Creole…my best friend, my arch enemy

We have to do this.  We have to learn Creole, and we want to.  Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to communicate or connect and being stuck exchanging shallow pleasantries.  Ask any team member that has come here, the desire to communicate, to hear and be heard, is overwhelming.

This journey to speak Haitian Creole began in 2015 with French lessons.  Then later in 2015, Skype Creole lessons weekly for months.  We have used Apps, computer programs and constantly practice with friends.  Haitian friends teach us one word at a time, correcting our pronunciation and usage.   A dear friend comes every Monday just to help me really absorb the language and we work for 2 hours.  Everyone in our family is in a different place in creole mastery.  Anna is the most natural speaker.  Rachael has the biggest vocab.  Lydia can play with Haitian kids but will rarely speak Creole to adults.  Kris has worked very hard and uses index cards to study but keeps a translator near so he can continue to function.  Levi can manage small conversations and has taken lessons from Haitian friends as well.

Those are the basics of our Creole journey but they don’t tell the story of what it is like to live in a culture where every interaction is a challenge.  It does not begin to explain how many times we have embarrassed ourselves, been laughed at, been scared or just confused.  If I could count the amount of times I have said “yes” in conversations because I just had NO IDEA what was said and I was too embarrassed to ask again.  If I could count the number of times I have tried so hard to say something and then received that same empty “yes” I so often give.  If I could count the amount of times I have picked up 2 words out of the sentence spoken and then tried to connect the dots between the fish and the mountain, the 2 words I understood.  I have unintentionally agreed to be a God Mother and unintentionally agreed to buy 1000’s of pencils and pens for a school.  At times I get a little overly confident and begin rattling off in creole only to have the responding person begin speaking rapidly.  How sad it is to watch their face fall when they realize how lost I am.  If you heard us speaking you might falsely believe we have this creole thing in the bag.  Smoke and mirrors friends.

Because all people should have the opportunity to hear the stories of our language foibles…and because it is the Christmas season, I give you the gift of laughter, at my expense.  So here is our Christmas “card”, photos and all.

Story #1
I was trying to take the picture of a group of sweet kids that came to visit us everyday after school.  As I was taking their picture I thought I said in Creole, “Smile!” which is souri.  Instead, I said kouri, which is, “run!”

Story #2 – TMI warning
Intestinal problems are a hobby here, especially in the first 6 months.  During that time, we spoke regularly to our close friends about how we were feeling.   One day a dear Haitian friends asked me how we were as he knew we had been sick so often.  Earlier that week I had leaned a new word, “reg.” which I understood to mean diarrhea.  I am embarrassed to admit how often we speak of this, but trust me this will be worth it.  So in an effort to communicate to Elimage what we were dealing with I said, “Our whole family has reg.  Kris has reg, all the kids and I have reg”.  In my mind I was telling my friend the gravity of the situation, i was about to put our entire family on antibiotics.  Little did I know I was communicating something far stranger.  It turns out that “reg” actually means female menstruation.  Elimage looked at me with an odd grimace and I took note but did not question it.  I continued to use that word for the next 6 months before someone informed me.  I’m blushing just telling you.

Story #3
My friend, Imakila, had defended another friend of ours whose husband was hitting her.  She had held the girls husband at bay and protected our friend.  The next day after I tended to the bruises of my crying friend I thought about how much I appreciated Imakila and her courage.  She didn’t sit back or say it wasn’t her problem.  She put herself in harms way and I loved her for it.  I was just so full of emotion and and admiration when I saw her later that day.  Although my creole was horrible, I knew I needed to talk to her and encourage her.   I looked at her and with emotion said, “You are a good woman, a good strong woman.  Good friend, strong friend. Thank you.”  I walked away from her feeling so proud of all my encouragement until I mentally translated how cave-man my encouragement had been.  She is still my friend and it is a tribute to her sense of humor and loyalty.

Story #4
One morning I was up trying to start school with Levi and I  kept having to put it on pause to help with community medical needs.  I did wound care and then helped two elderly gentlemen deal with some varying heath issues.  As they were leaving, our friend Michel arrived.  He has prostate problems and we had spent days in the previous month driving him from Hospital to Hospital trying to find him care.  So, in the absence of a translator, I assumed he was here because he was in pain and needed medical care.  We had told him to return if his pain recurred.  I asked him if he was in pain and needed care?  He pointed briefly to his back.  I brought him in and got him water.  He drank it quickly and I got him another.   After talking with him a bit, I put him on a motorcycle taxi and sent him off to the hospital.  As he was pulling away, the moto driver told me that Michel was hungry.  I said we would send food to his house to be there when he returned.  As I turned to walk away, I realized that I was not sure that Michel had told me clearly that he needed medical care.  The only thing he said clearly was that he was hungry.  Yes, I think I may have sent our sweet friend to the hospital because he was hungry.  Lord have mercy.  We did feed him after.

Living in a culture where you do not fluently speak the language has been a terrifying, confusing, exhausting and hysterical adventure.  Some days after trying to speak Creole all day, my brain is so tired  I CANNOT translate one more word.  I think in 2 languages now and rarely speak English or Creole alone.  I have fused them into a mess that neither Haitians or Americans can completely understand.  I am working on it.  I hope you enjoyed our funny language mishaps more than I did fumbling through them.

So Merry, Merry to you my friends!  Hope this brought a smile to your face.

One thought on “Creole…my best friend, my arch enemy

  1. Rachael, I so enjoy your writing and understand your pain! At work we often refer to Spanglish or have the ladies translate things into ‘Mexican’ as formal Spanish would be understood by few of our field employees. I understand some of the language – I knew more when I was continually with the men, but little now that I am in the office. I have found that knowing a few key words has been helpful – especially if they are not nice ones… Once a guy referred to me as a brouha and was surprised when I told him not to call me a witch… he and many others were more careful of what they said as I let him know I understood more than he realized. Another time I heard a group of men using an unflattering term (no one will still tell me what the literal translation is) for a woman trying to teach them English and I was able to let them know they were not to be inappropriate… Please know that your friends understand your heart and your sense of humor! I am praying for enlightenment and knowledge for you!  Have a blessed day! Alice “Efficiency is intelligent laziness”. Adam at Home

    From: If you could do anything… To: Sent: Wednesday, December 27, 2017 5:04 PM Subject: [New post] Creole…my best friend, my arch enemy #yiv5731183365 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5731183365 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5731183365 a.yiv5731183365primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5731183365 a.yiv5731183365primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5731183365 a.yiv5731183365primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5731183365 a.yiv5731183365primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5731183365 | rcoleman1975 posted: “We have to do this.  We have to learn Creole, and we want to.  Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to communicate or connect and being stuck exchanging shallow pleasantries.  Ask any team member that has come here, the desire to communicate, to hea” | |

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