Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Learning is the brain dancing in rhythm with the nested communities around you

I begin to write about my teaching of the midwives here in Haiti and find the right place to begin is not with their form of education but with my own; the education I was given regarding Haiti.  I want to write about this but to be at least a little honest have to begin with myself.

When I was first introduced to Haiti, no one used the word Haiti. It did not exist.  They said Christopher Columbus discovered the "new world"on an island named Santa Damingo.  No one ever mentioned the world Haiti or the people who were living there. He was a good man in my education who bravely set sail and because of him we are Americans. That was all there was until Junior High World Cultures. My teacher was a former CIA employee.  I had no idea what the CIA was or what he had done but we traveled the globe learning of their work.  He was very excited and I carefully took notes on what leaders were overthrown and when and how the CIA went about doing these amazing things.  Perhaps Haiti was one of these victories but after some time they all blurred together in my notebook.  This was the same junior high that singled out and made fun of Catholic students when John Kennedy ran for president.   After the making fun of Catholics scene, I doubted much of what they said but had nothing concrete to replace it with.  I left junior high with an uneasy feeling about those stories. I could have asked my mother but did not.  I was over whelmed with having to go to school in town, instead of the country, and was trying to find my way in a social system for which I had no compass.  When I got off the bus, I ran to the creek and buried my face in the ground and cried but I was never knew exactly why.  At school some kids teased the special education kids who served the food in the cafeteria line and I was trying to get my nerve up to say something mean back to them.  It was all too much- the special education kids, the rules, the CIA killing other people's leaders, the ultra Christian principal.  In ninth grade my English teacher became a mentor and told me to keep a journal and I began to write.  I still ran to the creek every day but I also wrote. She, like many teachers, saved my life.

In high school history classes, I learned to speak out. I was uneducated and foolish but I was not quiet. I did my best to speak out against the wars in southeast Asia.  The teachers made fun of me but by then I did not care at all what anyone thought of me.  I was wondering why someone could not tell me about their actual cultue instead of what my country was doing to undo their culture.  It was 1966. Haiti's textile industry had already been ruined by the exportation of our second hand clothes which they called Kennedy's because it was under his presidency the US started sending them to Haiti.  Most clothes shops in Haiti sell second hand clothes from the United States.

I have few memories of Haiti in the next decade of my life.  College campuses were focused on Vietnam, without, in my case, a intellectual understanding of how this policy was being played out wordwide. I did not understand that the increased wealth of middle class Americans was coming with a price for people all over the world; for the people of Haiti.

In time I finished school and became a HeadStart Director in Lambertvile, New Jersey.  One day a little girl named Rosa was in the house area going on and on about the Hatiens.  "You better get on back from where you came. We don't need any Hatiens around here."  I was so ignorant for a second I thought it was someone's name.  I stared to ask who the Hatiens were and then realized it was people from Haiti.  In retrospect I suspect she was Hatien and she was mimicking what people said to her family.  I was busy and made no effort to understand the immigrant issue of the community I was suppose to be serving.   If Hatiens were coming because their country was dangerous I simply gave the children a name tag, a cubby and a toothbrush and brought them in to the classroom with joy but never once asked why.

My formal education, regarding Haiti's history and culture began, like tit did for so many people with the earthquake and subsequent trips to Haiti.  I read every book I can find and last night sat and discussed history for hours with my Hatien house mates.

I tell the midwifery students you must be willing to learn your whole life long. "Look at me I say. I am old and am just now learning about your country. "

I look at my new friends when spaghetti came to Haiti.  I offer that they do not grow wheat so it was not always here.  They say, "Ah, Sarah we will ask the old people and try to answer the question."  I think about my CIA teacher and somehow wonder if it did come the marines or the CIA.  There is always more to learn. I am keen to learn about spaghetti, my own country's history and the politics of hunger.  I tell my students learning is like dancing - only its in your brain. They laugh and ask me to dance withe them instead.

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