Monday, 15 October 2012

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 9

Breaking Down Walls
So it has, again, been ages since I've updated my Haiti story. I apologise. Hopefully I'll be able to finish up the saga in another couple of chapters. So, without further ado:
After returning from Père Dodou's home, the team got down to work. Nassrin resumed teaching First Aid to an ever-growing group of villagers. This endeavour was continually frustrating for Nassrin, as she attempted to adjust to "Island time". She wanted to start promptly at 9:00 am, and kept having students showing up at about five minutes to ten! And I don't mean a few stragglers. I mean, those were the ones who got there early! As it turns out, Haitian's reckon time rather differently than we do in Canada. As long as they were there within the hour of Nine, they were "on time"!

Meanwhile, Father Bill, Dan, Mark, and I went up to the old medical clinic, which was still partially standing, but was so structurally unsound, that we essentially had to knock it down. To undertake this task, we had one small sledgehammer and a crowbar, as well as a couple tarps, between the four of us. Fr. Bill and I tried manually loading up debris onto the tarps, to carry or drag them away and throw the concrete chunks down the side of the mountain, while Mark and Dan attempted to knock more portions of the wall down with the hammer and crowbar. After a very short time, I realised that we were going to need more tools than our bare hands, and so I ran down the path to Père Ronal's rectory and the boutique. When I arrived at the boutique, some of the friends I had made the previous Saturday were lounging outside. Saying my customary "Bonjou", I then though they might be able to tell me where I could get shovels and other tools. So I began to communicate to them in my rusty French, to ask about shovels. Very soon, I realised that I had absolutely no idea what the word for "shovel" was in Creole, French, or apparently, in pantomime! Though I imagine I gave them quite an entertaining spectacle as I repeated, "Je dois un...." and then acted out what I imagined looked like I was shovelling. After a few unsuccessful minutes of this, I realised I was getting nothing but silly grins and giggles, so I left them to find Père Ronal, and see if he could get me a shovel.

Entering the rectory, I found Père Ronal, and told him of my need for tools. When he gave me two shovels and a hoe, I related my experience with Willie, Pierre-Renaud, and their friends outside the boutique, and seeking to show them that I wasn't just a crazy white kid, I asked Père Ronal what the word was for shovel. He told me, and I repeated to myself "pelle, pelle, pelle..." as I returned outside to the boutique, really to brandish my shovels and say, "Les pelles! Regardez! Les Pelles!" Of course, my moment of triumph was cut abruptly short by the utter absence of Willie and his friends!

Puzzled, and just a little discouraged, I returned to the site of the condemned clinic in order to resume work digging up and carrying away the debris, when to my utter surprise, Willie, Pierre-Renaud, and their two friends had hurried up the hill when I went to find Père Ronal, and had begun busily to work at getting rid of the rubble with Father Bill! I showed them the shovels, and repeated my newly learned word, at which point they took the shovels and the hoe from me, and began working all the harder! This, of course, left me right back where I started--empty-handed as I began scooping up rubble and dragging away tarpfuls of concrete! But suddenly that didn't matter anymore, with many hands and many friends making work light indeed! Turns out, language barriers are readily overcome by goodwill, humour, and some artistic fun!

As we continued our work throughout the week, however, Dan, Mark, and I discovered we were even less alone than we'd first realised. On the one hand, the village's children came to watch us work (and to play soccer on the levelled out field in front of the church). Occasionally, they'd "help" by stealing the hammer or crowbar when we stopped to rest, and hit parts of the wall themselves. We of course made sure very quickly to tell them which parts of the concrete walls they could be around and what they could safely hit--such as the low, foot-high barrier at the edge of the lot, formerly protecting the children from the edge of the mountain.

But children weren't the only small critters underfoot--or overhead! Lizards were crawling everywhere, and, lurking unsuspected under the debris were none other than frightfully large tarantulas! Mark and Dan discovered the large, hairy arachnids first, abruptly dropping everything and leaving the worksite. It wasn't until a day or so later that I made a similar discovery, lifting up a chunk of concrete and finding right underneath a very live and very large tarantula! I yelled and jumped a few feet back, but luckily had six or seven children there to protect me! After laughing at my reaction, they grabbed rocks and the crowbar and began playing with the spider. Recovering myself, I managed to get a picture of the spider on the short wall, with the crowbar above it, to gauge its size, before one kid grabbed the crowbar, and with it, flipped the spider down the mountainside! It stopped its fall by grabbing the branches of a bush and hanging from it. At this, the children grabbed chunks of concrete and threw them at the tarantula in order to finish its descent down the mountain. Those kids were fearless!

At night in our tent, we decided to ask Michael, our translator, about the local wildlife. Hearing constant and ubiquitous chirping all about us, we asked what bird made that sound at all hours of the night? He replied that it wasn't the birds, but the lizards that made that noise! We were dumbstruck! We had no idea lizards made any sound, let alone that beautiful, birdlike chirp! We then inquired as to what was making this strange, rumbly, raspy noise. I can't even attempt to make an onomatopoeia of it! To me, it sounded vaguely like a dog barking far away, through an echoing hallway. Since, of course, there were no hallways to echo in, that clearly wasn't the answer. Dan thought it sounded more like heavy breathing right outside the tent, but I didn't think it sounded close at all. Michael again had the answer--though he didn't know the English word. "They are 'mille-pieds'," he told us. I knew what that word meant! "You're telling me those are millipedes?!" "Yes," he replied. "But don't worry, they are many miles away!" That was not reassuring at all! "You're telling me that a bug is making that much noise, several miles away? How big are they?" "Oh, maybe two or three feet long, and about an inch or two thick!" Dan, Mark, and I were losing it at this point. Freaking out about the large and freakish wildlife around us, suddenly we heard snuffling at the back part of the tent, behind me. Suddenly Dan screamed like a girl (sorry Dan, but it's true!) and fell over backwards. The rest of us turned around to see what hideous creature was attacking our tent in the middle of the night!

It was...

Boogie! Père Ronal's dog had decided to come pay us a visit at the most inopportune time! Needless to say, we did not sleep well that night!
We're coming down to the end of my story. Coming up, seeing the sights--both around the mountainside, and down in Port-au-Prince. After that, our return home. I'm thinking there'll be a total of 12 chapters.

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