Last week I wrote my slice while on the tarmac of the Port au Prince airport, waiting for the plane to take me home from my first trip to Haiti. I had so many thoughts and ideas floating around in my head that I couldn’t make sense of any of them. A week later I am still processing and reflecting on all I saw and felt. To guide my writing this week, I decided to take one of my writing workshop teaching tips to heart and attempt to focus on just one small moment, a time that was especially meaningful to me. It was an easy decision as I recalled a 5 year old attempting to teach me Creole.
Language Lessons: A Small Moment in Haiti
|Swing set purchased by our parish|
They saw me in the chapel and stood there pointing and giggling at me. I had to leave my group and get closer, to talk to the children and to say hello. As I drew closer I heard them speaking quickly and in animated tones. I had met these same kindergarten children a few hours earlier in the school playground and they were excited to see me again. I sat on the front steps of the church and they chatted away in their native language of Creole. I could only smile at first because the translator in our group was still in the church. I decided to sit and be with the children for a minute. They came close and rubbed my pale white arms marveling at my different skin tone. I got the sense they wanted to know me, to discover more about this person who looked so different from them. Their chatter was animated and endless and I could only smile and giggle along with them. I felt embarrassed and ashamed not knowing any of their language and judge the gap might quell their enthusiasm for meeting me, but the children continued to talk on in their native language despite my lack of engaging in talk with them.
The rest of our group joined me on the church steps and translated for me, telling me that the children were commenting on meeting me at recess earlier in the day. I asked if they could repeat the word recess in Creole so I could attempt to say that word. I was told the word was “rekreasyon.” The Creole language is derived from the French language so unfortunately for me, my long ago lessons in Spanish would not be helpful. On top of that I did not take the time to learn any words in the native language prior to going on this trip. I was stumped. I tried and tried to say “rekreasyon” but I failed miserably much to the delight of the children. Yet they did not give up on me. They persisted, they took my chin in their hand to help with the movement of my mouth and cheered me on until I finally gave them a close approximation of the word. They were so delighted in my success that they shouted a loud bravo and clapped their hands in glee. I am not sure who felt the most pride, me the learner, or the children my teachers. I do believe it truly was both learner and teachers who were filled with pride! Either way I did not want to let this moment go unnoticed so I took out my camera and after asking permission, I started taking celebratory selfies with the children. Their smiles were quite infectious and full of hope. It was a sweet moment of joy. One that I know I will not soon forget.