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Saturday, January 24, 2015

A singing school director, and a singing student shell salesman

Wednesday, half way thru our Haitian sojourn, We spent Monday in Jacmel. Yesterday we went to visit a school, L'ecole le Dignite, about a 15 minute walk from here, 10 minutes on the road, and another 5 minutes up a hill, as Viviane Vieux, the director, had told us. I'd gotten her name from Lionel, the owner of our house. The school has been there 15 years, and Lionel has known her from the beginning, when there were only seven students. Now there are over 250, from grade one through nine. Viviane is quite the character. She's from the area originally, but has lived in other places, has two grown children living in the states, and two who had lived there but have returned to Haiti.

Viviane says she came back here to retire and relax in a hammock, but that didn't happen. She has incredible energy and enthusiasm, and a somewhat impish personality. She kind of bounced and sang her way into each classroom with us behind, and introduced us to each group. Some students were shy, others giggly, and a few volunteered to talk to us, the younger ones in French, which they are learning, and a couple of the older ones, young teens, in English.

The school is free, funded largely by a Swiss foundation, supplemented by Viviane's "begging" folks for support. Free schools are rare in Haiti. Most cost the families about $200 tutition, a prohibitive price for many families.

We'd brought a couple of suitcases of supplies. Jeancene got two men with motorcyles to each carry a suitcase down the road and up the hill. The intention was for Loring and me to ride on the bikes as well, but I demurred, preferring to walk, and Loring then did too. So the suitcases had arrived before we did. I'd bought a variety of school type supplies, pens, pencils, markers, a couple of puzzles and games. Most of the bulk was in two large trash bags full of Duplo, the larger scale version of Lego.  At the Y, the day before we left, the director of the child care program was giving it away, because they had too much, lots of it donations from families.They seemed pleased that it was going to Haiti. 

Viviane seemed pleased with all the supplies, noting that the duplo, which I hadn't been sure would be useful or appropriate, would be great for motor control, learning names of colors, etc. 
She showed us the large water tank, which she explained government workers had installed and monitored routinely for water quality, adding chlorine on a regular basis. But although she'd asked them to teach her how to do it, they didn't, and then eventually stopped coming. So they are unable to use the water for drinking.

She also showed us the school garden, which they are having trouble maintaining because it has been unusually dry This made me wonder how severely affected the local communities were, in terms of water and crops.

As we left the school, we decided to head directly to Ti Mouilliage Beach, really the only sandy and relatively calm beach in the area, where we'd already spent one other afternoon. We walked just about back to our own road before a tap tap came along, along with the usual rearrangements of passengers to make room for two more. We spent the rest of the day there at the beach, and had supper at the adjoining restaurant on the beach, lobster and shrimp.

Unfortunately, Loring was plagued last night and into the morning with digestive issues, which we attribute most likely to the shrimp and sauce, the only thing he ate yesterday that I didn't.
Nevertheless, back to Ti Mouilliage beach we went this afternoon, for the better part of the day. But we did not eat there today, having only a coke each. We'll go back again tomorrow, because of the beach and also because the owner said he'd get single US dollars for us tomorrow. We are running low, not on cash, but on low denominations. We have in fact used only dollars, no Haitian money at all.

On the beach I met a young boy selling seashells. He had a bucket full of them, none of them particularly beautiful. He said he was trying to earn money for his education.  It's a pitch I've heard before, in other places. He did have books with him, which I asked to see. They had sentences related to chemistry and biology, in beautiful handwriting.  I asked how old he was, and he said fourteen. I was surprised, he looked about 10.

I bought some of his shells, which I didn't need at all. When I went to pay for our cokes, the restaurant guy said he had no change, I told him to give the $3 change to the boy when he had it. The boy seemed unsure that the money would actually make it to him, so I walked him over to the restaurant guy and hopefully made clear that the change was to go to the boy.

Among the folks hanging out there was another man who spoke decent English, although with a thick accent. He told me he taught people English, and that the restaurant guy was one of his students. The man said he spoke French, English, and Spanish, but not Creole, which surprised me. He told me that he was of Haitian decent but had grown up in the US, and returned to Haiti to meet his father's side of the family. He did want to return to the US, though, if he could save a couple  of thousand dollars. Oddly enough, one of the places he'd lived in the US was Framingham, Ma.

Later, on the beach, my young friend was sitting on a low wall, chanting singsong style in a sweet voice from his notebook. However good a salesman he may have been, he was clearly a diligent student too, I wondered if the singsong memorization was the school's style of teaching, or the boy's own technique. In any case, it added a musical flavor to the beauty of the beach and the sea.

We walked back along the ride the mile or so back to our bizarrely large house, and had a hopefully stomach soothing supper of crackers, cheese, hard boiled eggs, salami, and potato chips. So far, so good, reports Loring an hour later. He has just now fetched us a dessert ration of chocolate. Hopefully in another day he will feel better enough to attempt another meal at our beach side restaurant.

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