Why would the CEO of a U.S.-based NGO that works with orphans and vulnerable children in Haiti (and other countries) take Creole lessons? The answer is eezy peezy lemon squeezy... let me tell you.
I first went to Haiti right after the earthquake on January 27, 2010 so that I would be able to speak in an informed way about the issues children faced in the midst of this devastation. There were already hundreds of thousands of orphans living in deplorable conditions in Port-au-Prince and other cities in Haiti. In all my years as an adoption medicine specialist, the children I had evaluated from Haiti were probably the most malnourished and depressed kids I had ever seen. Despite not having been there myself, I felt emotional about Haitian orphans. The crèches (creole for orphanage), as described by the adoptive parents, were dark and stinky. The orphans' care was left to adults who were probably well-meaning, but who were corrupt and dangerous to the health and well-being of the children.
So I went to Haiti with a group of child advocates and witnessed the tragedy first-hand, but I also saw a vital people who said, 'Nou Bouke' (we are tired emotionally), but who were hopeful and in some cases "content" or happy in Creole. I remember thinking that I loved their language and found it whimsical in sound, and warm, loving and childlike in meaning.
I have now been to Haiti many times since the earthquake (I am addicted to the children) and I love the country deeply. From the moment I first arrived, I realized that I could communicate. My college French was disabled, but I had fun trying to use it and I was immediately successful. No one smirked and looked at me with snobbery. People were eager to converse with me and they were patient. They even helped me by locating their Creole words among my French. It was a game. As I have gotten more comfortable, I have worked harder to speak French and some Creole.
A few weeks ago, I was home in New Jersey participating in a local panel discussion. The videographer was a lovely young Haitian woman, Windia Dieudonne (God Given). I loved her smile and easy laugh; we connected immediately. She has that eager and happy disposition I experience every time I meet a Haitian person. She is very open and generous. She read my mind and agreed to teach me Creole almost before I could ask her.
We had our first lesson at a Starbucks on Sunday morning. She had made a handout for me and followed it strictly just like any language teacher would. She went over the alphabet to make certain I could pronounce the sounds perfectly. E was murder -- it sounds like Erh -- and U was miserable, sounding like ouuu... or something like that. Oy Vay, I said in my mind.
It got easier as I relied on her to speak the sounds over and over and she was very patient with me. She praised my speedy pick-up. I was saying full sentences by the end of the hour. What a wonderful moment for me: older and so far from the classroom, yet able to successfully learning something very new and fun.
In Creole, there are no tenses and no spelling that is ever wrong... no restrictions to being able to convey thoughts that would bring me closer to the people I have fallen in love with in such a short time.
I am eager to write a speech in Creole at the opening of the new camp in Kenscoff this summer. This is a partnership with Hole in the Wall Camps (now SeriousFun Children's Network), L'Envol, St. Damien Children's Hospital in Port-au-Prince, and Worldwide Orphans Foundation. We will create a camp for kids with HIV/AIDS and sickle-cell disease. More to come on this.
In the meantime, I will devotedly study Creole and marvel at the sweetness of this new passion and share my ups and downs as I try to get closer to the Haitian people. The use of their words will bring me into their hearts and them into mine. That will make the work sublime.
Dr. Jane Aronson
CEO and Founder, Worldwide Orphans Foundation