Sunday was our day off, which really means it was our time to catch up on all the things we haven’t had time to do, at least in the morning. I spent time capturing video from mini-dv tapes so Bill could edit. While doing that, I imported many photos and blogged. As we seem to only have Internet in the morning, I made use of that now magic state (connection!) to catch up on email and do some research.
While working in the library, Robert was organizing his music behind me, playing five seconds of each song, choosing what to put on his USB stick. I heard a familiar tune and said, “Stop! Wait, I know that.” Turns out the song from our second Haiti video was recorded here in Matènwa. Bill had coincidentally met Chris on his second trip, while in Port-au-Prince, and she had given him that tape. Even better, we were going to Calico that day, where the song was recorded.
Throughout the morning, I kept hearing that word, “Calico”, intermixed within the Creole I was hearing around me. Seemed a lot of people were going with us to the water hole. When it came time to leave, we had a group of about twenty walking with us down the long dirt road to Calico.
Midway through the long walk, Robert took Beth, Bill, and I off the main road to visit a friend who happened to have Coca-Cola for sale. What a welcome treat in the middle of a long hot walk! Coke is much better in Haiti as they use real sugar instead of corn syrup. We caught up with the main group and made our way down the rocky slope to a forested area with a stream running through it. “This is what all of Haiti used to look like,” said Chris.
We followed the stream till we reached a small waterfall with a round pool down below. Our group and another were all standing on the side of the waterhole, looking down. Several boys were jumping from the top of the waterfall, diving into what appeared to be deep water. As their actions had made the water murky, I wasn’t about to dive in without being able to see the bottom. Chris decided we should go to the small flat pools further upstream. At one, the size of a very large bathtub, the children were hesitant to go in, so I rushed forward and said, “Garde!” and launched myself into the muddy water, swimming around. Most in our group laughed and some joined in.
Now that I was wet, I decided I was ready for the big water hole. It had since cleared out of people, though a group of children followed me. Climbing down from the cliff was a dicey affair, though there were ample handholds. I reached the water line with many boys around me, egging me on. I said, “L’eau deep?”, making a hand gesture to show deep water. They all said, “Wi wi”, so I jumped in.
OW! Not so deep in that spot. My right leg really whacked a rock, but not bad enough to get out, so I continued to the deep part in the middle for a little swim. Then came the next surprise. A boy on a rock about five feet above me said, “Mister, can you help me!” I said, “Wi”, not knowing yet what he wanted. He jumped into the air, directly at me, and landed on top of me, grabbing onto my shoulders and head. Clearly he couldn’t swim but wanted to join his friends who had life jackets. Did I mention he was almost as tall as I was? Though shocked, I managed to keep us afloat and bring him to his friends.
Back at the small pools upstream, we waited while many people bathed, the Haitian women with no tops as comfortably as the men. Robert told me that Haitian women think nothing of taking off their tops and as a result, Haitian men think nothing of their tops being off, unlike Victoria Secret-obsessed America.
We started the long hike home, and again Robert (with Benaja) took me on another route. We stopped to say hello to what seemed like every person on the island of Lagonav, all of whom knew Robert well. What a wonderful and open community, something completely lacking back where I live. Everyone takes time to talk with each other; everyone gives each other food as a greeting; everyone is sincerely happy to see each other. We also saw a kid’s soccer game along the way, with many people watching and cheering.
Finally rejoining our group after dark, we sat in a circle by the fire and helped make peanut butter, shelling the peanuts and stirring them in a pot. Children told stories while Etienne translated. Returning home, I tended to my leg wound, which had stopped bleeding, and fell asleep.
John Engle in Port-au-Prince ushering our laptops out of customs!
This Haitian saying pretty much sums things up: “Beyond mountains there are mountains.” Once you’ve overcome one obstacle, there’s another to take its place, then another.
We’d planned to have eleven full days in Matènwa, enough for the ten lessons with a break on Sunday (today). Once we arrived, we discovered that we’d need to lose a day with the kids, since the mentor classes were scheduled after the children’s classes each day. The local teachers were in school with the kids, so couldn’t do training in the morning as we usually do. The kids needed to have class directly after school so they could go home. So to have the mentors be one class ahead of the kids, we needed Tuesday just for mentors with no kids. It was decided we’d do double children classes on either Saturday or the following Thursday.
Yesterday, I learned of another kink in our schedule. Next Friday is Good Friday, so no classes can be held. Had we known any of this a month ago, we’d have budgeted another two days in Matènwa, but we’re here and so we gotta roll with it. High acceptance, low expectation. It was decided to do four classes yesterday, two for the kids, two for the adults. I silently shake my head, knowing this is just too much. While the people may be willing, retention may suffer. I’ve seen it before.
The particular lessons we were covering made things tougher: Viewers (5) and Scripts (6). A better plan would have been to double up on earlier lessons, which are easier. I designed the lessons to get progressively harder, to build confidence in the beginning. Projects (1), Supplies (2), Sketches (3), and Halos (4) are relatively easy, as was seen in the early classes. Everyone seemed to understand them.
Also looming was the power issue. With eight hours of class instead of four, the chances of power lasting were fairly remote without a generator. We had heard a generator would be found, but I was worried nonetheless. Lessons 5 and 6 really benefit from using the projector. The day would be even more difficult having to “show and tell” multiple times (with translation).
As expected, the power failed soon into my first class. Apparently the children had been sneaking their XO cords through windows to charge them overnight, which depleted the little amount of solar energy we had accumulated. So no projector.
It should be asked: do we really need a projector? It’s certainly a factor that limits scaling in the areas we’re working in, given its cost and power use. Since OLPC left out a VGA port on the XO, we also need another computer to project the screen. Given our experiences in our last eight pilots, I can say with certainty that a projector really helps, especially in a situation like Matènwa, where we’re teaching 21 adults at the same time that speak a different language. In other pilots, we’ve effectively taught fewer adults (usually no more than eight) by showing things on our Mac screen instead of using a projector, but with 21 adults and one translator, it really slows things down and gets more confusing without a big screen. With the kids, it’s easier because we have the Haitian mentors (who have already learned the lesson) to help us, so we can say “try this and this”, have it be translated once, and the mentors can then help the kids. The mentor-student ratio has been pretty amazing in this pilot. It’s exactly one-to-one, which is great.
The first mentor class was difficult. By the end, many seemed frustrated and confused. I felt bad about it, which lowered my spirits. Things would have been easier with our review materials to hand out, but without paper, this is impossible now. Also, we are still waiting on the translations for lessons 5 and onward. As the children’s class began, led by Chris, I went up to the library to check my email to see if the translations had been finished.
Instead I find that the Squeakland education team has voted to remove my Etoys lessons from the wiki, opting instead to call them Waveplace lessons. Given how hard I’ve worked on these in the last two months, and their clear benefit in the classes we are now teaching, this was a real blow. Sitting and watching the children master material from the lessons, I felt deep frustration at yet another example of “committee thinking” missing the point of the “roll-up-your-sleeves and get something done” approach.
Chris did well with the first lesson, though the children were clearly tired during the second. When we teach “forward by” and “turn by”, we hand out paper compasses to the children and have them march around outside so they can feel in their bodies what they will later see on the screen.
Before the last mentor class, they had secured a generator, so we had a projector for lesson 6. What a difference it made! My spirits rose, as did everyone else’s. We finished the lesson early and talked in the courtyard until nightfall. Afterwards we walked from house to house, experiencing the easy community of Matènwa, finally ending up at Chris’s house, where Etienne, Bill, Beth, Chris, and myself talked till late at night. Returning, I slept soundly once again.
Yesterday was market day, as it is on every Friday, when goods are brought from all over to the same market area that we walked to the previous day. In the last few days, I had developed a cold, likely caught from a cute little two-year old boy in Pennsylvania, so I opted out on another walk to market to instead relax and take a morning nap, hoping to recover from my cold.
I woke and went to the treehouse to blog and access the situation. Power would be a problem again today and the wireless was intermittent. As the class time approached, Bill and Beth had still not returned, so I started setting up the room, expecting to teach the children’s class instead of Bill. Thankfully, they showed up while the Matènwa teachers were finishing an extended staff meeting.
Just before the class started, I called John Engle, who happened to be at Haitian customs, haggling for the laptops. Apparently the customs officials wanted $10,000 for the laptops instead of the hoped for $1000. They didn’t believe the laptops were as inexpensive as we were saying. John asked me if there were any way to find the date of manufacture. We looked all around (but not inside) and could not find one. I suggested John print out a page from Ebay, showing what they were being sold for. I also suggested he and Adam that they find some marketing materials for the “Give One, Get One” period two years ago, since the laptops all came from that time. We’ve got a week to get them out of customs, so here’s hoping they drop the price. If anyone out there knows Bill Clinton, have him give a call 🙂
Bill Stelzer taught the children’s class with Benaja translating. He covered Lesson 3 (Sketches), which is always popular with children. Oddly enough, it was the first time I’ve seen Bill teach children. The many times we’ve been together it was always me teaching while he videotaped. He’s got a natural, helpful, informative manner. I’ve heard from many that he’s a great teacher, but yesterday I got to see it for myself.
During the mentor class, we started by having the mentor teams pick leaders for later communications. I then began covering Lesson 4 (Halos). As feared we lost power, so instead I held Bill’s Mac in the air and described the various handles in detail, rather than showing them. Halos can be taught this way, but later lessons will prove more difficult. Chris assured us that they will borrow a generator and get a gallon of gas for the next lesson.
In the breakdown talk, Benaja, Beth, Bill and I discussed the next day’s schedule, which will be a marathon. Mentors at 8am, then children, then another mentor class. We’re trying to get ahead as next Friday is Good Friday and no class will be held. We’ll also be doubling up with the children on Thursday.
I went back to Robert and Janose’s house, ate some yummy fresh food from the market, and fell straight asleep at 6pm or so. Amazingly, I slept right through to morning (about twelve hours), with only a brief moonlit latrine break around midnight.
(post from yesterday … no internet till now)
Power and wireless are problems. Much of yesterday was charge and wait, charge and wait. The solar panels on both buildings are getting an unusually high workout. As for wireless, I wrote my usual blog post in the morning, but was unable to transmit a few kilobytes of text all day, either through the school’s wireless or my own USB modem. Luckily we had enough power for both classes, though we had to change between the treehouse and library outlets a few times. I’m thinking the portable solar panel idea was a good one, at least for the XOs.
The morning began with a walk to the market with Beth and Etienne. Haiti is truly beautiful, with views pretty much everywhere you look, particularly up here in the mountains of Lagonav. We met many people along the rocky dirt road, including Etienne’s mother, who has a bakery. We looked inside to see rectangular strips of dough lined up and waiting for the oven, which they called a “fou.” I said, “like crazy?” and everything in the bakery started laughing, nodding their heads. The market itself was pretty small, though packed with goods, including Coca-Cola and toilet paper. I bought a Coke and drank it right down, which was very welcome after our long hot walk. We went back on three motorcycle taxis, each 50 gouds or a little over a dollar US.
Back home, I tried to connect and charge again, then went to have spaghetti with Robert and his wife Janose. Each day my Creole is improving. I’m really enjoying my talks with Robert, Janose, and their three daughters, Shoodlie (8), Lorry (12), and Sophia (13). They seem to appreciate the effort I’m taking to speak Creole. It’s making me want to learn more and more, because I have many more things to say!
Today’s children class was led by Benaja. He did a great job. Sitting there listening, I began to feel that this latest effort is going to be a great success. I was also pleased to have a break from four hours of talking. I spent my time taking photos and helping when there was a problem with one of the laptops.
The mentor class went well. We covered the paint canvas and toolbox. Since I was afraid of losing power, I sped through the entire lesson at once, rather than the usual “here’s this, now try” approach. I’m not sure if retention was a strong, as we saw several mentors trying only the last few things, but I really had no choice. The power ran out shortly after my presentation.
We had our breakdown talk at Margarette’s house while Beth got her hair braided. Bill, Benaja, Beth, and I talked about the many tasks still to be done, particularly establishing the communications network using Jabber and encouraging the mentors to communicate every day.
The day ended with a challenge . . . my self-powered flashlight was stuck in my blue LL Bean bottle. I had foolishly slammed it in there to save luggage space. Magarette, Janose, and her three girls tried valiantly to get it out for a good half hour, then Janose thought of putting her purse strap inside and pulling.
I showered, tried to call my wife, then went to sleep while the family and neighbors watched a Haitian movie on Robert’s Mac outside.
(from yesterday, no Internet until now)
The second best part of this job is handing out the laptops to the children. Watching their eyes as they open them, turn them on, and first start using the trackpad and keyboard, I’m always grateful for the tireless hours that OLPC and the XO community have put into this magical machine for the good of the world.
The best part of this job comes much later, when we start seeing a different look in the eyes of the children, that of confidence, mastery, and surprise at what they can do. This is the quality we call “spark”, which is the ultimate gift that we are hoping to give. Spark affects a child’s entire life. The laptop is merely a tool for achieving this confidence and enthusiasm.
Yesterday started as before, up early while the community retrieved water from the new well down the hill. I’m always amazed while watching Haitians carrying such heavy loads on their heads, especially when they let their hands swing freely, walking up a rocky bumpy road with perfect balance. I pumped my daily water bottle using my water filter, then walked up the road to the school and round house.
Yesterday morning was about video and printing. Bill cut the “day 1” video while Beth took the Creole translations and copied them into the pretty outline pages. I made screenshots of the Lesson 1 project (in Creole) to create the handouts for the kids. We have very little paper here, which will become a problem. The original plan was to print spiral bound books for everyone back in Pennsylvania, but the text and translations weren’t ready in time.
These are just a few of the many things that occupy our time throughout the day. Before the children’s class we effectively drained the round house’s solar battery reserves, likely from all the laptop charging the day before. An extension cord from the school’s library was strung to the class area so we’d have power for the projector and laptops during the classes.
Seeing the children use the laptops, then make funny faces as they used Record to take pictures, was the day’s highlight. We then covered Etoys Lesson 1 (Projects) during the two hour class. I think the handouts will really help, as will the printed lesson plans for the mentors.
By the time the adult’s class was starting, I was truly exhausted. Midway through the lesson, the library’s power reserves were exhausted as well, so we couldn’t use the projector for most of it. Benaja did a wonderful job translating and helping, while I took too many breaks, sitting on a bench to catch my breath. The best part of the mentor class was watching everyone use the sound recorder in Etoys. I told them to “make a fool of themselves” and they all laughed and made funny noises. Some recorded music from their phones to play louder on the XO. I tried the same with some Wyclef.
After the class, Benaja, Chris, Beth, and I had our breakdown meet up in the library. We talked about many things, such as power and paper. We resolved a week long concern: what to do about Williamson. Since no mentors from Williamson were able to come to the training, Bill and Beth will train the children themselves over the single week rather than have a full six week pilot. When Williamson finds mentors, they can get trained later by the mentors we have now. This will help prove that our approach can spread throughout Haiti without our help.
I made a joke about needing a masseuse and Chris said, “We have a masseuse, five bucks.” Before I knew it, he was showing up at Robert’s house and I received a very welcome massage. Afterwards I slept soundly. It was a long tiring day, and was relieved to finally rest.
The first thing you gotta accept when you’re doing something like this: confusion is acceptable. Between the language difficulties, cultural differences, shifting circumstances, and stuff you didn’t think of, it’s mostly mess, but this is fine. High acceptance, low expectation. The only way to fail is to convince yourself you need to teach everything, they need to learn everything, and that things should go according to plan. To me, plans are a kind of shorthand for things you do when you’re not dealing with all the unexpected stuff. Plans are for when you have a moment to think. Plans are not promises.
Yesterday started early for me, around 6am. I got the keys to the round house from Robert and walked up the short rocky dirt road, through the iron gates and playground, and unlocked the door. First order of business: move our luggage from the first floor to the second, since children would be using the first floor in a few hours. I took my two suitcases full of laptops and clothes and moved the laptops & gear to one suitcase, and clothes to another. I then lifted all the luggage up the widely spaced steel stairs into the lower treehouse room. I set up five power strips on a table, then plugged in the nine laptops I had in my luggage.
Did I mention that Haiti is pretty hot and humid? It’s probably just the change, but I got winded and sweaty more easily than I’d like. Just as I was finished Bill walked in . . . just in time 🙂 We got the Matènwa laptops and began the monotonous process of reflashing, updating, numbering, and checking each laptop. Beth joined in a while and we soon determined we had exactly 40 laptops to use. Twenty-six kids and twenty-two adults, means we needed 48, so we were eight short. Luckily Matènwa has about twelve Mac laptops, which we decided to use.
Every pilot is the same. Numbers are picked, then someone adds to them … “only a few more kids.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve counted and recounted and re-assigned laptops during a pilot. Perhaps next time I’ll be more draconian up front: this is how many laptops we have, and you cannot have more. No exceptions.
The day started with all the kids assembled in the play yard, lined up by grade level. The Haitian flag was raised and everyone sang the Haitian national anthem. Chris asked all the visitors to stand on the long wall above the playground so we could introduce ourselves to the kids. Felt a bit like being put on a pedestal, but it’s a big deal to everyone, I reminded myself. However much I’d like to say, “Aw shucks, tweren’t nothing”, it’s important to the acknowledge the role we’re in, the history we’re making for someone else. As my oldest brother once said, “it’s our responsibility to make history … if we don’t, who will?”
Chris then led the Waveplace team and mentors on a tour of her school. Starting in 9th grade on down to preschool, we sat in each room, talked with each teacher, and really enjoyed ourselves. As each grade got younger, I enjoyed myself more and more. Unfortunately, recess cut the tour just short of preschool, which is the grade my daughter is in. I’m missing her, and wished for a little 4 year old time.
During recess, we went back to the treehouse to continue prepping laptops and courseware. Later downstairs, we set up the projector with a white sheet over a blackboard to serve as easel. We put twenty-two laptops out for the mentors, finishing just before the scheduled start time at 3:30.
The first hour, I presented the XO laptop, having them switch between the neighborhood, friends, and home screens. They changed their laptop’s name and color, then made friends with others using the neighborhood view. We then tried out Chat as a way to show the collaboration features of the XO. We’ll be relying on them to keep in contact with us once we leave Haiti, so it’s important they’re familiar with Chat, which will be connected to Waveplace’s Jabber server.
During the second hour, we covered Basic Etoys, Lesson 1 (Projects). The wireless wasn’t working, so I couldn’t show them web browsing or the Etoys showcase, but the rest of it went very well. Afterwords, Benaja, Bill, Beth, Chris, and I did our breakdown, talking about what went right and what we could change.
We ended the day with spaghetti and mayonnaise, which was much better than I expected. After an outside shower, I quite completely fell asleep, using the mosquito net above our bed this time.
Woke yesterday at John’s house to a breezy Haitian morning with roosters calling and forest noises all around. One of the medical team regaled with her tale of tarantula woe the night before. John’s wife cooked another wonderful meal for us, then we left for Port-Au-Prince to change money and get last minute supplies.
Apparently Haitian currency is a bit of a mess from a naming standpoint. There’s the Haitian “goud”, which is the official currency. There’s about 39 gouds to one US dollar. We changed $300 worth at a grocery store. If all prices were in gouds, things would be fine, but they can also appear in “Haitian dollars”, which is a throwback to when their currency was pegged to the American dollar about a hundred years ago. There’s five gouds for each Haitian dollars, and yes, they use the $ symbol, just like USD. To make matters worse, they also post prices in US dollars, so you never know whether it’s gouds, Haitian dollars, or US dollars. Makes for a bit of a math headache.
John drove us past the makeshift airport terminal we had arrived in to the smaller airport nearby, pointing out the area where many nations set up their crisis response camps two months ago. We weighed each item of luggage (including ourselves) at MAF, then took off in our own private prop plane in heavy winds, which made for an exciting trip over to Lagonav.
After being picked up by the Matènwa driver, we headed to the dock to meet the Darbonne mentors, who had taken a later boat because the government had shut down the normal ferry because of rough seas. We waited an hour, playing music on my little iPhone speakers, which attracted a crowd of Haitian men, who enjoyed playing with an XO as well. When the boat arrived, there was pandemonium, though we didn’t understand the source at first. Apparently one of the passengers had fallen overboard and drowned before he could be rescued. Not many Haitians know how to swim, so boat travel can be terrifying for them. Everyone was understandably upset, particularly our group from Darbonne who had survived the worst of the earthquake.
Once everyone was on the truck, we started the extremely bumpy and long ride up the mountain to Matènwa. I sat next to Magèla, one of the Darbonne mentors, who was very gracious in helping me with my Creole through most of the trip. I had a Creole/English dictionary and kept trying to make her laugh, which is a fun way to learn.
Once there, we met Chris and Benaja and Robert and toured the school. It’s really a lovely spot. I am typing this in the “treehouse”, which is a small circular room atop the “round house” middle school building. From this height we can see the full grounds and the mountains beyond in all directions. And the breeze and wifi are very welcome.
Later Robert and his wife welcomed Bill and I in their home and we later went to Margarete’s house (where Beth is staying) for some wonderful Haitian rice with bean sauce and great conversation with Robert and Benaja.
The night ended with 24 of us meeting in the library, introducing ourselves to each other, and talking about the pilot a bit and Matènwa’s approach to education. I think we have an excellent group. We’re all excited to get started today in a few hours.
At day’s end, I washed myself from a water bowl behind Robert’s house and used the latrine, then did a little research on PO files and fell quickly asleep. In the morning I began the laptop prep in the round house, where the pilot will be held.
Waking yesterday at 2:30am after five hours of sleep, I showered, kissed Paula, and dragged my five bags to the lobby, tram, and gate. Gotta love the 2 hour recommendation for international travel. I had more than an hour to spare, as usual. The coffee place hadn’t opened yet, so I sat in a caffeineless trance for half an hour, looking at all the empty seats around me.
On the plane to Miami, I talked with a man going to Columbia who has a textile business there. I showed him Etoys and talked about Waveplace. There’s someone he’d like me to talk to. We swapped cards.
In Miami with a three hour layover, I blogged and fixed some snafus on the Wavepace website. At the gate, I met Beth for the first time. I then sent an announcement to everybody I knew: we’re on the way to Haiti, follow along on our blog. Welcome to those reading along!
Beth and I managed to sit together on the plane, where we talked about Haiti history and the pilot plan. We landed at Port-Au-Prince airport with a huge bump, which made everyone on the plane laugh out loud. Walking through customs, we saw many other aid groups, and decided we really missed our opportunity to wear Waveplace tee-shirts. The bags were essentially tossed with a huge heave-ho through a door. Luckily my two bags were too heavy to get much air time, so I think damage was at least minimized.
Outside, we met Bill and many Haitian men who offered to drive or carry for us, though finally we saw John’s smiling face outside the gate. Getting the bags to his car was precarious, but the drive up the mountain to his house was relaxed and air-conditioned.
Port-au-Prince is of course different from my last visit thirty years ago. The most noticeable difference are the clothes and the relative lack of huge baskets on everyone’s heads, though we did see some of this. John assures me it’s still common in the countryside.
At John’s beautiful house, we met his wonderful wife Merline and his two children Leila and Daniel. Merline cooked pumpkin soup, which was delicious. A medical team was also staying at John’s house. The ten of us talked well into the night, then thankfully collapsed straight to sleep, amazed to be in Haiti amongst such good friends.