Pastor French

So the Haitians have an interesting sense of humor. For example… there is not much you might see in the ways of entertainment in these parts. No electricity (no TV, video games, computers, etc), no concerts, no plays or local entertainment and no board games. Entertainment basically boils down to swimming in the river, playing soccer, sitting around or playing dominoes. I believe I mentioned this before, but they essentially try to humiliate the loser in dominoes. Humiliation is not seen as rude though, just funny. Its a very interesting dichotomy. So this leads into my story…

The other day at dinner with the boys, Bruce, Deb and Engineer Sadrack (the local Haitian engineering authority), Bruce decided to have a conversation in Creole with Sadrack. Naturally, I have been trying to improve my Creole skillz and was trying to listen in and understand their conversation. Unfortunately I picked up about 1 word because they speak so freaking fast… at least that was how it was until I heard the words “Pastor Francois”. Upon hearing these easily recognizable words, I then interjected, saying “Oh, yes, Pastor French!”, because clearly “Pastor Francois” translates to “Pastor French.” Duh. They both immediately stopped their conversation and looked at me, and then Engineer Sadrack said (with his amazing Haitian accent) “Pastor French!”, then laughed for like 5 minutes. I have since realized that (a) “Pastor Francois” is someones name, so it doesn’t really translate, (b) “Francois” means “of france” or something, in English and (c) that my name is now Pastor French in Haiti. Anyway, I still cease to see the humor in it all, but everytime I see Sadrack now he says “OH! Pastor French!!” and has pretty much the hugest grin on his face. I would also like to note that like 5 other Haitians who hang out around the house have started calling me that without me even mentioning it. Apparently “Pastor French” is the hottest news around here since… I dunno, the radio? Sliced bread? I’m pretty sure there is a saying like that. Speaking of which, I heard this Haitian proverb yesterday: “Kou pou kou, Bondye ri…” which means “Punch for punch. God laughs.” Think about it.

Anyway, the moral is that I still don’t really understand Haitians. And why “Pastor French” is so funny to them. We had Sadrack and Pastor Bernix over for dinner a few nights ago and they went off on the Pastor French thing for like 15 minutes. And then at pauses in the conversation throughout the night Sadrack or the pastor would randomly look over at me, say “Pastor French”, and look at each other and grin. Its amazing. Also, recently, I asked Sadrack how he was and he said “Tre byen”, which means “very good”. He asked me the same and I said “Twa byen”, which means “three good”. Now when I see him I have to deal with Pastor French and Twa Byen at least 8 times per conversation. This is what happens when communications skills are lacking. Limping through conversations becomes much more fun when you say things wrong on purpose and they make fun of you for it. Of course, its only on purpose like 10% of the time…

In other news, we have been surveying for the last week and it has been hot and long and tiring. We finished (hopefully) today and I am glad of it. Engineering work is not always glorious. Also, there is big time thunder outside today. Like the 10-15 second long kind. Hopefully it is not the tropical storm coming to destroy us. Or maybe an earthquake. I also got the chance to drive up into the mountains to Foisson yesterday, which was beautiful. Bruce, Mike and I talked about our futures and watched the glorious scenery. Don’t worry, mine is still to be determined. We also saw a horde of people, hundreds, marching down the street and making a lot of noise. I don’t know what it was though. I heard drums. Anyway, we also passed a dam and water tank that were in bad shape. Bruce said World Vision had constructed it years ago with the hopes to pump water to the tank for irrigation/drinking water. Unfortunately the pump never worked and the $100-200K project was left incomplete. This is an incredibly common occurrence here; its rare when a day goes by and we don’t see another project that was built by some NGO that (a) never got finished or (b) broke and never got fixed. Often its the complex solutions that break down first, because the people here have no experience doing maintenance on the complex systems and have no clue how to fix it when it breaks down, and the NGOs often come, build and leave. Shows how important integration with the community, education and training can be. A lot of what I have been learning here is un-engineering. What I mean is this: design simple. The simpler the better, because you have to think of the end user and maintenance. Unfortunately it is often difficult to find a simple solution to complex problems. That Haiti lesson is free. I might charge for the next one…

Lastly I got the chance to meet a few men with Medical something-or-other International today, who stay down in Port-au-Prince and had quite a bit of insight on the current situation down there. They seem to have a good head on their shoulders and are taking a very holistic approach, integrating health, construction and education in the schools. Apparently there are 13,000 NGOs on the ground in Port-au-Prince right now, driving up prices in the local economy and wreaking general havoc. No wonder nothing is getting done. I still hope to be able to visit Port-au-Prince for a few days to see the mayhem for myself.

That is all for now. Pray for Haiti, all the NGOs, the projects we are working on in Northern Haiti and all those that are hungry and sick, especially in this area around Passe Cateboix. love you all!

Josh, aka Pastor French

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