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Bibliotek Burik
When I dream it’s usually a nightmare, so I’m not a fan of sleep. But recently I had a dream–more like a vision–of a donkey carrying loads of books in his satchels and stopping in front of each classroom at the little school in Bwa Chandel. In my vision the children came out, one class at a time, and to their great delight selected books from Donkey’s collection. The next week Donkey would come back and again, class by class, the children would return their books and pick new ones. Donkey of my dreams would be a sweet and gentle librarian who, overtime, promoted literacy and the joy of reading. The children would look forward to Donkey’s visits with unbridled excitement.

So I shared my vision–my rev–with the teachers one day as we were walking along the trail that leads away from the school, a trail far more suited for beast than man. At first they laughed, especially when I called it “Bibliotek Burik.” But then they were curious. I explained that a library in schools in the United States is a central part of the school building and that weekly visits to the library for stories and books are an essential part of elementary education. ” And then the next week the children bring them back and choose new ones?” one teacher asked. “Yes,” I said. “Yes they do.” I went on to explain that since the children in Bwa Chandel could not go to a library, perhaps a library could come to them via Donkey.

They were sold. Everyone nodded in agreement that it was a “bon lide,” a good idea. I asked if anyone knew of a donkey that might
like to work for me as our librarian. Said donkey would have to possess certain qualities. The teachers wanted to know what the job would pay. After all, they said, “The donkey has to eat.” I could see that hiring a donkey was going to require some negotiating.

The following week the principal, Met Benito, said he’d found a donkey who wanted 1400 haitian gourdes ( about 25 dollars) a trip. What? That’s a lot of hay. I didn’t think there even was 25 dollars worth of hay and water on La Gonave. I whittled the price down to 1000 gourdes and settled for Bibliotek Burik only every other week. Done.

We scheduled the first Donkey Library Day for Friday February 2nd. The plan was to carry a supply of books (thank you to all who donated children’s books in French and Creole) up by motorcycle, meet the donkey where the road ends in Kochon Mawon (Brown Pig) , transfer the books to the donkey and proceed down the trail to Bwa Chandel. Fellow missionary and elementary school teacher Brittany came with me to help. We each carried a back pack loaded with books heavy enough to make me believe I was going to slide off the back of the motor bike every time we hit a steep part of that God forsaken road. Precisely at 9:30 we arrived at road’s end and there was a little lady, the principal’s mom, with our donkey. Our donkey actually turned out to be a good-natured female mule named Millet (French for mule). We loaded her up and the six of us, me, Brittany, Mama Benito, Millet and the two moto drivers, Carino and Fedson, headed down. It seemed everyone wanted in on the first ever Bibliotek Burik.

First stop was the kindergarden class. The last time I had been in the kindergarden room was when a group of nurses came up to do pediatric assessments. It had been a terrifying situation for most of them. As soon as those kids saw me they burst into tears. This whitey only brings pain. Their teacher picked out two books to read to the class and we moved on to first grade to the sound of diminishing sobs behind us. But the other classes were wide eyed with excitement. Even the teachers chose books from our Donkey Library. In fact the whole concept was entirely new and challenging to everyone. First, there were so many books from which to choose. Some of the favorite titles were Garfield (in French), Princesse Academy, Le Petit Prince (the teachers had never read it), Barbie (really?) and my favorite: Kochon Ki Kap Chante (The Pig Who Could Sing). The last is about a pig who lived on a tomb and sang “wi wi wi ” all the time. He scared some children who told their dad who killed the pig. They cooked the pig and ate it and from that day on all those who did so could hear “wi wi wi” coming from their bellies. In Haiti, that could be a true story. Second, there’s the idea that the book is really yours for two weeks to simply enjoy. Then, you bring the exact same book back and get a different one; that was a tough one because the teachers wanted to collect all of them at once and give them to me the next time. I wanted the students to get the idea of returning a borrowed book for the privilege of getting another. We’re all learning.

And so Bibliotek Burik began and continues. We’ve had four library days and have five more planned for the remainder of the school year. Our new librarian is a little boy simply named Donkey, though I miss Millet. She even let me ride her on that first day. Time to time, a dream does become a reality.

Cher zanmim yo, it’s been a long while since I’ve written, My writer’s block is largely due to a serious lack of internet connection in Haiti among other things. I’ve missed you. I just took a break from writing to make a couple of pizzas for Easter. And so I wish you all a Happy Easter, Bon Fet Pak. Until next time, Nancy

The pictures are of 5th grade girls choosing their library books and me with Met Benito and Millet
Bibliotek Buriq

             

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Cher Zanmi yo– This past week I was able to be in Haiti  to visit the teachers in Bwa Chandel, look at the school building site and prepare for English classes in the fall. At dinner at Sarge’s rooftop restaurant (Anse-a- Galet, La Gonave) Saturday night I asked if anyone knew how much the fly boat is to the main island. Someone said —ask Sarge; he owns the fly boat.  You know he’s a very enterprising man. I spoke to him on the way out and he said it was 300 goudes (about 6 bucks). ” Call me,” he said “at 5 o’clock in the morning and I’ll tell you what time to be at the boat dock.”

At 5 on Monday morning I gave him a ring and he said to come down at 5:30. I arrived at the main dock in Anse-a -Galet about 20 past and though still dark the place was beginning to teem with the bustle of people and things going places. Bags of charcoal were being loaded on huge sailing vessels; Haitians were boarding a large passenger ferry that leaves early each day for the main island.  And the fly boys were filling up their 30 passenger, 3 outboard motor boats.  Sarge took my bags and my money, saw that I got a seat and the boat began to fill. I saw that other passengers were giving the driver their cash but then I heard Sarge say he already took the fee from “sa blanche la” — that whitie there.

Life jackets were handed out (apparently a year ago there was a bad accident and 7 people drowned) the dock master cleared us for take off and a list was passed around on which we were to print our names. They’re taking names, I thought—-of the missing at sea. After some struggle with the engine pull cords ( are we taking my lawn mower to the main island?) we were off–directly into the wake of the previous boat.  We hit the first wave, enhanced now by an onshore breeze, et mwen te jete—almost out of the boat.  My bottom left the seat as I caught air and I came down mainly on the floor of the boat with one leg hooked over the wooden cross seat. The woman next to me scooped me up and held onto me tightly. The man next to her held onto my leg. The woman on the other side had me hold her waist and crouch down. And so it went with all the passengers until we were an interwoven human flotilla locked together so as to anchor us inside the fly boat. Each time we hit a swell and slammed back down everyone would let out a yell and then laugh hysterically. One man kept yelling “syel, syel” which means sky, or paradise. I suppose if we really did hit the sky we’d all see paradise too.

We passed the half way point and the swells diminished. The human flotilla began easing and breaking up. We resumed our old forms and spoke casually as if to arrive alive were an everyday occurrence.

I looked behind me at one point to see an interesting fashion statement that many of you would have enjoyed. A woman with a lovely new wig of tight curls took a black plastic bag, put it over her head and tied it on each side in smart little knots. It stood straight up in the wind, but stayed on. And she alone sat up tall in the craft with her arms folded across her chest in full defiance of our perceived danger and with her hair still perfect at the end of the ride.
Mwen renmen nou–Nancy

– Written November 17school

I imagine most of you know that on October 3rd hurricane Matthew arrived in Haiti as a category 4 storm. The southern peninsula as well as the south coast of La Gonave experienced damaging rain and high tides, 120 + miles per hour winds, and extensive loss of livestock and crops. While as yet uncounted, La Gonave can add names to the list of more than 1000 people who perished through drowning or when trees and homes came down. I finally got up to Bwa Chandel on October 29th and have been up many times since then.

Every time I ride up to Bwa Chandel I say to myself that the way (I’ve stopped calling it a road) is terrible and it can not ever get any worse. And every subsequent trip up is in fact much worse. They say that you know you are crazy if you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result each time. And so crazy I must be. However, since Matthew the route really is, but I mean really is, worse because it isn’t even there anymore. Where there was once inches of deep, fine, soft dust which always turned to dangerously slick, thick mud after a rain, there is now only bare rock. The rock face of the route is made more difficult to navigate by the hundreds of loose mini boulders and steep chasms cut by the floods. With all the dust, mud and garbage washed away by the deluge the whole track appears steeper than usual. Going up there are places where I feel I’m leaning so far back on the motorcycle that I’m perpendicular to the mountain and I’m certain we can’t make it. Coming down we’re dropping off the rocks like water over Niagara Falls. It rattles my teeth and shakes the piss outta me. And of course there is still the same amount of traffic of people, donkeys, goats, cows and motorcycles all vying for the now diminished amount of travel space.

But in spite of the condition of the route and damage to the island, the little school in Bwa Chandel looks very good. It suffered absolutely no wind or water damage thanks to having the money this past summer to properly finish the roof and ceilings. I looked at it amazed, but Wismy, the contractor, just smiled and shrugged as if he knew all along the building would be fine. In fact he had no doubt the school would be intact because 1) he knows he did not skimp on any material and that he built it right and 2) he is a young man of very great faith.

This week and next the school is being painted and I’m having some new furniture built for students and teachers. 1stgradeEach class has a set of books, which is a first, and so it seems appropriate to go ahead and plan the dedication. We’ve set Sunday the 15th of January as dedication day and you’re all invited to the party. No kidding. You’ve all been on this journey with me and I think you should consider celebrating along with the rest of Bwa Chandel. Besides, it’s MLK weekend and I know a lot of you have Monday off!  (More pictures and story from Dedication Day coming soon, like this one of 1st grader Naika on moving in day).

Joy in spite of trouble–

La Gonave faces some serious food shortages in the near future. That will be on top of the usual struggle against hunger, disease and unemployment. But there are many moments in many days that are full of joy–soccer matches, basketball games, singing on Sundays. And swimming lessons. In July the second year nursing students asked if I would teach them how to swim. All 17 of them. We had a lesson the following Sunday that was a real success. We have continued them this fall, and last Sunday I invited them to come out on our boat, the Wesleyana, for their first deep water swim. wismyNow to a Haitian it defies common sense to jump out of a perfectly good boat into the sea. But this group was ready, and without hesitation over the side they went. To their great delight the sea at the reef was clear and warm, full of wonderful things they had not ever observed up close: starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins. There was a lot of splashing and singing–and one screamer.

Dancy was afraid. We put a life jacket on her and coaxed her over the side. She immediately threw her arms around my neck and held on, white knuckled, for dear life. Little by little she came to realize that the jacket would keep her afloat and she eased her grip. Ti Met, the captain of the Wesleyana, kept yelling at her to let go or she would kill her teacher. Eventually she was floating on her own and waving to me from a few feet away. Back on board, I saw Ti Met take her aside and gently lecture her. When we were back at the mission I asked Ti Met if he was angry, either at Dancy for being afraid or at me for taking her out on the boat. I told him I didn’t want to misunderstand the situation. It was my turn for one of his gentle lessons. He said no, he wasn’t angry at all. But he wanted Dancy to understand that it was important for her to learn to swim. That if she was afraid she would never learn. And she shouldn’t try to kill her swimming teacher! He said the sea is a beautiful thing, but that it’s “fragile.” I think he meant that the sea can be dangerous or beautiful depending on our relationship with it. Knowing how to swim, he said, makes all the difference. Have I told you yet how much I love and admire Ti Met?

Ydson’s new ride–

newchairsmile

Ydson’s new ride began with a trip to Charleston, WV. I’d been looking for a good kid’s wheelchair for him for a while. Now that his medication keeps him alert all day in school, it seems like a good idea to have him sit up higher where it might be easier for teachers and classmates to interact with him. I looked at “kids karts” on line, checked with local hospitals, and finally connected with A Rosie Place in South Bend, Indiana. A Rosie Place is a respite home for kids who are medically fragile. The tradition is that families leave equipment no longer needed by their kids for others. So thanks to nurse Beth Bailey and A Rosie Place, Ydson had a new ride. Beth and I met in Charleston, WV for the handoff. Now to get it to Haiti.

I left Myrtle Beach airport with it on January 9th. It weighed in at about 50 pounds all collapsed and gorilla taped together. But the gentleman at the curbside check in took it and my other luggage, printed my boarding pass, checked everything in and sent me on my way. I didn’t have to handle a thing. Fort Lauderdale airport was a different story, Still reeling from the baggage claim shooting, the airport was mobbed and chaotic. In order to get it checked for free as a piece of handicapped assistant equipment I had to pretend it was mine. And, God help me, I did. But didn’t I need it for the airport, asked the baggage clerk? No, no–it’s too complicated to fold and unfold. I’ll just walk slowly. Would I like a wheelchair for the airport? No that’s OK. I’ll just hang onto the wall if I need to. My MS is under control. ( Can you believe I pretended to have MS? ) I really just need it for Haiti. Don’t fuss; I’ll be fine. I felt a little guilty about the big front seat I got on the plane. Two more weeks in purgatory.

Once in Haiti the next step was getting Ydson to the wheelchair. I went to Cap Haitian to celebrate his first birthday at school. (He is very likely 4, but he has never had a birth date before.) We had cake and songs and played hot potato with beach balls. Then we boarded a bus for the south where we’d catch our boat to La Gonave. Ydson is a very good traveler. I, however, was praying all the way. The tip off on just how dangerous the road is was when the bus company had someone come on and pray for us before we left. Then we wound our way up the mountain switchbacks along Route National 1. Great sections of the “highway” were missing from recent mudslides and I was grateful it was not raining, Though our journey was only 90 miles, it took five hours. By the time we got to the boat, Ydson and I were both crying.

But on La Gonave Ydson, Little Y, the Greek i, was a rock star. Doctors, nurses and friends were overjoyed to see him. In his own quiet way, the little boy who neither sees, hears, walks nor talks, ministers by his very presence to his many friends. I’ve never seen any one individual provoke such compassion and gentleness in others. A visiting occupational therapist got him comfortably set in his chair and we were off about town. At night he slept peacefully next to me, and in the mornings it seemed to me that Pinocchio’s beautiful blue fairy had come and made him a “real boy.”

Our five days went fast. yontheplaneI got to be on the receiving end of coos, smiles and even a few belly laughs. And he knits his little brows together when he’s not happy! I see how far he’s come and count it a miracle.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. It’s been good to catch up. Miss you all. Avek afeksyon, Nancy

Pictures are of the school in Bwa Chandel on Dedication Day, 1st grader Naika on moving in day, Captain Ti Met, Ydson getting comfy in his new chair and with me on our great flight back to Cap Haitian last Thursday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These were almost my last words.                                                                              March 16, 2016

Last Tuesday two groups of nursing students from Indiana Wesleyan University accompanied me to Bwa Chandel where they did pediatric assessments on each child. It was a practical clinic for them, but a fun hour for the kids. After their check ups there were games and a hilarious skit about hand washing after using the latrine. And then there was lunch—-75 peanut butter sandwiches on fresh haitian bread. However, to get to the scene of all this activity the students had to endure a two hour trip in the back of pick up trucks over roads that were not meant for vehicles of any kind. That was followed by a mile hike down a donkey trail carrying all the food, water for everyone and their medical supplies.

Their group leader told me that they faced a three hour truck ride on Thursday to Pointe Latanier at the eastern tip of La Gonave. That is over 19 miles of some of the most brutal “roads” on the island. I said, “why not take the boat; it’ll be fun. It takes much less time and is much more comfortable.” Shelli, the group leader, thought it was a great idea as she was not looking forward to another punishing ride in a pick up. She invited me to go along.

Met Johny, the guest house manager, organized a fly boat with a good captain because, he said, there are a lot of rocks along the coast and you need a captain who knows the waters. The fly boats are big speed boats that carry about 20 people to and from the main island. Each has two 75 horse power engines and they’re notorious for flying over the waves at dangerous speeds. Your bottom pounds on the seats and you usually thank God you arrived alive and are not bleeding from the eyes. But we were going to be hugging the light blue reefy shoreline on a calm and cloudless morning with a safe and reliable captain and his pilot. Thus we began the day with hope.

And calm and cloudless it was. The sea was flat with just enough breeze to refresh. The students were saying what a great idea to take the boat. We waved to the lobster men in their wooden canoes. We hailed the conch divers and the passing sail boats. We passed sleepy villages where fishermen were headed out for the day. It’s always a good sign to see so many boats and sailing skiffs; it means there is enough breeze to sail but no danger from an angry sea.

Before long we saw the tall palms of Dub Salin, about half way. We were making good time as the captain maneuvered carefully through the mangrove islands. Then he stopped the boat. He told his pilot to hand him a plastic bag for his phone. He had the pilot put his phone in a storage space below the steering wheel. I looked out beyond the mangroves and saw ferocious white caps. Take the boat; it’ll be fun.

At first it was fun. We hit the waves carefully. There was cool sea spray and the students were thrilled by the excitement of it all. But as we neared the point of the island where we were to go ashore it became clear that the surf was much too rough. The captain felt he would lose the motors and his passengers in those pounding breakers. What to do? He circled. The waves increased to six feet. Shelli was the first one to lean over the side quite seasick. Take the boat; it’ll be fun.

One by one the students began to feel unwell and a few more heads went over the side. Two weeks ago I had a powerful tropical virus–fever, aches everywhere, strangely exquisite  nausea. I was either flat on my back or emptying my guts into the toilet praying my immune system would kick into high gear. I felt terrible seeing these students so nauseated and so far from home and safety.TaketheBoat

I looked at the captain for answers and he took off his pants, gave them to me and said “hold these.” Then he dove into the sea. Wait. What?

What I didn’t know at the time was that he was swimming to shore to find someone with a small craft and a little outboard motor to ferry us in. He sent another captain to swim out to us and man our boat. We dropped anchor and waited. A few waves hit us broadside and it felt as though we’d capsize. People began to gather on the shore. After 10 minutes all of Pointe Latanier was on the beach watching the drama unfold. What would they do? What should they do? Who can help? You could see them all talking animatedly about the poor stranded white people. I began to think of all the Haitian boat people in the early 80’s who drowned just off shore or were turned away in Florida. Payback is a bitch.

In fact the captain was as good if not better than Met Johny said he was. The replacement captain said that in fact another boat was coming which it did eventually— a small light skiff with a little lawn mower size engine. Two guys brought it out over the surf and it looked like it would flip backwards as it hit those six foot waves. Now I watched them bring their little boat alongside our bigger boat, and I watched them transfer the first four sick passengers from one craft to the next. But even as I watched I don’t really know how it happened because it was impossible to steady those boats in that sea, and it was equally impossible to get a person from one boat to the other without dropping her into the drink. I just shrug and say what the Haitians say: Bondye konnen selman. Only God knows. 

At shore the two boatmen carried the sick girls on their backs and placed them in the shade where Haitian mamas attended to their needs. It took four more trips to rescue the rest of us. I went in the last boat feeling very guilty for my bright idea. Take the boat; it’ll be fun.

The aftermath was anticlimactic. The team had their visit with the school they had planned to see. Everyone felt better and the sea calmed down magically for our return trip. The students and their chaperones were actually laughing about the day and the story they’d have to tell. There was just one more little event. While we were waiting for the small boat to bring us back to our fly boat another crowd gathered on the beach. These were not the school children and their families and the fishermen. These were some of the kids of Latanier who are not able to go to school. Latanier is an extremely poor area without water or growing land. There are an inordinate amount of children and only about half can either afford school or have sponsors. They no doubt watch with envy as school kids get visits and gifts and attention. It’s heart breaking. One ring leader girl began. Give me something. Give me one dollar. Give me. Give me. The asking turned to shoving. The shoving turned to grabbing. Years of want and envy had turned her into a punk of sorts. I hopped in the boat and gave her something–the finger. I’m pretty sure I’m the missionary who’s going to hell.

 Wishing you all a good night (bon nwi) and an even better day (pi bon joune)———-Nancy

Don’t forget: theworldisoneplace.org

 

Wednesday Evening – Bonswa friends,

ydson34

Ydson Now

Yesterday I sat on a porch of a busy household on a narrow dirt road in a rickety little town outside of Haiti’s second largest city, Cap Haitian. Bright red hibiscus flowers pushed their way through the wrought iron porch gate and there were a few crumbs of rice on the tile floor where children recently sat and ate their lunches from frisbee plates. On either side of me sat several young neighborhood girls coloring pages from a book I’d brought. ( I never travel without a coloring book and a box of crayons.) In front of me was a little boy in a stroller. I was pushing it back and forth with my feet.

The girls were fascinated by the color by number aspect of their pages and I was explaining to them how they could learn their colors in English by following the color by number chart. The oldest young lady was practicing her English lessons from school, speaking slowly and articulating well. All of us were taking turns talking to the little boy, exercising his hands and feet and adjusting his head with a soft blanket roll to help strengthen his neck muscles. Once in a while his eyes would brighten wide and a soft smile would cross his face as fleeting as the occasional breeze that blew in the otherwise still air.

The little boy of course is Ydson, Little Y, Son Son. He spends his days now at Footprints of the Son, a school for children with special needs. At night he is well cared for by a family in that community. I had the privilege of spending yesterday morning with Ydson in his preschool class. The night before he spent an overnight with me, and I was able to get him washed and dressed for school and feed him breakfast —just like old times.

The morning class began with music. Every child had an instrument and each played along to Christmas songs with unbridled delight. I posted on Facebook their accompaniment to Feliz Navidad. I also recorded their version of Jingle Bells but as I was crying through most of it the recording wasn’t any good. Ydson got to wear jingle bells on his wrist for his part and a teacher played rhythm sticks near him in an effort to let him sense vibration.

After that they colored nativity pictures. His teacher placed the crayon in his hand and gently pushed it back and forth on the page, counting one, two, one, two with each movement. His orange baby Jesus is now on my fridge. When the class worked on puzzles I placed different shaped pieces in his hands and helped him feel around all the edges. When they practiced their numbers by jumping on each of five red squares, I lifted Ydson from square to square for his turn. The children counted for him–en, de, twa, kat, senk–as I lifted him high for each jump. They clapped and shouted bravo when he finished with his usually unflexed feet landing firmly on the final square.   A few more songs, a game of Ring Around the Rosie and it was time for lunch and an afternoon of socializing with the neighborhood kids. A tiring day of stimulation for Ydson.  24 happy hours for me.

Ydson’s life was not always this way. Just one year ago Christmas he was abandoned at the Wesleyan Hospital on La Gonave. Malnourished, dehydrated, sick with respiratory distress and covered in rashes, no doctor or nurse believed he could live. But inside Ydson’s dark and silent  world is a stubborn light that refuses to go out. And that quality draws people to him. ( He’s also adorable.) He neither hears, sees, nor noticeably responds to those drawn to him, but that makes him more fully loved by those same people. His young mother, who did the unthinkable by abandoning a dying child with no intention of seeing him again, unwittingly gave him a chance for life unimaginable in Haiti for a child with Ydson’s disabilities.

We’re given only a handful of chances to love someone so unconditionally that there is no thought of ever receiving love in return. Ydson is part of my little handful. Though I know him very well, I might never know if he knows me and it’s difficult to discern what he feels other than when he’s angry or calm. His rare and incredible smiles are a mystery. We might wonder why it has to be this way. We might wonder why Ydson had to be abandoned and struggle so for life. We might wonder what moved nurses, doctors and strangers to keep prodding for his veins even when they couldn’t find them and scurry for diapers and discarded clothes for his tiny frame when there was no one to claim him. We might wonder why such a child would push everyone who sees him–the cleaning ladies, the night watchmen, the painters, the judge,  the visitors–to such compassion. We might wonder why this little somebody who was almost a nobody should enter our lives. We might wonder.  We only know that everyone has to be somebody, and somebody had to be Ydson.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas season, Jwaye Nwel. Affectionately, Nancy

YdsonSonSon

One Year Ago

Update: If you are part of Team Ydson you may know that as of January 1st Made Known will not be part of Colorado Gives. If you make a recurring contribution it will not be withdrawn for January. Keep checking on the fb page for how to continue giving in 2016.  Regarding his birth certificate, I made very little progress with the court clerk in charge of giving it to me despite the signed documents from the mayor’s office. He told me to come back in January.  It is always the same with these guys: does he walk, does he see, does he hear? No? Why does he need a birth certificate? And my answer is always the same. Paske li se moun, because he’s a person.

My friend Julian says Haitians in general are better than (as in better equipped for survival)  “blancs” (whities) at everything except driving and swimming. Observation bears this out. Women and children walk miles with heavy loads of water , laundry, watermelon, you name it, balanced serenely on their heads, up steep trails in flip flops. Men dead lift 100 pound bags of cement without any knowledge of proper lifting technique. Everyone plays soccer in the hot sun and bare feet without the usual gallons of gator aid on the sideline. They can fabricate anything out of anything; they learn this as children who can make fabulous toys out of trash. I’d even say they are better equipped to drive over the terrible conditions of the roads here. A flat tire or an oil leak never stops them. Drivers pull over, fix the problem with spit and garbage, and roll on their way. But swimming, swimming is another story.

For one thing, Haitians are usually quite muscular. Over my many summers of teaching swimming I found that the very lean muscular boys were natural sinkers. And for another, many Haitians, with very good reason, are afraid of the sea. People here are all too familiar with the horrible  tragedies that occur when over loaded boats capsize. Panicked passengers left without life vests or rafts simply drown. These accidents happen out at sea to innocently duped people who have been promised a trip to the United States and hope for a better life and right here on La Gonave where unregulated ferries and fly boats cross the tricky waters  between here and the main island. And since there are no physical education programs in school, nor fitness or aquatic centers, children never learn to swim in any formal way. Apart from the occasional deep water diver who can hold his breath and sink like a stone for lobster and conch, Haitians either beat the water with flailing arms and legs or sit in the shallows to cool off. The great irony is that, surrounded by the tranquil caribbean sea, Haitians never learn to swim.

This past Saturday for six young teachers that fear of the sea vanished. I have a friend who has a school for children of the salin, the poorest part of Anse-a-Galets. Their class room is in a pavilion right on the beach. Last year a little boy wandered into the sea after a ball. Even though the water was shallow, he suddenly panicked when he realized he was in the water alone. Not one teacher knew how to swim. Fortunately, a grounds keeper did and walked into the sea to bring the boy back to shore. When the school director asked her teachers what they wanted for themselves this year, they said, “swimming lessons.” Last Friday she asked if I could help with this. Could I? I love to swim. It’s my favorite exercise. I made all my kids swim very young and anyone who visited me during the summer had to participate in our town’s swim team. I taught swimming all through college. It’s my favorite event in the summer Olympics. Esther Williams is my hero.

We began by holding hands and walking together into the water until it was neck deep. Everyone could touch bottom even though we were 20 or 30 yards from shore. Then we made a circle and just enjoyed the moment. They were laughing and relaxed. Next, still holding hands, everyone lifted one foot. Then the other. The melanj a pye (feet mixture) in the middle brought more laughs as they began to experience that weightless feeling in the water. It was an Esther Williams moment. Going around the circle each swimmer lifted his or her feet alone. From there we moved to back floating. The more buoyant women mastered this immediately. The guys were still sinking but they were not afraid.

One by one they progressed from back float to face float to moving through the water easily.  Again, the women were able to swim comfortably with faces in the water. The men, Paul and Junior, still sinking, were able to move more easily under water. I took one young woman out to slightly deeper water where she could not touch bottom and we began to tread, like riding a bicycle I told her. She took to it right away. I told her that if she were crossing on a boat and there was an accident, she could do this for a long time until another boat came to save her life. Her eyes brightened and I could see it suddenly made sense. Yes she said, I could save my life. M’ cap sove lavi’m. The trick is, I said, pa panik, don’t panic. We swam together back to shore.

The school director, Kelly, did a wonderful thing for her staff. Fear is a killer. She hoped that the day would just help them relax in the water, but it did so much more. They bonded as they worked cooperatively in the water. They lost their fear of the deep. They were astounded by what was beneath their feet–rocks, coral, sea urchins. And while the guys still have a ways to go (they all plan to practice every Saturday for the next few weeks) the ladies will be the envy of all their Haitian friends on beach days. I have no doubt that in the future, should any little student wander into the sea after a ball, there will be no fear or hesitation on the part of the teachers to sove lavi li, save his life.

Love to all and enjoy the end of summer with a swim. Affectionately, Nancy

The picture is at the beach school last night with awesome new swimmer Carol and her beautiful daughter.

Caroletfille

TEAMLAGONAVE

The team with some of the Indiana cheering section
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The Greatest Softball Game Ever Played on La Gonave was in fact the only softball game ever played on La Gonave and it was played last Thursday at 4:00 in the afternoon on the Wesleyan Mission compound. The young members of my high school English class had their final exam on the field. The umpire was Dr. Robert Vermaire and he was assisted by guesthouse manager Met Johny. The final score was Team Taz-Well –10 to Team Angelica–8. Three innings of softball bliss on a sunny afternoon. Every final exam should be so easy to grade.

In April, right around the opening day of baseball in the U.S., Taz-Well wore a NY Yankees cap to class. I asked him if he knew what the NY stood for on his hat. The whole class said New York. Yes, but what about New York did this specific NY represent? No one knew. I explained it was the logo for the NY Yankees baseball team and that it was baseball season in the states. I told them that lots of kids their age play baseball and softball at this time of the year. Some had heard of baseball but no one they knew had ever played it. My mission was clear.

Angelica Angelica at practice

We began our unit on baseball the first day after Easter break. The most important lesson that day was that everyone on a team needs a cap. Thanks to my nephew Tony, I had a big supply of Yankee caps for them and each student picked his or her favorite to wear each day of class. Each one carefully chose color and size and we were off to a happy start. Next they learned the fundamentals of the game: throwing, catching, pitching, batting and how to score a run. Our vocabulary unit was based on all the lexicon of the game: three strikes you’re out (their favorite phrase), fair, foul, home run, on base and go home. The last is my favorite because, and this is true, the first time I yelled that at practice, a student took me at my word. Betchiama was on third base during a lesson in which we practiced scoring runs. Bases were loaded and the next batter singled to right field. Betchiama stood on base unsure of where to run and I yelled “go home, go home.” The compound gate was open and off she went down the road. I had to send her brother out after her and thus the class learned the expression “go home.”

It was not long before I was having excellent attendance in class and attracting many spectators at each practice. Some of the biggest challenges were: not running with the bat to any base once contact with the ball was made, realizing that someone needs to chase after the ball once it rolls out of the infield and not running ahead of the runner in front of you! But, ti pa ti pa, we made progress. In one class we learned the words to Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Another class had them memorize the terms first base, second base, third base, home plate. In others we practiced batting, fielding and catching fly balls.

Dr Bob giving pointers to Leon  DrBobPractice

Friends in South Carolina donated a couple of softballs. We received gloves and bats from Oregon and Canada. And a team from Colorado Springs made three bases and a home plate from scrap wood. They rounded the edges and sanded them nice and smooth since the students often played barefoot. June 18th was set as the big game day. Notices went home to all the families. Dr. Bob and Met Johny agreed to ump.

Taz-Wel in his pitching stance Pitching

Visitors from Indiana made cheering signs for each player and we were set for your day of days.

The game was a three inning whirlwind of excitement, but I’ll do my best here to recount the play by play. Taz-Well’s team took the field first with Taz pitching. Boaz, Angelica and Leon all reached on singles, but with bases loaded the next batter hit right to third baseman Dilanka who threw to first for the out. ( We never really practiced the play to home.) One run scored. Taz struck out the next batter. Two more runs scored before the final strike out, and Team Taz came up to bat down 3-0.

Betchiama and Dilanka each grounded out to first. Jaron reached on a dropped ball and finally scored on a series of errors and over throws. 3-1 at the end of the first.

Taz-Well held Angelica’s team to one run in the top of the second and it was time for the 1 1/2 inning stretch. Everyone–players, visitors, parents, hospital staff, spectators–stood for a rousing version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game with my students giving extra punch to the line “three strikes you’re out.”

In the bottom of the second first batter Taz hit for a home run which energized the whole team. Despite a double play when Espirantha flied out to first which caught Jaron off base, they managed to score six more runs. 4-7 at the end of the second.

Bodely came in as relief pitcher for the top of the third. Angelica, normally the strongest hitter on her team, struck out trying to swing for the fences. However, a grand slam by Jean left Taz-Well’s team down a run for the bottom of the third. With Jean as relief pitcher for Boaz, it didn’t look good for Team Taz. But Dilanka, Jaron and Taz-Well all hit for singles and the bases were loaded for Bodely. Three runs scored on his long line drive. As no one had any desire to end the game, we played until the third and final out when Betchiama struck out swinging and the final score was 8-10. Team cheers and high fives were followed by two gallons of gatorade, home made cracker jacks (recipe below) , five dozen chocolate chip cookies, lots of pictures and hugs. “Really Teacher,” they asked, “this is really our final class? Net, net?” Yes. Here are your certificates. Now go before I’m sad.

BoasOnDeck Boaz “on deck”

We plan a lot of grand events in life, but it’s the unexpected joys that are most remembered. When people ask what was the highlight of teaching English in Haiti I believe I’ll say that it was the day we played the greatest softball game on La Gonave.

Cracker Jack Recipe:
Cracker Jacks-Pop 1/3 cup plain popcorn. In a small saucepan combine 1 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup honey, 6 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer about 5 minutes (to 250 degrees). Take off the heat and whisk in 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. In a large bowl gently combine the pop corn and caramel mixture. Add a cup of roasted peanuts and continue to coat all. Place on a couple of baking sheets and bake at 250 for 20-30 minutes or until evenly browned. Cool completely. It will hardened as it cools. Break up into cracker jacks!