Thursday, February 28, 2013

Post from Janet staying an extra week in Haiti

I chose Tuesday to have only those who were almost done with quilts, and those who had already finished their quilts come and sew with me. I started the finished sewers on applique using the templates and buttonhole stitch. Most of them caught on quickly, but if I did not find their stitches up to an appropriate level, I would take them out, and have them start again. The goal of this was to try to help them to take pride in their stitching. Even after this, two of them were still struggling with their stitches, so I decided to team them up with others who had already mastered the skill. I was impressed with how well this seemed to help them improve. The sewers love to joke with me saying “applique, applique, Janet applique!” Our next project, which they are very excited about, is to make a new quilt with patterns I brought down with me. I am excited that they understand that this quilt will be going home with me. I have explained to them that I will sell it in America and use the profits to purchase more materials for the project. I feel as though this shows that they have started to trust me, and are becoming invested in the project.

Once we had finished sewing for the day they begged me to let them take some applique home, so that they could continue to improve their skills. They all left with a lot of work to be done and lots of bits of fabric and templates for practice. They are so excited by all the templates that I am making more, so that we don’t run out. Some have even improvised their own plant designs on templates. I am especially impressed with a new comer who is Ammonia's husband. He is competent in whatever he does, and Ammonia has been helpful in giving him direction. He is learning quickly, and I am impressed with his quilting and applique skills. I have also been working with Guellor, who is Deb’s helper at the house, on finishing a quilt that he started during my last trip. He continues to do work that is intricate and beautiful.

Unfortunately, I have only gone to the school once this week because I need almost every free minute to prepare for the next days sewing lesson. But when I did go I enjoyed myself immensely. We sang The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Bingo. The children were a little shy at first with their singing, but once they saw how loud and enthusiastic I was about the songs, they seemed to come alive. By the end they had even learned all of the hand motions that went along with the songs. When it was time for me to leave, Christelle was holding onto me and saying, "Janet you cannot go yet!” I was reluctant to say goodbye but it was time for me to get back to work.

Today is Thursday and I am planning an applique session this afternoon for the villagers. After sewing we will be going down the mountain to the house of Deb and John’s children, Alice and Alphonse. This trip is to celebrate the inter-calendar days of the Baha’i faith. These days are similar to Christmas. Gifts are exchanged between family members, and this time is also used to visit the poor. Today we are feasting, but this feast will be followed by nineteen days of fast. 

Unfortunately Deb’s elderly dog Clyde isn’t feeling well after Jesse, another one of Deb’s dogs, jumped on his back. He is now wrapped in a woolen blanket, and with my breakfast and Deb’s soup he seems to be perking up.

All for now, can’t believe the week is almost over!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Last Day in Haiti

Last Day in Haiti

            Today we decided to go for a long hike. John drove us down part of the mountain and across the valley. We first stopped at a hotel nestled in the side of a mountain. The grounds were filled flowers, scenic terraces overlooking the valley and it even had a stuffed dear head on the wall of one of the lounges. It was amazing to see the disparity between this luxury and the one-room, concrete houses of the average Haitian. From the hotel we started our walk along a long dusty road. We stopped at a set of greenhouses on the hill and were welcomed to look around by one of the attendants. The greenhouses had small flowers growing up under lights. These greenhouses were a US AID project intended to sponsor economic growth in Haiti. After looking around, we continued on our walk and were immediately met by a steep hill. We were lucky to have a Haitian guide named Adrianne to help direct us, because we almost took a wrong trail multiple times. The view from every peak along the way was beautiful, and we could even see the Curelly’s house at the top of a mountain in the distance. We continued from the mountain trail onto the beautiful property of one of the Currely’s friends. We had to step over some barbed wire to get in, but once inside everything was green and covered in flowers. At the top of the hill there were rows of Loquat trees. Adrianne helped us to pick the ripest, yellowest fruit. The fruit was delicious, and were amazingly effective in quenching our thirst. We continued on through a village and got to the base of the Currely’s hill. On the side of the hill the villagers were having a prayer service. They were singing and waving their arms led by a signer using a loudspeaker. The music was a nice way to end our hike, and helped us to conquer the many hills of the Currely’s driveway.

            After our three-hour hike we were ready for a big bowl of John’s spaghetti. He uses leeks, tomatoes, and many spices to make it taste delicious. After lunch we set out all of the villagers’ sewing projects, and only brought out minimal amounts of fabric so that people would work on finishing their projects. People worked very hard on sewing up their quilts and putting borders around the sides. We used a lot of batting and flannel to put on the backs of the quilts. A few people even did a wonderful job sewing their whole quilts on the treadle machine. Although not all the quilts were perfect, each of them was unique and beautiful.

Once we had wrapped up for the day, we called over the group of women who had made cards the last time we came to Haiti. We had sold these cards, and were bringing back a dollar per card to each women who had made it. When we handed out the money all of their faces lit up, especially Elda’s. They were so grateful that they went around kissing each one of us and asking when we were coming back. It was a lovely way to end our sewing, and gave us hope that the villagers were starting to understand the goal of our project and would be invested in continuing to sew on their own in the future.

            After sewing we went for another walk up Zombie Mountain with Janet. We had a pretty view out over the city. On our way back we were excited to see the villagers playing, and having fun with the “indestructible” ball that we brought as one of our gifts to the village. As we walked through the town the villagers invited us to come singing and dancing with them later that night. When we came down into the village it was very dark out, but the moon was almost full and lit our way. When we got into the village we saw a small group of men around some drums made out of water barrels. As they began to play more and more villagers came out of their houses. One women called everyone around and told us to close our eyes while she recited a prayer in English. Then we made a big circle with all the villagers and held hands while we danced. We had a lot of fun kicking our legs up under the stars. After dancing for an hour we walked back to the Currely’s with the dancers and drummers following us up the mountain. By the gate we danced a final dance, and sang along as best we could. We were sad to wave goodbye but were exhausted after our long and exercise filled day.

            When we got home we started to organize the leftover fabric into colors so that Janet would have an easier time next week. We began to get our suitcases all packed up, and my dad was excited that without all of the extra fabric, we would only need eight suitcases compared to the sixteen that we had brought down. We settled down for a long nights sleep, sad that this was our last night in Haiti, but excited to get home and start fundraising for the project and the school. Overall it was a wonderful and very successful fourth trip to Haiti!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day 5

Day 5

            Today we got up early to say our last goodbye to Christelle and the school children. The school closes on Friday at noon, and Christelle was going into the city for the weekend. We walked down to the school and lead English lessons for a little while. I worked on teaching the children English words for the body, and words that would be necessary for them during visits to doctors. They picked up the words very quickly, and I was sad when I had to say goodbye to the class. For a treat after the lessons Flora had brought packs of candy buttons, so Christelle cut them apart and passed them out to the children. At first they seemed confused about what the candy was, but once they tried it their faces lit up with smiles. After their snack we made sure that we took a picture with the five school children that the Helping Haiti Club had sponsored. We all gathered around the outside of the school and told everyone to say “cheese” so that we could see their wide smiles.  After the picture we all crowded into the classroom of the youngest children and they sang some Creole songs to us. The children were all very excited to sing, and one small boy beat a drumbeat on the desk in perfect time. We danced and sang with them. When we finally took our departure we said goodbye in English, French, and Spanish. It was sad to know that we would not be coming back to the school again on this trip, but we were happy to see that the children had learned a lot from our time there. I could not have imagined a better goodbye.

            When we came back from the school we decided to go for a long hike. We drove for about half an hour to get to the start of our walk. During the drive Liesel, Flora, and I stood in the truck bed, holding onto the back of the truck. As we drove we waved to everyone we passed, and had to make sure to duck when we got close to low hanging branches. The final part of the drive was a little scary because the road was quite narrow, and on one side there was a sheer drop-off. One Haitian boy tried to chase down the car for a ride and succeeded in jumping in the back, but John shooed him off. Once we got to the start of our hike we parked the car and started the steep assent up the hill. The hike went along a road, but had beautiful views on all sides. The hike ended in a steep hill that took us up to a peak that looked out over the mountain and valley. Every direction was breathtaking, and we could even see the ocean in the distance. The tiring hike had been well worth it.
            When we returned from our hike Janet told us that she had seen us walking along the ridge from the Currely’s house a mile away! After a lunch of avocados, humus, and bread we got prepared for an afternoon of sewing. We cut out a pattern of a bird for some of the younger children to applique. The children were very proud with their birds and a few of them even wanted to make a quilt from their applique. Today we finally had some of the older women finish their large quilts. The quilts were extremely beautiful, and the women were obviously very pleased with their work. A few women still have to finish but they are extremely persistent, and are taking their time. We were excited to see how far they had come, and how much they had improved since our initial visit. We also started work on some quilts with the people out of squares of fabric. They seem to love making this type of quilt because they can see the end product quickly, and the less experienced sewers can take pride in this work. A few of the smaller children were still working on their applique strips, and called me over every few minutes to inspect their work and say “bon”.

            After sewing we had made a plan with the villagers to play a soccer game with a special soccer ball that was designed for use in third world countries made out of an indestructible foam.   They set up sticks as the goal posts, and gave us a few players to make the teams even. When their team started practicing we were sure that we would be roundly defeated. One man could juggle the ball very well, and had foot skills much more impressive than ours. We started off a little slow, but then Guellor came and joined the game on our side and is an incredible soccer player how scored four goals. Liesel was one of the star players on the team, in the end scoring three goals! Lochard also came along later to join our team, which gave us a much greater advantage. The other team had a handicap because many of them were playing in sandals, and one man’s crocs kept flying off every time he tried to score a goal.  At the end of the game the score was seven for us, and three for the opposing team! We could not believe that we had beaten the villagers, because the last time we played them we were overwhelmingly defeated. We all shook hands with each other, and were happy to develop this relationship with the men of the village because we had mostly just interacted with the women through sewing. John then took the soccer ball and explained its significance to the people. He named a “keeper of the ball” from the village, as someone who would be available at all times to play. After our game and long walk we were exhausted and were excited for our dinner of tasty Haitian vegetables. 

Day 4

Day 4

       Today we got up early to prepare for the youngest school children that Christelle had chosen to sew with us. We decided to make teddy bears with them out of fuzzy brown fabric with colorful buttons for eyes. When the children came down the hill towards us we knew that we were in for a chaotic day. Most of the little girls sat patiently while they worked on their bears. The majority of the children had never sewed before so they needed individual supervision. Some of the little boys also worked hard, but a few of them seemed to be more interested in roughhousing and using partially sewn bears as bean bags. The children’s favorite part of the day was putting stuffing into their bears until the bears almost burst. Once the sewing started to wind down and the children started to lose interest in the bears we decided to bring out a bubble wand. The children had a wonderful time chasing after the bubbles and working as hard as they could to pop them. At the end of the day everyone left with a completed bear and a smile on their face.

            After sewing we followed the children down to the schoolhouse for another English lesson. The youngest group was still riled up from the morning’s activities, but we finally settled them down to practice speaking in English. We began by  repeating words and then by singing songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Old McDonald.” Although they had some trouble singing along they had a lot of fun performing the hand motions and noises that went along with the songs. After the English lessons we were invited to teach Spanish to the older children. I really enjoyed using my Spanish skills, and teaching new words in Spanish to the eager learners. They knew some basic Spanish words such as numbers up to ten, but their favorite activity was to sing Spanish songs. They beat a rhythm on the desks with their hands and enthusiastically sang along. I worked on teaching them basic objects, animals, colors, and days of the week. They were fast learners and by the end of the class they could tell me the names of most of the objects that I pointed to in picture books and in drawings that I made on the blackboard.
            After lunch we had another session of sewing with the older women. They continued to work on finishing their beautiful quilt tops, while we worked with some of the newcomers on starting small quilts. A few of the women who had been coming regularly to sew had finished their applique strips and started to make baby quilts. We were very impressed with their intricate work, and were confident that they were ready to move on to bigger projects. There were around thirty people who came to sew today, and we also had a lot of smaller children sew as well. We gave the children the option to applique flowers or farm animals. Many of them chose to make pigs!  They spent a lot of time sewing on details such as eyes and ribbons, and their pigs all turned out to be adorable.

            Once we sent the sewers home it was almost dark so we decided to go on a short walk close to the Currelly’s property. We walked down the steep hill by their house and were able to look out over all of the valley. The sun was setting in the background over dark red mountains covered by a cloak of blue-grey clouds. After our walk we were ready for dinner. We had Haitian vegetables and sweet potatoes straight from the Currelly’s garden. They were delicious and very sweet under a rich bean sauce. We ended our day with Haitian zucchini bread, a sweet dessert filled with cooked vegetables.