Stephanie Fong, Zachary Fazio, Landis Masnor, and Renee Meschi are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Summer Internship Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experience.
This post is from Landis Masnor who is interning with CLM, a microfinancing organization aimed at eradicating extreme poverity in Haiti.
I find myself looking for the ‘real’ Haiti, the rural culture, the folk songs and country folk all while blocking out the pop culture, American, or otherwise 1st world influences. I also wish that I’d read an essay in the Soc 3 text Postcolonialisms titled “What is Creole-ness” which I believe is about exactly that.
Blocking these things out becomes difficult when, say, a case manager I work with plays awful meaningless pop music on his cellphone all the time. Difficult becomes annoying when he does this while I try to sleep. When we go into the mountains, five men sleep in one stone room sharing mats and blankets. Everything is quite resonate in such close quarters. And it appears he only has 3 songs on his phone.
One of them, I can tell, is by Eminem and it seems new. Another goes, “Shorty is like a record stuck in my head, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah.” It’s ironic, I know. And the final song is in Spanish. So Tuesday night I don’t get a lot of sleep. Partly because of Radyo (a personal nickname I find somewhat satisfying) and because we’ve rigged and actual radio to work inside the stone room. Around 3 AM Lamartin decides that he would like to take advantage of the new radio. I think it helps him sleep. Not surprisingly, it has a different effect on me.
Sufficiently woken by static and abrupt volume changes, I go outside, bug spray and Creole study book in hand, intending to pray then study when the sun comes out. This is not something unusual for me, although I rarely wake up this early to do so. Unfortunately Radyo is hot on my trail and explains that he doesn’t want me to be outside alone. I’m about 10 feet away from the room in rural, mountainous Haiti at 3 AM- I’m alright. His concern is entirely misplaced and not appreciated. But I can’t shake him. I explain that I want some private time, that I want to pray. In arguing with Radyo my tongue rubs against my permanent retainer. I’ve got mango stuck in it from the day before. I’m dreaming about floss, was dreaming about floss.
About this time I hear singing, but it’s not the same music coming from the radio in the room. It’s coming from across the ravine about 400 yards away. I ask my insistent companion in stilted Creole if the music is coming from another radio and I point across the ravine. He tells me its people singing. He listens a moment more and plainly explains, “A baby died.”
I’m no longer concerned about the mango. This is pretty big for me. But I want to hear the song. I have a desire to experience the music of mourning. I’ve finally struck at this raw and deep Haitian well of feeling. I want- I need to feel this. But Radyo starts asking me questions about myself. I pause for a moment and decide that my reaction was somewhat consumeristic and that I should be more flexible with my time and presence in this country.
And what does it matter if I don’t feel sad that the baby died, I know it shouldn’t have died- that’s what’s important. I start to value Radyo—Bonisa is his actual name. I can make an effort to ask him questions, to become his friend. I should ask him about his family. Oh, he’s married. He likes PortoPrense. This is going well enough. For a moment we stop talking, I clearly hear the mourning song. The sun begins to rise. And Bonisa begins playing the Eminem song.
In the valley one can hear the crackle of muffled Haitian talk radio, a group of mourners singing, and Eminem. For a moment I can also hear a fatalistic whisper from Social Sciences 4. It says, “You cannot escape the discourse.” Only in death can I leave the crowded, noisy conversation, even for a moment. There is no way to reach outside the handsy mix of influences. Then I hear a voice from Humanities 4, it’s Kierkegaard, and he’s praying too.