August 5 2014: Madi: Day three
I was able to order my breakfast in Kreyol. I’m happy. I sat alone thinking about questions for my interview tomorrow.
I was back in my room working on preliminary exam stuff, when I heard a knock on the door. It was a thin elderly Haitian woman, in a full out french maid outfit, except she wore no shoes. She said something really quick in Kreyol, and I grabbed my stuff and said, “Mwen pral ale mache a (I will go to the Market),” pointing in its direction.
Today, I noticed a lot more children were out and about. Some of them with parents, others not. Education in Haiti is an expense that most people cannot afford. Many children sat working with parents selling mangoes, bananas and such.
The market was packed this morning with people of many shades. The asian man from yesterday was there, except he brought along his young son and wife.
This market is clean. I mean extremely clean. The contrast with the rest of Petionville is stunning. Everything is neatly placed on the shelf, bin, rack, just like you would see in the US.
In a moment of reflexivity, I notice that I feel all too comfortable in the market. They’ve got just about everything that’d I would buy at home. I instinctively head to the bagged greens and pick up my greens, with the choice between regular and organic. I was even able to find some “eco-friendly” bottled water by deciphering what I could on the French label. “La bouteille Volvic utilize use resource renouvelable” it read. I then almost automatically seek out the non-dairy milks, of which they have every kind, from soy to almond. As if guilt crept up behind me, I put down the almond milk and go for the soy (even though I don’t normally drink soy milk and always go for the almond). I feel as though I need to be less comfortable. I feel as though I have it too easy. I get to shop in this neat, clean, safe, patrolled by shotgun carrying guards SUPER market while the majority of Haitian people buy their food from the side of the road.
This market really is for people of a certain socio-economic status. There are black Haitians shopping, but they are clearly the privileged ones. Two young black Haitian boys played on tablets as their parents journeyed through the aisles. A police officer with a Canadian flag pin placed on his shoulder, wearing a grey shirt and dark blue pants, browsed the bread aisle for just the right one. Two latina women speaking spanish grab a bag of dried chickpeas off of the shelf next to me. With everything I need for the day in my blue hand-basket I head to checkout with a cloud of guilt following close behind. Two men, one black and one Latin, stand behind the woman cashier, fiddling with a credit card reader. I glance around as I place my groceries on the belt. Every one of the cashiers is a black Haitian woman, while all of the baggers are black Haitian men. Perched like Judges overlooking the cashiers, were three customer service reps, all Latino. I’m beginning to think that this supermarket, in Haiti, is owned by Dominicans.
Back at the hotel, I wave to the guard to let me in. He comes to the door. “Koman ou rele (What is your name)?” he asks. Straining a little bit, I respond, “Mwen rele Michael.” He extends his hand and says his name too quickly for me to understand. He then says in Haitain, “You speak a little bit of Kreyol.” “Wi,” I respond laconically. I try hard to push out words that mean, “Very pleased to meet you.” I knew I didn’t get it right, but he understands. I was thankful that he decided to speak to me because it turned out to be a warmup, as I felt encouraged to speak to the young black Male sitting in the lobby that checked me in a couple of days ago. I had been rehearsing just what to say to him in Kreyol for the past day or so.
He is somewhat short, and slim, like most of the men that I’ve seen. It reminds me of what Charles Tilly says about stature as a sign of inequality. Less nutrition, smaller body/stature. “Ou renmen tande mizik Ameriken (You like to listen to American music)?” I ask. He responds in English, “I do. Very much.” “ M’ te tande ou tande John Legend (I heard you listening to John Legend),” I respond. “I love it very much. His music is so soft. I am downloading all of these songs to my phone right now,” he says with a smile. It is true. He really does love that song, All of me, I’ve heard it about 10 times since I’ve been here at this B and B. Even cover artist renditions! We talk for a bit about where we are respectively from, what we both study, our age (both 23), etc. Then after a pause, he asks me about meditation, and if they teach us meditation in sociology. I was a bit confused as to why he would ask that, but I said no they don’t. But he went on to talk about how he was reading about meditation on the internet from some French teachers I’d never heard of. He said it made him calm when he tried it. I told him that I was a meditator and that I started when I was 17. I said it was good for the mind, body, and spirit. It keeps you calm, and able to respond to your anger in a better way (of course if you practice regularly). He said he wants to learn more. I grabbed a blue post-it note from the counter and wrote down the name of one of my first (distant) Buddhist teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, and told him to check out some of his videos on youtube.
We truly do live in a connected world. I’m amazed by the way that culture diffuses around the globe. I’ve been learning about his culture from afar. He’s been learning my language and culture from afar too, by listening to John Legend, Whitney Houston and others, while I’ve been listening to Haitian artists like Emeline Michel, Bethova Obas, and Boukman Eksperyans. We’ve both found a way to connect with an ancient buddhist meditation practice that could be thought of as foreign to us both. We were able to bond over this. “Thanks for talking with me,” I said and headed up to my room to write my notes for the morning, and study for my prelim exams.
I’ve spent most of the day lounging about, thinking about my interview tomorrow with one of the Co-Presidents of a locally-based NGO focused on the Haitian environment. According to their website, it is a local 501 c NGO created by “young local professionals, and Haitians businessmen who want to get involved in development and future of our country. We want to live in a better country, a greener and better Haiti tomorrow.” Their website is very nice, and they seem to have a well organized organization. Objectives: “Protect the environment. Revitalize the regional economy. Educate the population about the need to preserve these vital natural resources. Ensure the preservation of Seguin Park and other natural areas within Haiti. Develop ecotourism initiatives that sustain Haiti’s parks without further damage.” Tomorrow, I should have a very interesting conversation with the Co-President of the NGO. Their objectives are multi-faceted, which is extremely important when environmental deterioration is directly linked to poverty like it is in Haiti, unlike other places around the world, where industry has taken a toll on the environs. They seek to protect the environment, but also ensure the regional economy. They’ve also placed focus on education. Surprising, no where on the website, do they address issues of climate change, so this is something that I’ll have to ask about. Generally speaking, as evidenced by the lack of presence at the last global climate change negotiations (COP 19) in Poland, it seems that Haitian officials have little interest in climate change. I’m also interested in asking about the specific challenges that might be unique to Haiti when it comes to socio-ecological issues, as well as whether or not there is a strong presence of local Haiti-based groups working on environmental issues (human health as related to environment, biodiversity loss, climate change, deforestation, pollution, etc.).