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.