Imagine being on a Stairmaster while playing charades, for 4 hours. This is a rough equivalent of my first day hiking.
I recently went on a four day trip with a case manager named Lamartin. Lamartin is responsible for visiting his members once every week. All of these members, nearly 50, live in the mountainous region called Boukan-Kare. At these visits he talks with members about their business, their assets CLM has provided, sanitation, food, the progress of their new house, and other topics. Four days might seem excessive for the 40-odd members we reach Sun-Wed. But when the members are scattered amidst Haitian mountains, and when so many of the members live at the highest point on their respective mountain, four days hardly cuts it.
While reading Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains I have come to appreciate the Haitian proverb from which the book takes its name. “Deye Mon Geyen Mon”- Beyond mountains, there are more mountains- meaning Haiti is a complex land and country. Lamartin and I would begin ascending a hill and I would estimate the trip to the top would take 15 minutes. When I’d gotten to the point I saw earlier, more of the mountain appeared that I did not see before. This repeated, somewhat bitterly, as my clothes filled with sweat and my legs ached.
The time I spent hiking is a lot to summarize. It was beautiful, it was difficult. The journey to our house in the mountains took about four hours. By the end of the second hour I was no longer interested in taking pictures or looking anywhere but 3 feet in front of me on the 60 degree incline. By the end of the third hour I was thinking about Matthew 8 when the disciples at sea crying out to Jesus during a storm. I couldn’t remember whether they said, “Lord, we are perishing” or “Lord, we are expiring” and I was having a hard time deciding which word best suited my circumstance. By the end of the journey I had drunk 4.5 liters of water.
To add to all of this, that is, the most intense hike I’ve ever been on, I’m trying to learn Kreyol by pestering Lamartin with questions the entire trip. Steve had planned it this way, knowing that Lamartin didn’t speak any English. Four days is a perfect amount of time. As the days pass, and the hikes continue, I tend to have less mental energy to wrestle out the meaning of a word or phrase with Lamartin, he has less patience with my nonunderstanding, I begin to speak less, and he begins to use vocabulary he knows I can understand. I also hadn’t realized the tendency to think of someone as less intelligent when they can’t speak a language well, as could read on Lamartin’s face when I said for the countless time, “M pa konpronn” – I don’t understand.
Lamartin also discussed the weekly educational topic with the members. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this week’s topic was health. I can make out words like ‘kaka,’ ‘cholera,’ among others. I usually know Lamartin is speaking about the distance between defecating areas and eating areas when the audience begins to giggle. And while it is funny to talk about, it’s quite important. Things like washing your hands, filtering your water, these practices help keep people healthy.
I’m excited to go on the next hike; hopefully I will understand more of what is said.