Sunday, March 22, 2009

Practicing Creole

For all the time I've lived in Haiti, I should be a better speaker of Haitian Creole. But my Creole is broken at best.

I was able to communicate with my son Luke, who was three-years-old when we spent seven months in Haiti awaiting the finalization of his adoption. And I am able to talk some with 30-year-old Heurese, who is currently living with us. I seem to be able to make myself understood to her, but it often takes me awhile to fully comprehend what she is saying. I say, "Mwen pa comprend" a lot.

I think Heurese understands and speaks more English then we realize. Between my limited Creole and John's fluent Creole, she isn't having to speak as much English as she would with most American families.

To our shame, Luke remembers none of his Creole; he can't even pronounce the words properly. I am hoping that with Heurese here, he will pick up a little of his native language.

Speaking of Heurese, John conducted an interview with her that is posted on his blog. It's very interesting and tells a lot about what life is like for poor Haitians.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Difficulty of Getting a Haitian Passport

A Haitian passport can be very difficult to procure. We have a patient, 16-year-old Ronald, who has been accepted for heart surgery in the United States. Ronald is very sick and getting sicker each day.

Ronald was accepted by the hospital two months ago. His American advocate hears various excuses when she attempts to get his passport in Port-au-Prince. Or she is told to come back another day and the passport will be ready, and then it isn't. We have heard that Haiti is out of the blue books that are used to make the passports.

When we were waiting in Haiti for our son's adoption papers--and at least this wasn't a matter of life and death--one of the things we needed was a particular agency's stamp. For weeks we were told that the stamp was broken and a new one was on order from Germany.

Excuses like "we are out of blue books" or "the stamp is coming from Germany" are hard to believe. It's difficult to know whether we're dealing with bureaucratic incompetence or bureaucratic lying.

In Haiti, we've noticed a lack of urgency about situations that are considered crises in the United States (like children dying). Perhaps this is because it happens too often.

We hope Ronald gets his passport soon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Katina is Patient #137

Hurray! Thirteen-year-old Katina has been accepted by a medical center in Ohio. This will be her second trip to the United States. Katina came to Peoria in 2002 and had her mitral valve repaired. Now this valve needs to be replaced.

Haitian Hearts has been monitoring Katina in Haiti for the past seven years. We know her particularly well because she spent eight months in Peoria when she was here in 2002. She is a sweet girl from a loving family who has been attending school regularly. The children and families from St. Thomas the Apostle Grade School in Peoria Heights helped financially support Katina's education and pay for other necessities.

Katina already has her Haitian passport so as soon as the paperwork from the United States goes to the U.S. consulate in Port-au-Prince and she is granted a visa, she will travel to Ohio. We are thrilled that she is getting this opportunity to have her heart fixed for good!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Haitian Creole

There were Haitians in the house last night--five of them. I loved hearing their laughter and their Creole; it was like a party. Haitian Creole (or Kreyol) is one of two official languages in Haiti, the other being French. Not everyone in Haiti speaks French but everybody speaks Creole.

I remember reading a fascinating account of how these Creole languages evolve. Here's what I remember as it applies to Haiti. When slaves were brought from West and Central Africa, they spoke different tribal languages. Not only could they not initially understand the French, they often couldn't communicate with each other.

The slaves began learning a rudimentary French so that they could understand the slave masters and talk with each other. The first version of this language was called pidgin; it was no one's native language. The next generation of speakers makes this language their own and it develops into a more sophisticated creole language. In the case of Haiti, much of the vocabulary comes from French while the grammar more closely follows the African languages. As a written language, the words in Haitian Creole are spelled phonetically. For example, "yes" which is written "oui" in French is written "wi" in Creole. Makes more sense, don't you think?

We had a houseful of Haitians because three young people came to visit Heurese and after a few months in the United States, I know she enjoyed hearing Creole spoken by Haitians. The youngest Haitian, our son Luke, slept right through it

Monday, March 02, 2009

Heurese in Peoria

One of our most recent Haitian Hearts patients, Heurese, is continuing her recuperation from surgery with us. As you can see in the above picture, she looks great and hasn't felt so good in a long time. It's amazing what a difference a functioning heart valve makes!

Heurese is a lovely, soft-spoken woman who is a pleasure to be around. She understands a lot of English. I am trying to communicate with her in my broken Haitian Creole, and we're pleased that Luke will hear his native language.

Heurese is a wonderful addition to our home.