Sunday, October 31, 2010

Found Poetry on the Haitian Streets

Transport truck in the hills above Jacmel; the text reads "Snow."

A tap-tap is Haitian public transport. Like the jitney in Jamaica, the matatu in Kenya, the jingle truck in Afghanistan, the tap-tap is not only a way to get from place to place, but a colorful work of art. Many tap-taps are covered with pictures and text.

This one says "The color of dignity."

Several weeks ago I saw a tap-tap that said "Poetic Lover" on it. For some reason, I didn't get a picture of it, and I have been looking for it ever since. My husband and kids gamely joined in the hunt, teasing me about my poetic lover. Check out the end of this post for the happy ending.

Seeing the "Poetic Lover" tap-tap started me thinking about the poetry there is to be found in the Haitian streets, and I began to plan a found poem, made up completely of the words on tap-taps and public transport trucks. Today I wrote many of the slogans down as I saw them. There's something so amazing about all of this text in a country with only a 50% literacy rate. I wondered if I should translate all the words into English, since most of my readers wouldn't be able to read the mixture of French, English, and Kreyol, but then the mixture is so much of the charm. I decided to give you both. I'll start out with the English version, and if you want to read the English, French, and Kreyol one, you can scroll down and read that one.

This one suggests you stop saying "Blah blah blah."

I didn't use all the words I collected, but I used a lot of them. All I did to them was rearrange them and add punctuation. Each line is an exact quote copied off a vehicle.

Poetic Lover (English version)

To be or not to be -
We are the one:
King of the roads!
Full power,
Everything's working together:
Beautiful horizon,
The risk of the sea,
Star of the life,
Divine protection.
Let's go, baby!
Get free or die in tryin' -
It's my destiny.
Talk to me!

Don't say that!
True friends are rare.
Love you, Baby Cool,
I'll always love you.
You and me,
Loving you,
A poor person is a person,
Humiliation isn't hell.
Life is a divine gift.
The Lord is here,
The future belongs to God.

A difficult piece of advice?
I won't forget Florida.
Game over.

Beautiful surprise!
A tranquil life.

Poetic Lover (in original languages as found on tap-taps)

To be or not to be -
We are the one:
Roi des routes!
Full power,
Toutes choses concourent:
Bel horizon,
The risk of the sea,
Star of the life,
Protection divine.
Let's go, baby!
Get free or die in tryin' -
C'est mon destin.
Talk to me!

Pa di sa!
Les vrais amis sont rares.
Love you, Baby Cool,
Map toujou renmen ou.
Toi et moi,
Loving you
Poze w!
Malere se moun,
Imilyasyon pa lanfe.
La vie est un don divin.
L'Eternel est ici,
L'avenir est à Dieu.

Un conseil difficile?
I won't forget Florida.
Game over.

Belle surprise!
La vi trankil,
La paix.

I had almost given up hope of ever seeing the "Poetic Lover" again. Had I imagined it? I knew I hadn't. Then on Sunday, as we were almost home, I suddenly saw it. My husband did a u-turn so I could get some pictures. Here they are:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reading Update

The books I finished this week were both from my classroom shelves, and both recommended by my eighth grade daughter.

Book #62 was Habibi, by Naomi Shihab Nye. I have read lots of Nye's poetry - she is one of my favorites - but this was only the second novel of hers I read, and I enjoyed it. It's the story of a girl who is half Palestinian and half American (like Nye herself), and who moves to Israel with her family. Liyana, who narrates the story, is a beautiful, three-dimensional character.

Book #63 was Invitation to the Game, a science fiction book set in a dystopic future where the unemployed, replaced in their chosen professions by robots, look for things to do - including a mysterious Game. I'm not a big science fiction fan but I did enjoy this one.

This post is linked to the October 30th Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: Death

There were so many deaths this week in Haiti from cholera. Each one was an irreplaceable human soul, a person who was loved. This week we also thought of our colleague K. whom we lost three years ago, and I read Death, Be Not Proud with my students in her honor.

Here's another poem about death for today's Poetry Friday.

The Bustle in a House (1108)

by Emily Dickinson

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted opon Earth –

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I am afraid my poor blog has been a bit neglected this week. I continue to have normal days at school, with the addition of some cholera anxiety and students who leap from their seats at random moments to sanitize their hands. But cholera isn't what has kept me from posting. Internet access and electricity have been in short supply at my house. I hope to be posting more regularly soon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pictures from this Morning

These are all pictures I took on the way to and from church this morning.

The bicentennial monument is covered with campaign advertising.

On the 28th of November we're going to vote so that Haiti can become more beautiful.

A friend of ours was in the building in the background when the earthquake happened; miraculously, he got out unhurt.

The Palais National. It looks much worse in reality than pictures show.

To dare is still one of the best ways to succeed.

Buy a souvenir of the tent city. Setting up a store is such a Haitian thing to do.


News reports are saying this morning that 220 people have died so far of cholera in Haiti and that there are now cases in Port-au-Prince.

If Haiti is in the news, it's never for anything good. I suppose this is true of all countries, but there's the occasional exception - Chilean miners are rescued, for example, and people around the world watch in wonder and cheer Chile. That doesn't happen to Haiti. Stories about Haiti are all about impoverished and ravaged and poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. In the eyes of the world, Haiti is a country that lurches from one crisis to the next, and honestly, living here these days, that's how it seems to me, too.

Cholera isn't the kind of disease you see on a regular day at the ER. It's a disease of social disruption, a disease of refugee camps, a disease associated with war and famine and natural disasters. This particular outbreak stemmed not from the earthquake, but from flooding of the Artibonite River. Here's a depressing article about that.

Cholera is a horrible way to die. There's no dignity in a death from diarrhea. If people get proper treatment, and fluid replacement, most of them will survive, but those are not at all givens in Haiti right now - or ever. Most people don't get adequate medical treatment, and most people don't have access to clean water. Those things were true before the earthquake.

Oh dear little Haiti, ti Ayiti cheri. Lord, have mercy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reading Update

Book #59 was Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin. As the title suggests, this book is about a woman who lives in Kigali and bakes cakes. The woman, Angel Tungaraza, is from Tanzania. She gets involved in people's lives when they come to tell her of their celebrations and order cakes from her. A blurb on the back of the book compares Angel to Precious Ramotswe, of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and I think the comparison is apt. Like the Precious Ramotswe books, this one is light, with undertones of more serious issues. It is such a pleasure to read something about Africa that is not all dark and miserable. I enjoyed this book immensely. The author, Gaile Parkin, does a great job of writing conversation among her African characters; I could hear the voices in my head as I read. My only small complaint is that occasionally it is a little too obvious that those conversations are intended to teach us, the readers, about Rwanda.

Book #60 was brought to me by a friend who just visited Haiti. ("Would you like me to bring you a book?" "Would I like it? Are you kidding me?") This book was Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman who Bound them Together. This was a quick, touching, and very entertaining read about - well, read the subtitle and you'll know what it's about. Thanks so much, Sheila!

Book #61 was Tracy Kidder's Among Schoolchildren. This is the fourth Kidder book I've read. The others were Mountains Beyond Mountains, House, and Strength in What Remains. Kidder is an amazing writer; I love the way he burrows deep into his subject and makes you know it. This one follows a teacher and her class of fifth graders for a year. It is twenty years old, but still terribly compelling reading. I always enjoy reading about teachers, and this is wonderful on how Mrs. Zajac deals with her students, her emotions about them, the preparation she does, even grading. Where was Kidder through all of this? Was he actually sitting in the classroom? He must have been for much of it, like the excruciating scenes with the student teacher, to whom I could unfortunately completely relate as she struggled to control the behavior of the students. He also must have talked to other teachers, administrators, students, and their families. I can't even imagine what a huge job it was to research this book, and I'm awed by the result, a lucid account of a whole year in the classroom. Highly recommended.

This post is linked to the October 23rd Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Poetry Friday: A.E. Stallings

Yesterday's Poem-A-Day email from contained a sonnet by A.E. Stallings. It was a perfect English teacher poem.

Sea Girls
by A. E. Stallings

for Jason

"Not gulls, girls." You frown, and you insist—
Between two languages, you work at words
(R's and L's, it's hard to get them right.)
We watch the heavens' flotsam: garbage-white
Above the island dump (just out of sight),
Dirty, common, greedy—only birds.
OK, I acquiesce, too tired to banter.

Read the rest of it here.

I went looking for more by Stallings and found The Extinction of Silence, which I loved, and all these other poems, too. (I have to admit I haven't had time to read all of them yet.)

But I know Stallings and I are kindred spirits solely because of this poem. I thought I was the only one who hated balloons!

The Mother’s Loathing of Balloons
by A.E. Stallings

I hate you,
How the children plead
At first sight—

I want, I need,
I hate how nearly
Always I

At first say no,
And then comply.
(Soon, soon

They will grow bored
Clutching your
Umbilical cord)—

Over the moon,
Should you come home,

They’d cease to care—
Who tugs you through
The front door

On a leash, won’t want you
And will forget you

On the ceiling—
A giddy feeling—

Later to find you,
Puckered, small,
Crouching low

Against the wall.
O thin-of-skin
And fit to burst,
You break for her
Who wants you worst.

Here's the rest.

It's wonderful to discover a new poet, especially one so witty and disciplined, producing delightfully unfashionable rhyming lines.

Here's the Poetry Friday Roundup for today.

More on Cholera

Dokte Jen blogged on cholera.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Right after the earthquake we heard dire predictions of epidemics, and so far those hadn't come true. But today there is news of a cholera epidemic, with over 100 dead and over 300 sick in the Artibonite Valley, St. Marc, and Gonaïves. This article quotes smaller numbers, but with the conditions people live in, cholera has the potential to spread fast, so whichever numbers are accurate, the situation is serious. Right now we are hearing that the cases are outside of Port-au-Prince; should it spread to tent cities in the capital, the results could be horrifying. (Edited to add this article, in French, which quotes even higher numbers: 135 dead and 1500 ill.)

Cholera is the stuff of nightmares to anyone who read The Secret Garden as a child and shuddered over the description of Mary discovering that everyone in the house except for her is dead. It feels faintly unreal to hear that this disease is killing people right down the road from where I sit, but no more unreal, I suppose, than the fact that the city where I live fell down in an earthquake.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Go Read These Posts

So I haven't been posting as much lately as my faithful readers have come to expect. But here are some great Haiti posts I read this morning:

Tara on the Eat Down.

Heather on nakedness.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


My camera batteries were dead when I tried to take a picture on our way to church, so I don't have any photos for you today. I would have thought that the smashed buildings I have seen now week after week would start to seem just scenery, and that I would hardly notice them any more. That hasn't happened. While they no longer surprise me, they still give me a sick, sad feeling.

The election advertising continues to multiply. (Here's an article about the campaign.) I saw a banner today for Michel Martelly, AKA Sweet Micky, who is already the self-declared President of Kompa and is now running for President of Haiti. Apparently his slogan (or one of them) is Souke ko'w. Shake your body. One thing this election season won't be is dull.

On our way home from church, we saw a lot of UN vehicles, including an armored vehicle full of troops, and perhaps the attempted prison break this morning had something to do with that?

There You Are

by Carolyn Arends

I was hoping you would write to me a message in the stars
As if the stars themselves were not enough
And I awaited your arrival here from some place very far
As if I couldn't feel your constant touch
Why did I think that you'd send thunder
To wake me from my slumber
When anytime I open up my eyes

There you are - loving me like crazy
There you are - though I am unaware
There you are - when my heart is doubting
Even there you are

I was waiting for a miracle and hoping for a sign
As if each breath I take is not a gift
And I was acting just as if the way you gave your life for mine
Didn't have my foolish heart convinced
What did I think could cause this hunger
Did I ever stop to wonder
Why every time I open up my eyes

There you are - loving me like crazy
There you are - though I am unaware
There you are - when my heart is doubting
Even there you are

I was hoping you would write to me a message in the stars
As if the stars themselves were not enough

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reading Update

While I'm happy to be back at work, all this reading of student work leaves me little time for my own reading and writing. But I have been doing some reading, and here's the latest.

Book #57 was a YA title recommended by my daughter, East, by Edith Pattou. This is a retelling of the fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," which in turn is a version of the Psyche myth. It has the combination of ordinary reality and mysterious magic that is perfect for a fairy tale.
And I realized how much more complicated life is without the benefit of magic. Rubbing linseed oil into my blistered hands, I thought wistfully of how magic lets you skip over the steps of things. That is what makes it so appealing.

But, I thought, the steps of things are where life is truly found, in doing the day-to-day tasks. Caught up in the world of enchantment as I had been at the castle, it had been the routine things I had missed most, which was why I had set up that laundry room and insisted on doing my own washing. But I had missed so much. Sitting at the table back home and peeling potatoes with my mother and sisters in a companionable silence. Feeding the chickens, their urgent feathery bodies crowding my legs, and looking up to see Neddy coming back from the fields.

Book #58 was an old favorite, The Horse and his Boy, by C.S. Lewis. No books are as good as these, with all their associations from the dozen times I have read them, starting as a very young child. None of the writing I've read more recently about how this book is racist and Orientalist can take away my love for it - even though I do see some of the points the critics are making. (I'm not linking to anything because I don't want to spoil the book for anyone else, but you can easily find what I'm talking about, I'm sure.) The whole point of this book is that Aslan is there all along, even when you aren't aware of him and even when you are actively against the idea of him. And here, too, is the mixture of ordinary reality and magic - Lewis does that better than anyone.
She led the way down the steps they had already descended, and along another corridor and so finally out into the open air. They were now in the palace garden which sloped down in terraces to the city wall. The moon shone brightly. One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them; so that Aravis (though she remembered them years later) had only a vague impression of grey lawns, quietly bubbling fountains, and the long black shadows of cypress trees.
Come on, now. How can you not love that?

This post is linked to the October 16th edition of the Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Poetry Friday: October

My mom took this photo down the street from my parents' house, the house where I spent six months this year after the earthquake. Where I live, October is mud season, mosquito season, raining on people in tents season. It gives me pleasure to think sometimes about the beauty of October in other places.

Since I had been doing that by reading October poems with my seventh graders (so many poets have written about this month!), I was interested to get this in my Poem-A-Day email from the other day. I hadn't seen this Robert Frost poem before and I love it. I love the way Frost attempts to slow down the October morning so that it will last longer, and I love the way his poem allows us to enjoy that morning many years after the lines were written.

My favorite line is "Hearts not averse to being beguiled." My heart is not averse to being beguiled by an October morning far north of my tropical island. This year it will have to be beguiled only in memory and imagination.

by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nine Months

It has been nine months today since the earthquake.

Nine months, and hundreds of thousands still live in tents. Nine months, and 2% of the rubble has been cleared. Nine months, and my students still jump and flinch when the class upstairs moves chairs too vigorously. And so do I.

So many lost. Perhaps 300,000 in that moment. So much potential gone.

Most days have hope in them now, but today I can see nothing but grief. I grieve for Haiti. Today the world seems dark and full of pain.

Nine months today.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Old Eagle is No More

Eagle Market was one of the first places we went when we moved to Haiti. It was a grocery store in our neighborhood; we could walk there and often did. For at least ten years the building has not been a grocery store, and Eagle Market, where we still shop, exists in a different location. But the building was still called "Old Eagle" by everyone.

I thought I didn't have any "before" pictures of Old Eagle, but then I realized that I took a few after the food riots in April 2008, to document the windows the rock-throwing protesters broke.

This was long after this building ceased to be a supermarket, and you can see that there's a sign on it offering it for rent.

The last time I went to Old Eagle was in December of 2009. One of our alumni had set up a business there (the building was owned by his family) and we sat in his office and listened to him talk about his dreams for the future.

Old Eagle was badly damaged in the earthquake; I was never comfortable driving by it after that, because it looked as though it might collapse at any moment. It had to come down because it was dangerous. And today when we drove by, it was a pile of rubble.

Goodbye, Old Eagle Market.

Election Advertising

We have an election coming up on November 28th, and the advertising is everywhere. Here are just a few of the candidates:

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Barbara Kingsolver on BBC World Book Club

I had the great pleasure today of listening to one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, being interviewed on one of my favorite radio shows, The BBC World Book Club, talking about one of my favorite books of all time, The Poisonwood Bible. (I listen by podcast, and at the BBC World Book Club link you can find out how you can, too.)

I have known for a while that Kingsolver was going to be on, and had planned to reread the book in preparation, but never got around to doing that. I have read it several times, however, and it is quite fresh in my mind. I enjoyed the discussion very much, and learned that my favorite part of the book was the part she most wanted to write: the lives the daughters lead after they grow up. The girls' stories epitomize some of the ways TCKs react to their cross-cultural experiences. I also learned that Kingsolver worked on this novel for ten years, and that with every one of her books she writes two to three hundred pages that she simply throws away.

But there's more - go listen yourself!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Poetry Friday: Sonnet 130

I have another Shakespeare sonnet today. I was thinking about this sonnet because my husband had some students memorize it and I saw their quiz papers in his office. Shakespeare is making fun of the extravagant comparisons his contemporaries used in their love poetry. He tells us about his mistress, who isn't nearly as gorgeous as some of theirs, with their sun-like eyes, coral lips, snowy skin, rosy cheeks, perfumed breath, and musical voices. However, his mistress has the advantage of being real. Shakespeare liked that in a person, and so do I.


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Who's Holding Back the Aid for Haiti?

After the earthquake in Haiti, nine months ago next week, it was heart-warming to see the international response. Money was pledged from all sides. I was particularly proud to see the promises made by my own country, the United States of America: $1.15 billion was pledged by the government for reconstruction in Haiti.

The small NGOs did amazing work after the earthquake, and continue to do so, but there are some things which the government needs to do. Infrastructure, city planning, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people: these are matters for the state, not for NGOs. There is serious mistrust of the government in Haiti, but with the international attention on the country, many people were hopeful that this was the moment when the country could move forward. Haiti would be rebuilt better than it was before.

And yet, all these months later, most of the money promised has not even been delivered. Why? Today, at the Sojourners blog, Ben and Katie Kilpatrick state that one US senator may be responsible for holding up this money.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Spirit Week

It's Spirit Week. Hooray.

I spent yesterday in bed, sick, and I'm not 100% recovered today. I didn't have much extra energy or patience on this Monday, and it was a Monday in which I needed more of those qualities than usual, not less. Every day this week there is some special dress-up day, and somehow our students, who usually wear uniforms, seem to become crazier just by being dressed in strange costumes. Today was Pyjama Day. In addition to wearing pyjamas, kids came with a variety of stuffed animals, including an enormous bear that had to be passed around and hugged and a monkey that had its arms around various seventh graders as the day progressed.

As the week goes on, the insanity builds, so the fact that Monday was trying is not a good sign. I hope to have a little more physical stamina tomorrow to help me.

Here's a post from Spirit Week 2007. That year we had just lost a colleague, a 25-year-old who had died completely unexpectedly.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Reading Update

Book #55 of 2010 was The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, by Amy Tan. I have read and enjoyed most of Tan's novels, and I liked this book of personal essays as well. I was hooked from the first essay, in which she mocks the Cliff Notes edition of her most well-known novel, The Joy Luck Club.
In page after chilling page, I saw that my book had been hacked apart, autopsied, and permanently embalmed into chapter-by-chapter blow-by-blows; plot summaries, genealogy charts, and - ai-ya! - even Chinese horoscopes. Further in, I was impressed to learn of all the clever nuances I'd apparently embedded into the phrase "invisible strength," which is what a mother in the book taught her chess-playing daughter, Waverly. According to Cliff, I meant for "invisible strength" to refer to the "human will," as well as to represent "female power" and the "power of foreigners." It was amazing what I had accomplished.
Another great quote from this very quotable book:
Writing to me is an act of faith, a hope that I will discover what I mean by truth. But I don't know what that will be until I finish. I can't determine it ahead of time. ... I also think of reading as an act of faith, a hope I will discover something remarkable about ordinary life, about myself. And if the writer and the reader discover the same thing, if they have that connection, the act of faith has resulted in an act of magic. To me, that is the mystery and the wonder of both life and fiction - the connection between two unique individuals who discover in the end that they are more the same than they are different. And if that doesn't happen, it's nobody's fault. There are still plenty of other books on the shelf to choose from.

It didn't really happen for me with the next book, #56, Missing Mom, by Joyce Carol Oates. I don't think I had ever read anything by Joyce Carol Oates, who according to the book, had written 39 novels before this one (and this one was published in 2005). How could I never have read one of her books? I was determined to finish this, even though it didn't really grab me. It was full of believable characters, but the subject matter (a daughter mourning for her mother, who has died in horrible circumstances) was depressing and I kept putting it aside to read magazines instead. Today I was home sick in bed, and forced myself to get to the end.

Oh well. "There are still plenty of other books on the shelf to choose from."

This post is linked to the October 16th edition of the Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Theme Day - Graffiti

It's the first day of a new month, and you know what that means! The theme for the Daily Photo blogs this month is Graffiti. Enjoy a little photographic trip around the world!

Poetry Friday: I Burn my Candle

I burn my candle at both ends,
It will not last the night.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

We've had electrical problems this week, brought on by the freak storm which hit Port-au-Prince last Friday afternoon. (I blogged about it here, here and here.) We have a generator, but it hasn't been working properly, and by Tuesday night we were down to candles. On Wednesday night, the power came back on, and we were thrilled.

Candles are so beautiful, and they burn out so quickly. Kind of like our lives. They will be over soon, but we have the chance to be a light now, to make someone else's life easier or to achieve something wonderful. And burning is what a candle is for.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Photo Credit: