Going up the mountains from Les Cayes to Maniche, the view from the back of the truck can be grand or demoralizing, depending on your social location. For this visiting blan, it was wonderful to ride back there in the relative cool of this morning, experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of Les Cayes very much close up, along with the motorcycles carrying parents and kids to work and school, the occasional truck, and the many tap-taps. Moving out of town and into the countryside, you exchange constant horns and exhaust for a more tropically bucolic scene – but you also lose the pavement and find progressively more “rustic” roadways. Still, the air, the vistas, and the 360-degree scenery make bouncing on your bottom worthwhile.
At least that was my experience. Yesterday, our interpreter rode in the back of the truck because we picked her up last. It occurred to me I should have offered her my seat inside, but we had taken off by the time I remembered my manners. It turns out I should have asked Pere Colbert (who was driving) to stop the truck. When I asked our interpreter this morning if she’d like to ride inside, she accepted quickly and gratefully. “The people on the side of the road yelled awful things at me yesterday,” she said.
I wanted to know more, but manners suggested I not press her for details. I wonder what this young Haitian business-management student endured, riding in the back of a pickup while the four blans rode in air-conditioned comfort. In a culture where dignity is everything, her placement there probably evoked some ugly images of subservience. Of course, it was the last thing any of us (including Pere Colbert) would have intended. So, on several levels, it was good for me to ride in the back of the truck today – including the chance to get this video of crossing the river to St. Augustin’s School.
As we took their pictures, we interviewed the kids (at least those in first grade and up) about their families, their favorite subjects, what they do for fun, and my favorite question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The answers to that question seem to be growing in diversity and complexity as the years go on. In past visits, we’ve always met a lot of future nurses, teachers, and physicians, and those are still popular choices. But this time, we also heard from several future agronomists and business owners, two future priests (both female), a future linguist, and quite a few future members of the Haitian national soccer team. These are dreams, of course – and that’s the point. When children can dream, that says good things about what dreams may come.
The teachers are dreaming for St. Augustin’s School, too. We met with the headmaster and teachers after school today. Samuel Sauray, the headmaster, wants nothing less than his school to be the best in the area, bar none. We asked how the teachers explained the school’s improvement in test scores, and they said it has much to do with St. Andrew’s commitment to provide textbooks for kids whose parents can’t afford them. Sure, some political correctness may have been at play, but they have a point that students can’t complete homework without books. Looking down the road, the teachers see a need for teaching assistants in classrooms with 40+ children (I know I’d need an assistant), as well as additional space to accommodate the growing enrollment. From a perspective of scarcity, we can hear that and scoff, “It’s just a dream.” But so was a hot-lunch program a few years ago. And we already have the beginnings of a fund for new construction at St. Augustin’s.
We didn’t promise anything, of course. As the wealthy blans dropping in for a visit, we’re always trying to be partners and not simply patrons; and it’s easy for both sides to slip into historic roles of recipient and benefactor. Instead, we’re trying to dream, and plan, together.