Triple “A”: Art, Apology, and Anniversary


A few updates on this travel day.  (Yes, hopefully I’ll be in Port-au-Prince by Saturday evening.)  Be sure to keep reading, as I’ll share some new art at the end.

First, I want to apologize for not reading anyone’s blog yesterday.   Leaving a house for several months and traveling internationally with a dog require a good bit of preparation.  Given this, I’ve been insanely busy over the last couple of days, so please forgive this lapse.  Actually, reading your posts is a favorite activity of mine, so I promise to get back to regular reading early next week.

Second–yesterday, it was a month since I was Freshly Pressed, so since I’ll be traveling today, I thought you might enjoy looking at that post.  I know it’s not been that long, but so many of you have only begun reading my blog in the last 2 or 3 weeks, a decent number may not have seen it yet.  If you haven’t read “A Tale of Miserable Failure: Moanings of a Second Language Learner”–about my struggle to learn French–click here.

In the event that you have read that piece, I’ll also include here a few pieces of art, you might enjoy.  These include a number of color pencil drawings I did a decade or so ago:

I will try to upload more art before I leave the US and make it available between now and my arrival in Port-au-Prince.  No guarantees, but I will try!

Luxuries Most-Missed in Haiti: an Inventory


Item #2—(Without a doubt)—bandwidth—

First a bit of context—

Most of you reading this post will do so using a high-speed internet connection, the speed of which exceeds the old dial-up connection by hundreds of times.  Do most of you even remember how slow dial-up was?  Yes, I know, when you think “dial-up,” you think dinosaur, not so much from the last decade, but from the remote history of the previous century.  (Does anyone even use dial-up any more?)

More context—

I have given up my career teaching writing to live on island with the infrastructure of 19th-Century London, given it up, hoping to make meaning from the work of ACTUAL writing, rather than the work of merely teaching writing.  Given this, the tools of the trade tend to matter.  At least they matter to me.

Herein lies my problem—namely that I’m blogging, and blogging requires bandwidth—or, at the very least, the option of up-loading text and images at a reasonably decent speed—and by “decent” I mean—able to post 1000 words and one photo in not more than 8 hours. 

(Let me be perfectly clear—I’m not talking about writing time—I’m referring to the time it takes to upload a word document and a photo or two—something that from our home in Kentucky I can do in a matter of seconds—copy, paste, save, upload (image), save, post—not a complicated or time-consuming process—5 minutes max, if literally everything imaginable goes wrong.)

Not so in Port-au-Prince—

Not so by a long shot—

For example—

One day over a month ago, I decide to change my blog’s theme (big mistake), which ultimately involves uploading a new header image (even bigger mistake). 

The process begins around 9 in the morning.  I have been awake for several hours—since 5, actually.  I’ve had my French lesson, which is challenging and something I sometimes even hate. (See “A Tale of Miserable Failure: Moanings of a Second Language Learner” to fully appreciate my struggles with the language.)  I have been to the gym—

I am eager to get started but remember that posting to my blog the day before and the day before had not gone well—had taken considerable time—

Here’s how it all goes down—

9:15 am: I make myself a cup of coffee.  I need to be fully fortified.  Caffeine should do the trick.

9:21am: I position myself on the corner of the couch, open laptop.

9:23 am: Click the Internet Explorer icon on my desktop and wait for my Yahoo home page to load.

9:26am: Still waiting.

9:27am: Text begins appearing on the screen.

9:30am: Text still loading.

9:33am: The first image—a photo of Michelle Obama—begins appearing.

9:35 am: More photos———

9:38am: With Yahoo fully loaded, I decide to forego checking email.  (It might take too long.) 

9:39am: Sigh—click “WordPress Dashboard” on Favorites drop down menu.

9:43am: Dashboard still loading.

9:50am: I decide against checking stats.  (It might take too long.)

9:51am: Sigh—click “Appearance.”—Sigh—Click “Theme.”

Fast forward————-

10:01am: First page of themes fully loaded.

(You see where this is going)

Fast forward——————-

Around 6 in the evening Sara comes home. 

I am not in the best of moods.  I am not welcoming.  I am not gracious when asked how my day has been. 

I share.

Apparently, I share too much.

I share too vigorously.

I use a few too many expletives.

“You wanna know how my day has been?”  The rhetorical question is Sara’s first clue—things may not have gone well.

“I’ll tell you how my day has been.”  Sara takes a step back.  I have that look in my eye.

“I have just spent 8 hours pounding my f—ing head against a f—ing virtual wall.  And I’ve accomplished  nothing.   Absolutely.  Nothing.”

“Nothing?”  Now Sara has the look—duck and cover—duck and cover!

“Nothing—a big, fat, mind-numbing NOTHING!”

“In that case, I think I’ll get something to eat.”  Sara leaves the guest room, where I am hovering as close to the router as humanly possible without morphing into router myself.  I’m hoping it might increase my chances.  Improve my reception. 

I’m hoping it will keep me sane and Sara able to live with me, not living with enough bandwidth.

Fast forward several weeks—————–

Sara shares the other morning, once we’ve decided to schedule my return to Haiti, “I’ve had Steve from IT working on our internet connectivity.”

I’m thinking—

Wise woman.

Maybe this means it will only take half a day, a mere 4 hours to post 1000 words and one photo.

I’ll keep you posted—

I hope.

Babel-ed by it All: a Retrospective


(Another post from Vietnam as part of my holiday retrospective.  The piece below, written in the summer of 2009, describes my cultural and linguistic confusion soon after arriving in Saigon.)

I haven’t posted in over a week—not because I have nothing to say—but because I have too much.  I’m overwhelmed with stimuli.  Each time I try to write what comes out sounds silly or clichéd.  I’ve drafted but gotten nowhere—several starts.  Perhaps, I’ll post the pieces—these nudges toward nothing I can name.  I’d also like to post a few of the photos I’ve taken—several of Saigon—many of my trip South to volunteer with a building project for the poor–a good hour and a half drive into the country from Rach Gia.  It seems I’m struck most by the faces of children—the eyes of cows and water buffalo grazing.

children playing in sand at volunteer build site

the children's existing housing

squat toilet at build site--common in Southeast Asia

water buffalo grazing in rice patties

We carried bricks from where we parked, to the build site—balancing on narrow paths through the rice patties—shouldering heavy sacks—so god-awful hot we sauna-ed even in the shade.

rice patties at build site

carrying bags of bricks through rice patties to build site

 Sara seems stressed—works ridiculous hours—well into evening—early mornings—weekends.  I don’t see how she does it all—so many people, places, programs—details out the ass—the bulging bigness of it all.  It’s clear why she rarely shares with friends or family what she does.  You have to live it to understand, to appreciate the enormity of the task.

Like Sara, I have trouble pronouncing people’s names—so many sound the same to me–probably because my ear is unaccustomed to the tones—so many combinations of vowels—the words for watermelon and several other fruits differing only in the dipping, the sinking of the sound—or rising at the end.  I used to think I had an ear for languages but not anymore.  I can do European sounds—but the tones of Asia—it’s like I’m deaf to them—can’t hold them in my head.  I’m muted by a Babel I can’t untangle for the life of me.

I know next to nothing about Vietnam.  Only that I am pleased to be here—curious, eager to learn more, saddened by my own ignorance of the place.  I do know, though, that I feel a stirring in me, a creative impulse to make—what?  I don’t yet know—only aware that it’s there, nosing again my consciousness, like a cat marking territory, putting down its scent.

And it rains here every day this time of year, sunny in the morning with clouds thickening toward afternoon—the air heavy even in the early hours—first hints of light just after five, full sun by six.  It’s just now begun to drizzle again, the rainy season soon a downpour. 

I try to go out in the mornings when it’s still dry, before the heat intensifies, boils over into wet, one that doesn’t help to tame humidity.  It sucks all oxygen from the air well into evening, when I hear our landlady pull the garage door down, signaling a close of shop—a metal rattle rumbling our small stack of flats.

A Tale of Miserable Failure: moanings of a second language learner


So—I’m trying to learn French.  I’m not good at it.  In fact, I think I hate it!

Don’t tell my teacher—it might cause her to reassess her positive opinion of me.  She thinks I’m a “good” student.

Now, I don’t know what kind of pathetic linguistic losers she’s used to teaching—but if I’m a “good” student, it doesn’t bode well for the language acquisition skills of these other wanna-be-French-speaking-idiots she’s teaching here in Haiti.

The fact of the matter is I’m getting older. 

I can almost watch it happening.  I hover slightly over-head, a stunning display of aging unfolds below, a slightly over-weight woman morphing before my very eyes.  What’s that she’s saying?

Unfortunately I think age is interfering with language acquisition.

I watch myself struggle with the words.  From above I observe—the woman has gotten dumber—way, way dumber.  She’s nearly mute.  She mumbles. 

It’s sad, really.

It’s not that I was ever an intellectual heavy weight.  I’ve never had the brainy brilliance of my sister Lynn, for example.  She’ll probably never dumb down with age.

But at one time—mind you this was a good 25 years ago—I was decent with languages.  I studied German and Spanish—and was able to get along—limpingly—but at least I held my own, made myself understood, made out what native speakers were saying to me.  Yes, I asked them to speak more slowly, to repeat themselves—but eventually I understood.

Not so anymore!

In light of this language lapse, I’ve begun reading a book I think might jump start a little linguistic hope in this old tongue of mine.  Called Dreaming in Hindi, this book by Katherine Russell Rich, is about the year she “spent living in India, learning to speak another language.”   Rich addresses the “transformative power of language,” its ability to “tug you out of one world and land you in the center of another” (Prologue).

So far, studying French has landed me flat on my linguistic ass right here in the middle of Haiti, not the most romantic of language learning destinations.  Surprisingly, however, this little island in the center of the Caribbean Sea has romanced me—welcomed me with arms wide open—even as I’ve stumbled over every sound, struggling to make myself understood in either Creole or French.

The lesson to be learned is this—

Despite an earthquake that left most of Port-au-Prince in ruins, despite cholera that continues to kill folks by the thousands, despite election fraud that in the last week has brought the country to the brink of yet another unnecessary disaster, the Haitian people soldier on—

—keep trying.

So—I’ll keep trying too—

Language learning be damned!