Today is my fourth week of living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. While this isn’t my first trip to this beautiful Caribbean island, Haiti is now considered my home. I am honored to serve the National Council of Spiritual Churches in Haiti (CONASPEH) for a three-year assignment. One of the ways I assist is as a Conversational English teacher at College St. Andre.
Losing my influence
A common struggle during the transition period is a process called role deprivation. In my old work life, I had influence over my individual work and business communications. I expected my role in Haiti would be different than before. What I wasn’t expecting, was how my previous career had ingrained itself into my core beliefs.
Teaching students how to politely exit conversations, order at restaurants or make their way through an airport, I don’t “feel” like I’m making any significant influence. Not everything I do will reveal an instant, pleasant result for me; however helping one student out of each class to enhance their conversational English skills... is a result that energizes me. When kids tell me “good morning” or make small talk in the school yard, I know seeds are being planted.
Isn’t it like God (the ultimate optometrist) to take these opportunities to readjust our glasses when life starts to get out of focus?
Losing my ability to speak fluently
Moving to a foreign country that speaks a different language from your native tongue, well, things can get extra interesting. Haiti’s main spoken language is Kreyol, an efficient, blended language of French, Portuguese, Spanish, English, Tainos and West African languages.
I studied a petit (little) bit of Kreyol before I arrived in country, enough to think I was ready to chat it up with the Nationals here. Umm… non. The time it takes for me to put together a sentence, well, the moment has already passed. Or via Google Translate, I explain how I’m quite chatty and they’ll wish for the days when I couldn’t speak Kreyol - well that joke was also lost in translation.
Quick Kreyol Tip! If you see a letter, you say the letter; if you say a letter, you write the letter. (It’s a phonetic language) Bonju, Bondye beni ou! Bahn-zjoo, Bahn-djeh benny oo. Good morning, God bless you! Now equipped with your go-to Kreyol phrase, you will be the talk of the town when you visit!
I have quickly been silenced; unable to contribute to the conversations around me. Because I cannot articulate my thoughts or understand directions, getting a bank account and visiting the doctor have become faith exercises in the goodness and integrity of strangers. One enduring quality of Haitians is their generosity in patience and kindness. Not one person has shown any hint of frustration with me attempting to speak Kreyol or not.
Knowing my personality, this is God’s way of forcing me to observe my surroundings before I took off running.
Losing my voice (literally)
In a typical Haitian classroom, you will find students sitting as close to each other as possible, kids chatting, teachers loudly instructing, no overhead lights and chalkboards with the previous lesson unable to be completely erased.
Placing me in the front of a classroom of twenty-six to seventy-one teenagers to compete with the hundreds of voices swirling around the room; you can’t expect me to out shout anyone! Let’s just say, I’m still working on my class management skills. ;)
I’m amazed how the students can see, hear, let alone, comprehend in this classroom setting; it only shows me their grit to be successful. The Haitian culture of overcoming obstacles is inspiring, especially at such a young age.
God’s voice through this transition
This past month, I might have felt like I lost my voice; God definitely has not lost His! He speaks to me through the gentleness and hospitality of CONASPEH, through the students’ joy and smiles. Through God’s grace, the Holy Spirit is always with me, giving me back the voice I thought I lost.
Bondye do ou, fe’ pa ou, M a fe’ pa M. God says, do your part and I’ll do mine. (Haitian proverb)
Michelle McKay serves with the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH). Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.