phone and called up a map of the world.  He asked me to show him where a number of cities were.  I was surprised that in addition to the obvious – Miami, New York, Washington, London – also on his list were Rabat, Jakarta, Beijing, Sophia and Zurich.   Pinpointing anything on a 1½” square world map is pretty difficult, so I told him I would print out some maps to bring next visit.The lesson and the visit went on until darkness was gathering and I suggested I head for home.  Olivier insisted on accompanying me.  His mother asked me to please come again soon.  As we set out we met another of Olivier’s friends, Samuel.  His command of English is somewhat better than Olivier’s and he peppered me with questions the entire walk home.  The young men lit my way with their cell phone flashlights and Olivier insisted on walking in front of me so that he could warn me of any hazards we might encounter.  Reaching my gate, we exchanged hugs and I was reminded that I will be expected back in a couple of days.  Bon nwit, zanmi m’.  Good night, my friends.

One Comment leave one →
  1. kim evans permalink
    August 9, 2011 11:41 pm

    Isn’t it interesting that Oliver has a cell phone?
    He has so little in material things and knows so little about the rest of the world and still he has a cell pnone.Does he have internet access on his phone? A list of friends to call? What is his main purpose in needing a phone?

    The world and it’s priorities sure do change.
    I have never owned a cell phone and hope l never have to.
    Thanks so much for continuing to share your adventure

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