One of the hardest parts of going anywhere new is trying to understand your surroundings and find your way around, especially if there is a language barrier. In Haiti, the language is Kreyòl, or as it’s spelled in English, Creole. Creole was developed by slaves on the island, who mixed various African languages with the French spoken by slaveowners. Haitians fortunate enough to attend school from sixth grade and beyond are also proficient or fluent in French, as it is used in schools starting at that age. Only the very well educated, professional translators, and those who have frequent contact with Americans, such as souvenir vendors at the beach, can speak English.
However, as it is often said, music is a universal language. Sure, there are lyrics to some songs, but just because you cannot understand them does not make the sounds any less breathtaking.
Upon arriving in Pont Morel, I had spoken to maybe four other people on the trip for about twenty minutes each. I knew six people’s names, and that was about it. I remember being exhausted after the first day. My body was adjusting to the heat and my mind was reeling over the position I had just put myself in. I had never even left the country, and now all of the sudden I was in Haiti. Little did I know that choosing to go on that adventure was the bravest and best decision I have ever made. The second night, after we ate dinner, Rachel pulled out her ukulele and sat outside with a few girls and started singing. I’m not usually one to sing in front of people, but I walked over and joined in, quietly at first. Soon, we were playing old songs that we had sung in our high school choirs and harmonizing with an audience. This instance was the first time that music connected me to somebody on my journey.
Rachel and I continued to sing for at least an hour each of the eight days that we were there, and those who joined us became my closest friends.However, music did so much more than connect me to my fellow advocates. Yvel and Don, two of our translators, adored music. By the fourth day, Don had taught himself the chords to John Legend’s “All of Me” on the ukulele, and we were able to perform it for everybody at the compound during some downtime. Yvel taught us some simple gospel songs, which Rachel, Allie, and I fell in love with. The religious lyrics were irrelevant. What mattered was the ease with which our voices blended together, the emotion that ignited within Yvel each time he sang, and the smiles on everybody’s faces as they watched us.
We were blessed by the opportunity to further our connection to the community when we met Oscar. Oscar is a 14-year-old who lives in a small house right next door to our compound in Morel. Yvel and Zach, YSI’s VP, accompanied us to Oscar’s house one afternoon. Oscar had a keyboard in his living room, on which we took turns playing old songs that everybody would know. Even if he didn’t know the words, Oscar enjoyed listening to us. One of the greatest moments of my journey was when Oscar played "Here I am to Worship" on his piano. This song was one that Yvel taught us, and we must have sang it for at least ten minutes straight. The joyful energy in that room was infectious. Not a single word of English had been exchanged between us and Oscar, but we had made a friend, and he will always hold a dear place in our hearts as a part of one of our favorite memories from Ayiti.
Check out the video of us singing with Oscar below: