Adapting to Reality

 In General

By John Engle

“I’m hopeful because my work is bearing fruit,” said Samson, a Beyond Borders and Limyè Lavi colleague, when I asked how things were going for him. I had just returned to Haiti for the first time since I’d moved back to the United States almost three months ago with my wife, Merline, to focus on developing The Experiment in Alternative Leadership in the U.S.

“If you go to Madame Evelyn’s classroom on any Thursday between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m.,” Samson continued, “you’ll find her sitting in a circle with all her students doing a Reflection Circle. She is one of more than a dozen teachers that I trained last year who are doing weekly Reflection Circles.” His radiant enthusiasm is an oasis for me. Before we are finished talking, he has told me of several other recent accomplishments teaching literacy instructors and introducing Open Space to various groups.

After living in Haiti for thirteen years, moving back to the States has been quite an adjustment for me. Now, on my first return visit to Haiti, I’m readjusting again: from Washington, D.C.’s relative afflucence to the landscape here in Port-au-Prince with garbage piled as high as buildings, junkyard-looking vehicles transporting people packed like sardines, begging children dressed in rags.

Along with training teachers, Samson Joseph has taught an adult literacy class for adults in the neighborhood surrounding the Limyè Lavi office in Port-au-Prince. Here he presents Meliane Joseph (no relation) with a certificate at a graduation ceremony held July 30, 2004, recognizing her successful completion of the two-year literacy program. Before accepting her certificate Meliane said, “My goal was to learn to read and write and be able to read the lyrics from a hymnal with my church choir.” Meliane then proudly stood before everyone with her hymnal and sang all the verses of a hymn.

Yet somehow Samson’s smile and the twinkle in his eyes are as beautiful as ever. He gives me energy. Suddenly, seriousness comes over him as he continues to share: “My big problem is that I’ve got to get my ID and other official documents replaced. It’s going to cost me 7,000 goudes (US$200), assuming the bribes are within reason. It’s hard to estimate how much time it will take, given the government’s state of disorder.”

Samson had been robbed at gunpoint three days earlier. Two thieves got away with about $100, three cell phones (he was carrying two for friends), and some personal items—including all his ID and documents. The ache I’m feeling for my friend is showing. He’s aware of my sadness. It’s as though he flips a switch; his beautiful smile returns, lighting up his face. Once again he’s radiating energy and power in a frame less than half the size of mine. He won’t let us wallow in his misfortune. He laughs, shrugs, and says, “You have to adapt to reality!”

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