Some missionaries here made the suggestion that we should try a one-week “total immersion experience” into the Haitian culture and language. So last week that was what we did! We were blessed as a family to visit the village of Maniche, about 40 minutes north of Les Cayes, where a MEBSH pastor, Enock Jean, and his wife, Francine, hosted us gladly for an entire non-English week! It was long and hot at times, but at other times things just happened that were unexpected, amazing, and totally inspiring! We all agreed that overall it was a great experience.
Pastor and his wife (Madam Pasté) said we became part of their family. They made us feel so welcome from the start. Every day they had much activity and people coming and going as they worked on a large addition to the back of the church. Lots of volunteers were there to help with construction; ladies made food, washed dishes, did laundry, etc.; kids helped out wherever there was something to do, from peeling fruit or vegetables to carrying buckets of water where needed. Madam Pasté was a very good manager, directing all the activity of making food to cleaning.
What was it like our first day in the Haitian culture?
We arrived in the afternoon from the bumpy ride up a mountain, then down into a river valley where the village of Maniche sits. It was obvious we arrived earlier then they expected. Some of the ladies were ironing sheets to make our beds. Other ladies were busy with making food in a separate area from the house. It turned out the Pastor and his wife actually emptied out their entire house, made up beds and put fresh linens and little decorations on top of tables in every room…and then slept in the room we didn’t take! As were checking out the rooms, we saw a large cockroach crawl under a bed. We were all thinking the same thing…we didn’t want those things crawling over us at night. Yikes! This is going to be an experience we will not forget, just with the bugs alone! (It ended up we didn’t see that many, they must have just disturbed a few as they cleaned and swept every corner. And there was a can of roach spray there too so we were all set!)
We decided to take a walk out to the market. We were surely noticed as we walked the streets! We were definitely stared out, “white fish out of the water!” We tried to be friendly as possible, saying “Bonswa!” (Good afternoon!) The majority of them were very friendly and receptive. Others we weren’t sure. We really felt uncomfortable taking pictures and some said “no.” We kept walking the streets of this town and Grant started talking to some Haitian boys about his age. Many were standing around. Soon there was a crowd of people surrounding us. We made conversation as best as we could. They seemed to enjoy our conversations, and then gave a friendly goodbye when we felt we needed to move along. We were stared at again all the way back to the Pastor’s house.
After a supper of fried chicken, rice with beans and mangos, we went to their church to observe a prayer meeting. We sang a few songs with them and introduced ourselves. After the singing, we were directed to pray. This was when we had our first experience in Haiti where everyone got on their knees and prayed together at the same time…out loud! It was very interesting as we heard the sound of many voices going up and down, up and down in prayer. This wouldn’t be the only time we would experience it that week! They seem to be quite fond of doing it that way.
What was a Haitian house like?
In a Haitian house, there are usually no screens so you have to get used to all kinds of bugs that will enter. Our first night was surprising so we knew what to expect (dread) the other nights. It was especially difficult with the mosquitos or other tiny little bugs. We sure did itch and itch, to say the least. At night I would write on my journal before bed. If a light was left on, you had beetles flying around, bugs nipping at your legs, and those irritating mosquitos. We crawled under our sheets and covered up well so we would less interaction with any bugs. The last night, I finally wore socks to bed to keep those critters off my feet.
The doors and windows are shut at night and most of the day. Not only to keep out intruders and bugs, but we found out the cultural mindset is to close everything up to keep out evil spirits! So, needless to say we had some long, hot nights trying to stay covered up! We did have a fan in every room which was wonderful…until the electricity went out.
We had to adjust to only having electricity at night, not during the day. We charged all our phones, cameras, and laptop at night, ready for the next day. We also had to adjust to using the outhouses and no sink. There was three outhouses next to each other out back and it was always a struggle to use them. You tried not to breathe too deeply or you might pass out. One thing we remembered quickly: don’t forget your own toilet paper! It was hard to get used to not having a sink either, which made it more difficult to brush your teeth at night. We adjusted to using the outside faucet by the house to wash our hands and brush our teeth. There were outside showers that we could use. They had some privacy with a wrap-around wall. But luxury of luxuries…one inside shower! When you are hot and sweaty, even a cold shower isn’t too bad. You just get used to taking fewer and quicker showers!
We could never find a trash can in any of the rooms. We found out quickly all trash goes outside! You see litter everywhere. But here they had a large barrel close to the dish washing table. Once that gets full they burn it back behind the house. We got used to collecting our trash in a corner inside the house and then taking it outside. We don’t realize how accustomed we become to having a trash can in every room in our home in America.