On the Road to Jacmel
My American Airlines flight had left the gate in Miami on time — for once! — and was seemingly about to take off, when the pilot said that there was a problem with the navigation systems and we were returning to the gate. This seems to happen nearly always when travelling to/from Haiti — I think American takes this route for granted. Anyway, we got here an hour late and Linda Boucard, who handles many of Fonkoze’s visitors and lots of other important things here, picked me up and we were off to Jacmel area for two days of follow-up research.
Having the gift of several hours with Linda, I fired a bunch of questions her way. In between making calls to various people to rearrange our schedule based on my requests, she shared some fascinating things with me. I asked about the language here. Many high school and college students speak Creole to each other, are spoken to by their teachers in French, and use English textbooks. Sadly, many children and young adults never learn to speak and especially write any of the languages used here — Haitian Creole (as distinct from related languages in Martinique and Guadalupe), French and (increasingly) English — well.
We talked about the second annual summer camp for the children of CLM clients, which is meant to teach life skills and prepare children ages 4-14 to re-enter the school systems (or in some cases, enter for the first time). It also gives these children who have lived on the utter margins of human existence a chance to get at least one square meal a day and have … a bit of fun! I’ll be visiting this summer camp — actually, a number of mini-day camps throughout the Central Plateau where CLM operates – later this week. Last year, there were 800 children involved. This year, 5,000!
I learned that Lebanese and Syrian immigrants to Haiti control much of the supermarket business and many of the restaurants. Also, that there was once a significant Chinese population here. And that Linda’s great-grandfather was from … Bangladesh. Haiti is more of melting pot than I ever fathomed!
We stopped at the University of Fondwa, Father Joseph’s bold initiative described in an earlier blog, and I talked with the President, Dr. Gessy Coicou. Especially after the earthquake leveled the small campus, she is fighting an uphill battle to make this seat of higher learning viable — but she and her husband (both Haitian-American physicians) are doing their best since they moved here last August. She is the eighth President in seven years (her predecessor was a Haitian-American who was badly hurt in a car accident on the mountain pass I crossed today) and seems to be doing this essentially as voluntary work in service to her native land. One gets the impression that the Fonkoze family of organizations, including its predecessor APF, sometimes has “eyes bigger than its stomach” when it comes to taking on new projects and/or reviving ones that are troubled.
I arrived in Jacmel a bit car-sick and anticipating the interviews to come in the days ahead. As I write this I am getting a second wind, over my queasiness, and wondering whether I will sleep tonight despite getting barely three hours of shuteye last night. Haiti, seen through the eyes of Fonkoze’s people, is nothing if not exciting.