Wednesday, August 3, 2011
“N’ap kenbe”. We are holding. We are hanging in there, holding on. I feel that I have found one key into Haiti: communication. Last year Dina and I crash coursed ourselves through a couple of Pimsleur Creole CDs and used a free iPhone app for volunteers to Haiti to learn Creole. This year, Dina found HaitiHub, which is a Skype 2 week class with a wonderful speaker named Carlo. Dina took the class for 2 weeks and I listened in for a week before I left for NY. One of the most valuable things about the class was Carlo’s way of introducing us to sayings in Haitian Creole, which are many.
How are you? The simple act of greeting someone can set off a flurry of call and response answers that define village life. Pa pi mal, things are not worse. “Nou la”, we are here. “N’ap kenbe”, we are holding. “Tout bagay anfomm”, everything is “in form,” everything is good. “Jamn”, or “jamn jamn”, with each greeter’s fist coming together, means strong. We are here, strong, solid. A look into Haiti’s history of oppression, and their own liberation, directly reflects the pride and commitment that Haitians have for their own country. They affirm to each other that all is good because they are still here, holding on to their culture, their people, their children, their life together.
Being able to greet people like this, especially from a “blan”, a white person, has brought immediate smiles, a letting down of the barrier between foreigner and resident. I am here with you, I am holding with you, here in Haiti. I call and respond with you and we exchange a ritual of communication that has been passed down for generations. We are here with open hearts, learning, understanding, speaking with the people.
At the hospital yesterday, Dina and I waited for Susan outside of the prenatal clinic. The small building, which housed both prenatal and pediatric clinics, was crowded with people. Three Midwives For Haiti students worked in a small room doing intake exams. Susan and the interpreter, plus the pregnant woman, would now make 6 in the room. I was happy to wait outside. Sitting on the ledge of a wall, we waited, offering Trader Joe’s dried mango slices to the women and children around us. Opening the door is so easy in Hinche. The people are warm and welcoming with the simplest act of kindness. Before long, we had mothers and children around us, they as curious as us to meet someone from another world. The assumption at first is that we are so different, our landscapes: world’s apart geographically, economically, culturally. But, easily, we find common ground and are laughing at ourselves. By the end, I am able to say in Creole: last year, Dina spoke better Creole than me, and this year, I speak better Creole than her. They erupt in laughter, agreeing and rejoicing that we both are trying to connect. Susan finally comes out of the clinic. She is already recognizing that the best place to find us is in the most boisterous crowd with children and women, laughing and pointing and generally having a ball.