Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quisqueya Families

Let's start with the most important things first. Number of mosquito bites currently visible on my arms, while wearing a tshirt:


And it's the dry season.

Now that's out of the way. On to the most fascinating conversation I had with a Haitian parent today.

As I sat by Quisqueya's high school building watching a student vs. teachers/alums/parents basketball scrimmage with Ben, I struck up a conversation with a father. We made small talk and chatted about the high school boy's classwork in history.

Then the conversation turned to travel. I asked the father where he likes to vacation. He replied that he usually traveled to where he had family. He has a cousin who has lived for 15 years in Madrid, a Haitian cousin living in Mexico and married to a Mexican man, and his wife's sisters in Florida.

He said it's really fun to get together with the family, and very "colorful", since the cousins all speak different languages- some kids speak Spanish, some Kreyol, some English, some French. But mostly, all the kids speak all of those languages.


Every member of my close family lives in Texas. There is no second language in my family, much less a third or fourth. How cool and, indeed, "colorful", would that be? And that's typical among my Haitian students- spending summers with an Arabic-speaking cousin in Syria, or a French-speaking aunt in Montreal. So fascinating.

Secondly, the father mentioned that he and his wife's best friends live in the Dominican Republic, just over the border. He told me they are very close, like family, and that that is where he sent his boys after the earthquake. His sons lived with these dear friends in the DR for eight months.

This got me thinking. Imagine for a moment that the city where you live was hit- tomorrow- with a natural disaster that rendered the city incapacitated for the next eight months. Groceries spotty, power and water spotty, maybe no schools open, most of your friends evacuating.

Where would you send your kids? Your spouse? To whom would you trust your children at that time, for many months? Would you go with them? Would just one parent go, and one parent stay, to take care of a business, perhaps? Now, imagine you need to make that decision in the next 24 hours. Really, think about it.

Those are the kinds of decisions made by our Quisqueya parents last January. I have a senior girl who went last January from 11 years in Haitian schools to living in Madrid with an aunt, attending high school-level classes in Spanish. I have over a dozen students who went from an exclusively French schools to Florida, dumped in a giant public Miami school in a language they barely knew. I imagine moving, all of a sudden, to a foreign country by myself, attempting to take high school-level coursework in a language I've only just begun learning, like Spanish, or, Lord help me, Swahili (which I did study every day for 2 years in college, but in which I could now hardly get through an airport, much less a science class).

All this to say, the families here have made very difficult choices, not too far in the recent past. Parents have spent months away from their kids, children have started all over at new schools, only to leave a semester later to return to Haiti, which was entirely different from when they left. I've had stability my whole life- 12 years in one church, one school system, one house- and today my eyes were opened to another degree of respect for the families at Quisqueya.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. We Americans are generally pretty complacent with how easy we have it. Expecting our government to take care of us, we barely consider having any plans for disaster. What a resilient people most Haitians are.



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