Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mercredi le 27 juin 2007

Last evening one of the young Brothers from the house in Carrefour, a “suburb” of PAP (the word itself means "crossroads"), showed up and said that he was taking me to stay at the house at Carrefour for a couple of days. Now, I had not been previously told about this, but whatever, I wanted to go there anyway, and things had been getting a little dull around Canado-Haitian, so I jammed my only clean clothes into my backpack (no electricity and no soap most of the weekend, so laundry has been interesting lately, like “wearing the same pair of pants three days in a row while sweating like a racehorse all day” interesting) and off we went.

So I have mentioned in previous posts that driving in PAP scares me to death, but I should add now that doing so at night is a whole new ball of wax. The good thing is that the passenger (me) can’t see how close we are to getting in a wreck every 5 seconds, so that might take the edge off the terror factor, but the bad thing is, the driver can’t see any of that stuff either. In defense of the drivers here, I should mention that, despite all the crazy driving and the apparent absence of any kind of traffic laws, I haven’t seen a single car get in a wreck, nor a single pedestrian get mowed down, but sometimes it has been a matter of millimeters. Anyway, we made it in one piece and were welcomed by some teenaged security guard carrying a rifle (yeah, I feel safe now) as we drove into the complex. This place is HUGE – high school, grade school, kindergarten, and enough grounds around it all to build all the buildings again. I met the Brothers here, chatted with them for an hour or so, had a ridiculously large meal, and went to bed.

The next morning, today, Br. Robert showed me around the place. Quite impressive, and not just because of the size (although that didn’t hurt). He told me that the auditorium holds 2500 people, and seeing the place, I believed it. On a slightly different note, it’s still a little funny to me to see barnyard animals running around school campuses, but they have plenty of them here: chickens, at least 7 goats, 2 peacocks and a peahen. I accidentally spooked the goats and they all blazed off through a little hole in a concrete wall on the edge of the property, but one of them kinda got stuck. I was going to be nice and pull her out to help her across the wall, but she squeezed through before I could get my hands on her. Sorry, goat. Switching gears, I can understand why the ancient Greeks incorporated peacocks into their mythology because, despite having seen peacocks plenty of times before, they are still fascinating to me. First off, the birds here are very tame, presumably because they have a zillion kids running around them all the time; I could walk within 2 or 3 feet of them without them really reacting to me at all. Second, and I didn’t know this before today, these things make the coolest noise. There was a thunderstorm this afternoon, and apparently the thunder spooks them, because every time there was a thunderclap, these things would make this crying/wailing noise that at first I thought was babies crying, but really really loud. Of course, I haven’t mentioned their plumage, but what can I say – amazing. Whenever one peacock would fan his plumage for the peahen, the other guy would do the same thing, but she didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with either of them. They probably leave their dirty socks lying all over the place and expect her to clean up after them. Still, they are impressive animals. I could almost imagine Hera plucking Argus’ 100 eyes from his corpse and placing them on the tail of her favorite bird. The fact that the French word for peacock is paon, which is pronounced like pah(n) doesn’t hurt either, because I just think that’s a cool word. Paon paon paon.

I do want to mention that the issue of garbage removal has come to mind numerous times since I have been here. The issue is this: there’s no garbage removal. People take it for granted that bottles, cans, paper, plastic, whatever is simply to be tossed in the yard, in the road, in the ditch, wherever. In the bidonvilles, there are huge piles of garbage in the streets, some of which are perpetually burning. Here at the school, the grounds, the soccer field, even the cemetery are half-covered with soda bottles and aluminum cans, and the school itself has that scratchy-throat burning-plastic smell about it from where they burn the trash. We certainly have problems in the U.S. with the amount of waste we generate, but at least we don’t bury our streets or our yards in it (not generally, at least).

Today also happened to be Br. Robert’s birthday, and I’ve already mentioned how big a deal birthdays are here, but I should add that the last party, the one for Br. Norbert, had nothing on this one. Between Brothers and colleagues, there must have been 60 people who showed up for the lunch we had, and there was food to spare. All kinds of people were bringing gifts, and not just some little junky knickknacks – shoes, a cell phone, real stuff. Apparently Br. Robert has been here forever, though, so everyone and their grandmother knows him and loves him (and rightfully so – he is gracious and gentlemanly).

I will be on the road for the next couple of days, and the computer at our house is on the sick list at the moment, so this may be my last post while I am in Haiti; so, although I will certainly keep up the blog with other stuff after I get home, I will offer a few parting shots on my time here. Although I am looking ahead to my time at Notre Dame this summer (and looking forward to getting back to the Brothers, my coworkers, and my students in StL), I’m not really looking forward to leaving Haiti. Apart from the amount of French I have learned in three weeks, which is huge, I sense that there is a lot of life here, that if I were to come on a longer-term basis I could find a real home here with the Brothers. I am struck by their continual graciousness and hospitality and their real love of community life. I wish my language skills were more than they are, but the Brothers have been endlessly patient with my halting French and my nonexistent Creole.

Finally, a few thanks. My thanks to the Brothers at Collège Canado-Haitian, especially the young Brothers there who drove me places, worked on the language with me, and haggled with old ladies over Haitian shirts for me. Thanks to Brs. Bernard Couvillion and Paul Montero for encouraging me to come here in the first place and for preparing me for what I would find. Thanks to Br. Joseph Alexandre, the Haitian provincial, and Br. Francis David, my provincial, for being so open to making this kind of exchange possible. Lastly, thanks to my mom and dad for their support (despite not necessarily being crazy about me going to a place like Haiti), especially my dad pushing and pulling to get my passport from wherever in the ether it was floating all that time. Thanks Dad, thanks Mom, thanks everyone.

Mercy within mercy within mercy...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

samedi le 23 juin

So much has happened between yesterday morning and today that I am going to have a hard time fitting it all in one email. To begin, I wrote before that I was going to go on Friday morning to visit the communities in the south with the provincial, Br. Joseph. Thursday evening the director of my house comes home and tells me that I am supposed to stay at the provincial house that evening (Thursday) because we are leaving early the next morning. OK, no problem – throw some things together and go. When I get there, it turns out that Br. Joseph is no longer going south because he has other commitments in town, but the director of the provincial house, Br. Élithère, will be taking me. I never did quite figure out if he actually had business in the south, or if he was just taking me around to be hospitable. Anyway, we get up at some awful hour, 4:30 or so, and we two and a third Brother are on the road by 5. Br. Élithère immediately starts driving like a bat out of hell, which at this point can’t scare me any more than any of the other frightful driving habits I have seen on Haitian streets. We blaze out of Port-au-Prince in what has to be record time, and hit a state road that takes us south. I should say that the roads here are deceptive because they are totally inconsistent; sometimes this “state road” is little different in quality from a normal road in the United States, while at others it is more or less a series of very deep potholes connected by wisps of asphalt. When Br. Élithère hits a patch of good road, he floors the gas pedal, to the point that I almost looked forward to the potholes, except that during those stretches of bad road he takes to swerving and pitching all over the road so as to find the best pieces of road and thereby slow down as little as possible. This whole time, I should add, he regularly acts as if he is driving an automatic transmission instead of a manual, so the engine is screaming at us because we are careening down the road at 90kph in third gear.

Our first stop is the Brothers’ residence at Miragoane, a dusty little one-horse town on the northeast corner of Haiti’s southern peninsula. We pull in at about 7:00 or so, meet the Brothers, eat breakfast, and hit the road again. I should add that this whole time, Br. Élithère is talking to me the same way he is driving: fast and aggressive, and not loudly enough to make up for the noise of the road and the squealing engine. Not that he is being unkind, but when I don’t get his comments and questions the first time, he takes up that tactic that I thought only Americans did with foreigners: he shouts each word at me ridiculously slowly, as if to make sure that I know what an idiot I am for not speaking his French-Kreyol mélange like a native.

I should add at this point that the difference between hearing and listening has never been more acute for me than it is these days here. To listen to one’s own language requires little more than simple hearing – unless we are really distracted by something else, in general if we hear the words, they are instantly meaningful to us and we understand what is going on, even if we aren’t really following the conversation. When someone is speaking a different language, however, it is quite different, at least for a dummy like me. When people around me are speaking French to one another, unless I am actually listening to the words, it easily fades into background noise, just as it would for a language that I don’t know at all. However, we tend to assume that if a person speaks a language beyond his or her native tongue, that he or she has kept up with a conversation by simple fact of being proximate to the speakers. I mention all this because several times Br. Élithère would be speaking to the young Brother in the backseat and suddenly try to get me to join the conversation, and of course I had not been consciously listening, so I didn’t have a clue about what they were saying.

Anyway, after some bumping around on awful roads to get to Br. Élithère’s hometown of Camp-Perrin and seeing some of the sights there, we ended up going to Les Caïes, the third-largest city in Haiti (I think) – the Brothers had a nice house (brand-new) on the outskirts of the city, and a new school under construction, and we spent some time there before going to see their old residence and the school in town. We weren’t there long before blazing off to Port-Salut, a beachfront town not too far south. For me, this was where the real fun began. We got to the house and hung out a bit before deciding to go to the beach, so we went down the road to a local private beach managed by a restaurant/cabana kind of place. I went swimming for an hour or so, and when I got back out of the water, one of the Brothers had ordered dinner for us: cole slaw, fried bananas, tomatoes, and lobster. Let me just say that I love lobster, it’s one of the few things I miss as a vegetarian (but hey, they ordered it, and I don’t want to look ungrateful, right?!) and this was particularly good lobster, even as lobsters go. Sitting there on a beach in the Caribbean, eating a lobster and washing it down with a cold Haitian beer (it’s no Chimay, but somehow I suffered through), it was hard not to laugh at the idea of being in mission territory. After we went back and cleaned up, I happened to mention to one of the Brothers that I had never tasted coconut (there are coconut trees everywhere here, so somehow it came up), and he naturally asked if I would like to try it. Again, who am I to say no, so we went across the yard to one of their coconut trees, and he said he would get someone to climb up to get a coconut for us. Sorry, did you say climb the tree? For those of you whom I don’t know personally, I love to climb trees, so I went ahead and asked if I could do the honors. Long story short, minus shoes and socks, and a quick “Fais attention” (be careful) from the Brothers, and up I go. I admit my technique could have used some work, but I got my coconut, and it was good. A few coconuts later (they cut a pole to shake down another few coconuts so someone else wouldn’t have to climb, but I think mine tasted better for having climbed for it) we got back in the truck and drove back to Les Caïes for the night. The room they gave me was stuffy because of the heat, but like many of the houses here, the Brothers’ place there has a flat roof, so I casually asked if I could sleep up there. Again, long story short, I passed a marvelously cool evening on the roof au clair de lune. A few of the novices came back with us to PAP, and again, Br. Élithère got us up well before dawn. He had us on the road by 5, and home by 10 am, with a few breaks in there to stop back at the house at Miragoane and stop for breakfast. By the by, he drove fast enough and swerved hard enough on the worse parts of the road that one of the novices got carsick and had to get out of the car to throw up. Br. Élithère drove a little more slowly after that...for about 15 minutes.

The Brothers later suggested that, unlike PAP, I would be able to walk around Port-Salut without fear of danger, and the cooler weather and the ready availability of the beach makes that a nice option for future excursions, especially if we wanted to try bringing students. Possibilities…

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

mercredi le 20 juin

Lots of odds and ends things coming together these days. I went into town with a couple of the Brothers to buy a shirt at a big outdoor square called Champ de Mars. There were lots of people around the plaza, presumably unemployed and perhaps unemployable. There was a nice amphitheater that looked ready for a band to show up and start playing, but it looked like such a thing hadn't happened in a while. Like many of the places I have seen, Champ de Mars looks like it was once very nice but has not been kept up; in a city in America I could imagine it being a main attraction, but here it is mostly for out-of-work young men and for artisans trying to peddle the few pieces of wood left in the country for a few dollars. When we got to the stand where they were selling shirts, I found something I wanted, and I expected to haggle about the price, because certainly they jack up the price for foreigners, but the Brother who was handling the price war with this woman actually made me uncomfortable by demanding that the vendor go too low on her price. Perhaps that's why American tourists have a reputation for being taken for a ride when they buy local souvenirs: maybe they know the price is raised for them, but they also know that a few dollars' difference to us might mean a lot to the vendor. At any rate, the Brother talked this woman down from 150 Haitian dollars, which is a little over $20, to 100 Haitian dollars. You can do the math. Haitian dollars don't actually exist on paper, mind you -- the real currency here is the gourd, but for some reason people figure costs in Haitian dollars (5 gourdes = 1 Haitian dollar). Whatever.

Today was the birthday of Br. Norbert, one of the older Brothers here, and given the size of the feast we had and the number of Brothers from around the city who showed up, birthdays seem to be quite a big deal around here. Br. Joseph Alexandre, the provincial, came for the meal, and we ended up talking about how things are going, etc., and we made plans for me to go with him to the southern part of the country, to the city of les Caies, for the weekend. Apparently there is some kind of house there built for mission groups, so I definitely want to check it out. I am realizing more and more that language barriers would be a factor here, especially to work with the poorer segment of society, since they would not really speak or understand French, much less English.

I have to change course at this point and say a few things about the food here. First, let me preface by saying that it has almost all been very good. Still, it's different. I have foregone my usual vegetarian ways for the duration of my stay, both to be open to trying things and so as not to be a burden on people with far fewer food choices than we are. Too bad the computer was on the blink a few nights ago; I wanted to write something after we finished our supper, which consisted of onion pie (not good, BTW), banana soup, and potted meat. This evening was banana and tripe soup, to which I added some cassave, a tough crackery kind of thing made from manioc. Several of the things they eat here are the same as back home, just at different times; spaghetti for breakfast, oatmeal for supper, bananas used like we use potatoes. They also really seem to like Manieschewitz, the really sweet Jewish wine they keep at the back of the liquor store. Again, whatever floats your boat. They have few things here that we don't have, but that I really like: a fruit they call veritables, another they call abricots, which is the French word for apricot but which is totally different from our apricots, and a corn-based dish like grits that reminds me a lot of sadza, the staple food in Zimbabwe.

I have been talking with some of the Brothers about the local politics and the history of what has been going on around here, and it's pretty insane. One of the Brothers who came to lunch today was kidnapped and beat up last year, and several students at the school where I am staying were also kidnapped. They say that was going on up until about December. However, they also mentioned that Americans are safer than the locals, because the Haitian government does not tend to do much when Haitians were kidnapped.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Today was my first chance to really venture out of my zone or neighborhood, and it was quite an eye-opening experience. This afternoon, we drove from the school over to the Brothers’ postulate/novitiate, which is on the other side of town. Now, I was a little nervous when Br. Joseph drove me from the airport to the school last Sunday, but there weren’t many cars on the road then, and Br. Joseph is a decent driver. Today, we had a long drive, the streets were crowded, and the Brothers who drove were simply not very good behind the wheel. The traffic laws here seem to be reducible to this: whoever can hit their horn first has the right-of-way. People hit their horns constantly, as a way of telling cars at intersections not to race out (which they still do half the time) and telling pedestrians to move. Anyway, truly a harrowing experience. Driving between here and there, though, we had to go through what they call a bidonville, which apparently translates roughly as shantytown, and, speaking as a person who has had the privilege of traveling to some genuinely poor places, I still was not prepared for the squalor of this part of town. There is a sort of base-level poverty that pervades the city, and I expected that, but I did not expect the piles of garbage on the side of the road, the dilapidation of kilometer after kilometer of “shops” and houses. Perhaps it was not that the poverty was worse than that in, say, Zimbabwe, but that so many people were crammed into it so tightly.

Arriving, then, at the novitiate, was a study in contrasts: the sprawling grounds, the two huge houses (one for the postulants and the other for the novices), the partridges and ducks and geese and even a peacock around the garden, it was like entering a totally different world from the filthy, smelly, noisy street we left two minutes earlier. The mango trees were dropping mangoes on us (literally!) – walking around, eating a perfectly ripe mango that was on the tree twenty seconds before, I had to laugh at the idea that I was “roughing it,” but I also had to marvel at the contrast of this place with the city outside those walls.

I will need to come back another time to write about the religiosity of this place, but a couple of examples will serve for now: driving to the novitiate, we passed a series of signs posted by one of the local banks, signs commemorating the feast of the Sacred Heart. On all the roads we see taptaps, which are Haiti’s answer to the concept of public transportation: somewhere between vans and trucks, but rainbow colored and decorated to the nth degree with religious slogans and pictures, everything from pictures of St. Andrew to “In God We Trust” and Kreyol translations of Bible verses.

Oh, the water is back on for now. Apparently being without water three separate times in a week is unusual even for the Brothers who are from here, so perhaps I shouldn’t ask how long it will be on this time.

Mercy within mercy within mercy...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Vendredi le 15 Juin 2007 – La Fête du Sacré-Cœur

I want to preemptively apologize at the start if this posting is too sarcastic for people’s tastes. I am really tired as I write, and I’m at the end of a day full of weirdness, and those two factors have conspired to bring out my sarcastic streak. So today’s our feast day, but it is also graduation day for the high school where I am staying. (*Before I go any further, for those who didn’t already know, I am currently in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.*) I didn’t sleep terribly well last night because the malaria medicine I am taking has been giving me dreams that are vivid enough for me to wake myself up from laughing in my dreams. (*Weird, I know. More on that some other time.*) Anyway, we had morning prayers at 5:00, the usual time here, and then I went back to bed for another half hour or so. After a Brother came to get me for breakfast, one of the nuns who works here, a tough little Colombian sister named Hermana Gloria came up to the Brothers’ place looking for some guys with muscle to help set up for the graduation, which was going to be in the courtyard of the school. Of course, I’m too dumb to keep from biting that hook, so down I went and got right into it, lugging potted plants, setting up displays, securing decorations and so on. We were quite an odd crew – three sisters from Colombia, another from somewhere in Africa, assorted Haitians, and “le blanc” (that is, me, the name that some of the locals have given me because I’m the only white guy they have seen in a long time). Anyway, we sweated our butts off setting up for the graduation until I had to get ready for the meal the Brothers were having at our house for the faculty. Before I went back up, I noticed a one-eyed worker wearing a shirt that said “I *Heart* Bagels.” Yeah, I know, weird. I asked him if he knew what a bagel is, but he only spoke Kreyol, and I have no idea how to say “bagel” in Kreyol, so I didn’t get an answer.

OK, before I go any further, I just want to say something, and I preface it by saying that I am a Francophile and I am extremely happy that I am here: Spanish is so much easier to understand than French, it’s just silly. I only know a tiny bit of Spanish, but the pronunciation is so much simpler, and they don’t cut half the sounds off their words like French does. Hermana Gloria speaks French, but much prefers Spanish, so she ended up using mostly Spanish with me for the two hours she had me under her thumb, and despite the fact that my Spanish is even worse than my French, I did ok the whole time.

OK, end of tangent. Sorry. Anyway, I went back up to the house and was almost at the shower when I remembered that we still don’t have running water. (*Did I mention the water hasn’t worked for two days? The water hasn’t worked for two days.*) I ended up going to the house next door and using one of their showers, and I get back and get ready in time for the lunch, which was actually extremely nice, but, like so much of what I see here, it would be a little awkward by our standards, even if in a genuine and disarming way. (*Mercifully, our standards do not and should not prevail.*) They played come up-tempo Caribbean music and had a gigantic cake shaped like a heart; it looked more like a wedding cake than something for a faculty luncheon. Some older gentleman who spoke French very clearly but very slowly acted like I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and when the wine started flowing after the meal, Hermana Gloria started dancing with anyone who couldn’t squirm out of her grasp in time.

After lunch Hermana Gloria somehow roped me into working again, and I ended up helping to pin pennants on the graduating students. Of course, they had no idea who I was, but they were very pliable about it, so whatever. The graduation began with a mass, and the Brothers were going to go together as part of the feast day, so I went back up to the house to meet them, but the time kept changing (*How do you repeatedly change what time a graduation ceremony starts? Anything is possible for people whose God does not hang on a wall and tick.*).
So anyway, the mass starts and all’s well. Apart from the obscene heat, the only thing that really strikes me is the cheesy keyboard music that accompanies every song we sing. Finally, it’s getting a little boring, so one of the musicians passes out in right around the gospel. (*I should mention that it’s so hot that the balloons are popping spontaneously; in one grouping of balloons, they all popped except a random “Walt Disney World” balloon. I’m trying to picture one of those in the decorations at a Catholic High graduation…Um, no.*) Well, Hermana Gloria wants to help to take care of this guy, and she tells me she wants food and alcohol, and I’m thinking I could use some alcohol at this point too, but she meant smelling salts – who still uses smelling salts?! As fate and this weirdo day would have it, we had three little bottles of peppermint spirits in a random cabinet, and I don’t know if that’s what you use this stuff for, but it sure smells (more on that in a minute), so I brought it. As we’re going down to revive and feed this guy (in that order), one of the bottles crushes in my hand. These bottles were positively ancient, so this thing basically crumbled to pieces. Naturally, this peppermint stuff spills all over my hand, arm, and chest, and not only does it make me stink to high heaven, it’s got a tingly sensation, like Ben-Gay or something like that. We get this guy put back together enough for him to go throw up, and then I go back to mass, reeking of peppermint spirits and sweating like a racehorse, just in time for Communion. Just then one of the Brothers comes up and tells me to go up and help distribute Communion – is this them trying to be welcoming toward a guest, or did they not plan out who was going to be Eucharistic ministers? Either way, my slow-speaking bodyguard from lunchtime takes me by the arm across the courtyard to distribute Communion, and everyone is looking at me like I’m handing out poison. Finally one woman came up, but that was it, so I gave my bodyguard the paten and sat down. (*To be fair, just about no one went to Communion, so I don’t think it was anything against me, such as the fact that I smelled like a candy cane.*)

Mass finished relatively uneventfully, and then someone decided that we needed to move a bunch of chairs, pronto, so students and teachers started bustling around, getting nowhere fast, and I decided that my peppermint burns are becoming genuinely uncomfortable, so I made an exit and came back up to find that the water has somehow miraculously come back on, but that stuff doesn’t wash off easily, so I figured I’d come write all this stuff down and go try again. So here it is. Happy feast day, Brothers. Ametur Cor Jesu.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Whoa, whoa, whoa...

Another good day of going around Port-au-Prince, meeting people, talking, practicing, writing translations, and so on. This really is the way to learn: my last post, when I mentioned sinking or swimming, I think I felt like I was sinking. Now, I know I'm still not very graceful, but I think my head is above water. I went with one of the other Brothers to the provincial house (about 10 minutes' walk), saw the place, and met a few of the Brothers. BIG HOUSE! 16 guys, or something like that, almost all of them younger than me. I talked for about an hour with the director, and by and large I did ok.

This evening was funny: the Brothers are as interested in learning English as I am in learning French, so they had me help them find some practice materials online. They came across some random page that had an MP3 of the song, "Row, row, row your boat," so the three of us were here singing for a good 15 minutes. They have a song in French that is set to the same tune, so we swapped lyrics and had a good time. The funny thing is that, listening to them singing, it made me wonder if my pronunciation sounds as strange to them as theirs does to me. Creole doesn't really have the "r" sound (they say it like a "w"), so one of the guys kept singing, "Whoa, whoa, whoa your boat," and I couldn't get him to make the "r" sound (maybe I should have told him one of my pirate jokes). I know my French is halting and awkward, but I feel like I say the words the way a Frenchman would -- maybe I can't hear the difference any more than the Haitian Brothers can hear the difference between "r" and "w".

Whoa, whoa, whoa...or as they would say,

"Ramons, ramons donc
Vogue le canot
Joliment, joliment, joliment, joliment,
Attaquons le flot."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

en Haiti -- dimanche le 10 juin

To those of you whom I do not know personally, I'm spending about three weeks with our Brothers in Haiti, hoping to "perfectionner" (as they would say) my French. I have only been in Haiti for a few hours now, but already it has been a great experience. I landed about 9 am and was met by the Haitian provincial, who is polite and refined to a tee. He drove me to the "College Canado-Haitian," where I am staying, introduced me around a bit, and left. I will see him again at the end of the week. In the meantime, I got to chit-chat a little with the Brothers who live here, all of whom are quite young, settle in, and sit down to a very nice lunch. They got a cake that had originally said "Joyeuse Anniversaire" (Happy birthday) but to which they added the line "Bienvenu Patrick," so it's happy birthday and welcome at the same time. (*This just in - one of the Brothers stepped in while I was writing this and offered me a local drink called "Malta H" - a malt extract drink that doesn't really taste like anything I can compare it to. It's good in an I-like-it-but-I-wouldn't-want-to-drink-too-much-of-this kind of way*) Anyway, they have been very nice, but they use a lot of slang that I don't know and they aren't accustomed to speaking slowly for the linguistically impaired like myself, so it has been rather overwhelming at times.
My emotions have had a chance to play in such a new environment, so I have stepped back and watched them. The house is like the Brothers' place at Loreto in Zimbabwe, so it feels homey already, but I still need to acclimatize. It's really hot here, and there's not much air conditioning anywhere, so I've been sweating almost continually since I got here. I am lost in admiration of the beauty of this place, despite the obvious poverty - mountains that butt right up to the Caribbean, rolling countryside and big blue skies - but in other quiet moments the thought of three weeks of "sink-or-swim" French has produced that vaguely unpleasant sensation that comes from suddenly realizing that sinking is a possibility. We sat for a while before lunch and watched a French nature documentary, les lions tuant les facaucheres (lions killing wild boars, etc.), and I didn't understand much of it -- documentary commentators must whisper in every language. Later, I completely missed a joke that one of the Brothers made, and by the time he had explained it to me, it was no longer funny. Of course they were nice about it, but I felt like a dummy, and I realized that I have a lot of work to do: pecking out a letter in French with a dictionary in hand is a totally different animal from trying to keep up with six guys in a conversation. Flexibility and humility are certainly going to be the name of the game here, and pretending that I understand something isn't going to take me very far. Still, despite my humble start here, something about it tells me that there is a lot here for myself and the New Orleans province to connect with. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.