7 May 2014

On Sights, Sounds and Schools

Hanging out on this balcony has become one of my favourite things to do when I'm not busy.

It is my second full day in Haiti and I am currently winding down after what has been a relatively long day. People wake up so early here. With every morning so far, the sun has hardly risen (at around 6.15am) before I hear the routine "starting sounds": roosters crowing, cooks, drivers and cleaners talking amongst themselves in loud Creole, clattering pots and pans, dogs barking and cats miaowing. It's more intriguing than it is disruptive. Ultimately, I'm enjoying the sights of palm trees and blue skies and a tiered terrain when I open my eyes in the morning and the largely unfamiliar sounds of people, animals and things when I climb out of bed - all miles away from the grey skies and stringent English of home.

After yesterday's brief tour of the campus that I will be staying on for the next four weeks (which consists of accommodation houses, a Methodist church, nursery, primary and secondary schools and various related office buildings), I was invited by the school's headmistress to accompany a Year 12 class on their school trip to the power station of the island's main energy provider, E POWER (think British Gas or EDF). Super excited to get involved so early into my trip, I made my way over to the school office - it's a minute's walk from our front porch, past a large playground and quaint outdoor library for the younger kids - to catch the school bus. Every morning at around 8am, the entire school congregates in the playground to sing the national anthem. There's something about young children singing confidently and tunefully that is just so moving; despite not quite catching all of the French words that make up the song, I was enchanted nonetheless.

Laughs with this Year 12 class (16-17 years). "Une, deux, IPHONE POWER!"

One of the major differences that became apparent to me between schools here in Haiti and those in England (and indeed the majority of the Western world) is the real openness of the people. What school in London would allow a stranger (essentially) to waltz in to its school grounds unaccompanied and engage with young schoolchildren, let alone invite said stranger on a school trip the very next day? This, in my opinion, is both a marvellous and a terrifying thing. Marvellous in that what is being recognised in me by the staff (I think - I hope) is a genuine willingness to learn and engage and immerse myself in a totally new culture with nothing but positive intentions. They have already embraced me as one of them, and I am so grateful to them for that. But it is also terrifying, however, in that there may be others who waltz past similar enchanting playgrounds but without similar positive intentions. One need only look to the heartbreaking events unfolding in Nigeria at the moment to understand the only problem with a culture that often welcomes rather than repels strangers and implements its safeguarding protocols (or lack thereof) to reflect this: sometimes it is hatred, and not love, that lies in the heart of a stranger.

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