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Cultural Immersion

ANISHA IN HAITI

dscn0956Hills straight into ocean views on Ile de la Gonave

Bonjour from the island of La Gonave, were I am about one week la-gonave-mapthrough my three week stay on this mountainous, arid, tough yet beautiful island of rocks-meet-ocean! La Gonave is roughly 40 miles long by 10 miles wide, off the coast of Port-au-Prince and even less densely populated than its size might warrant because it is dry and relatively isolated, even by Haitian standards.

I am here learning creole (or “kreyôl”), working in the community surrounding the Ecole Matenwa model school, getting the lay of the land and building a deeper understanding of what it means to live and raise a family in Haiti.

The beyond-bumpy road leading up to Matewa

The beyond-bumpy road leading up to Matewa

The village of Matenwa is situated up in the hills, accessible from the main port town via the bumpy, unpaved roads that criss-cross the island. The roads are so rocky and pocketed by boulders that they are virtually impassible by car – motorcycles are the only vehicles I really see here, apart from donkeys. As the founder of the Matenwa school eloquently phrased it, La Gonave is “an off-road biker’s paradise” but for a normal girl like me, every trip out beyond Matenwa involves a rather adventurous ride.

Motorcycle or “moto” – my ride while on La Gonave

Motorcycle or “moto” – my ride while on La Gonave

I am living with a local family in Matenwa and staying in their small “kay” (kreyôl for “house”) which sits on a plot of land that is shared with the “kays” of the large, extended family. There is no electricity or running water in any of the homes, which means showering happens from a bucket, the toilet….does not exist, cooking and washing all happen outdoors, and the day pretty much begins and ends with the sun.

Two sisters and single moms, Loretta and Zaza, are my primary hosts and caretakers. They have four and five kids each, ranging from the ages of 18 to 5. Between this troupe and their extended family, I almost always have company. I have acquired several adorable and eager little shadows who love to tag along as I go about my day. There is always someone to watch doing housework, someone to chit-chat with, people passing through to say hello, and groups of the family gathering to discuss something or the other.dscn0900

View from my window

View from my window

Zaza preparing dinner

Zaza preparing dinner

Two of my little shadows

Two of my little shadows

The family speaks only Kreyol but their nephew Wadson speaks some French and a little English. Wadson is my primary language helper and helps me muddle through the translations of everyday living. Apart from him, I am surrounded by creole speakers 24/7. It is exhausting and frustrating at times, but it’s also rewarding. And I have many “professors” here because the whole extended family has taken it upon themselves to impart an understanding of the kreyôl language and Haitian culture to me.

The family doing homework before school.

The family doing homework before school.

In spite of how tremendously difficult the everyday life here is, there are so many vibrant smiles around me and such easy laughter. It’s contagious, and I find myself laughing so many times a day. It may sound a bit like a cliché reflection from a fresh-faced foreign visitor, but it is to me one of the most pronounced facets of my time here so far.

A grazing goat at midday

A grazing goat at midday

Salt marshes between mountains and ocean

Salt marshes between mountains and ocean

Sunset over Matenwa

Sunset over Matenwa

Two more weeks ahead of me here on La Gonave. More to come soon!

This post was written on January 14th and published after my return to Port-au-Prince and internet connectivity.

A Cultural Exchange Experience

The Matènwa Community Learning Center organizes ecotours for travellers who want to have a cultural experience in the Haitian countryside. Ecotours consist of living with a host family in the community of Matènwa from one week to one month. A longer creole language immersion program is also available. You can experience a variety of things here depending on your personal interests.
Some daily life activities are:


how to make peanut butter,

how to make Haitian coffeee,

how to make cassava,

a swim at Kaliko swimming hole,

a hike to a bat cave,


a hike to the market,
and various mountain villages.

Matènwa is situated in the remote mountains of Lagonav, a Haitian island in the bay of Port Au Prince. This mountanous 10 mile by 47 mile island is home to 110,000 people. It is very rustic, having no public electricity nor running water.
Most people travel on foot or by donkey.
The skies are brilliant, like an ever changing canvas.

The weekly fee covers room, board, and daily life activities. English speaking guides are extra. This program was created to generate income for the Matènwa Community Learning Center as well as your host family. Individuals, couples, and families are welcome. For more information call 001 617 543 8844 or email  matenwa1@gmail.com.

Read Mariam Higgin’s blog about her and her two teenage children’s 3 week visit in Matènwa.

Read Max’s blog and get a teen’s view of his 3 week visit in Matènwa.

Visit Lauren Mueller’s collection here. This collection documents her recent trip to Haiti with members of the Fayerweather Street School.

Read Ridge Olivieri’s cultural immersion on his blogspot.

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