Bonjou! Learn to Speak Haitian Creole

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Exercise 67 - Games children play

Vocabulary words
jacks - woslè
a game of jacks - yon jwèt woslè
count-and-capture, mancala - jwèt kay
firefly - koukouy
game - jwèt
play - jwe
jumping rope - sote kòd
Hopscotch - marèl
telling a tale - tire kont
roasted peanuts - pistach griye
Italian ice - fresco
hide-and-seek - kachkach liben sere liben, lago
*Jean-Jacques Dessalines was the first Haitian President

Some of my favorite childhood memories are from Arcahaie, pronounced ah-ka-yeah.
Arcahaie is a little town west of Haiti.
I attended primary school there at Ecole St Joseph de Cluny, an all-girls Catholic school.
The all-boys school was right across the street from us.  The schools were located on a big plaza which had a giant statue of *Jean-Jacques Dessalines raised on many steps and a tall concrete tower.  This monument is at least 3-stories high. It stands at the entrance to the town.

We went to school twice a day.  We got a break at midday to go home to eat.  school was out for the day at four o'clock.  Since we had no electricity, I finished my homework before sundown.  Then playtime followed.
"Vin jwe woslè!" Come play a game of jacks!  I would yell at my girlfriend, as I peeped through the thorny candelabra trees that separated our houses.
"M pito sote kòd. Ou gen kòd?" I'd rather jump rope. Do you have any ropes? she'd respond  at times.
Playtime was always outside. Other neighborhood kids watched to see when we came out and then they'd join us.  We had a huge front yard as I remember. 
"Yap jwe marèl!" They're playing hopscotch! another girl would yell from the street, while she ran to join us.
Other kids would join us and start digging small holes in the ground giggling,
"Nap jwe kay!" "We'll play count-and-capture!"
The boys would join us too, sometimes demanding we play hide and seek with them. 

By moonlight most of the neighborhood kids were in our yard playing hide and seek, krik krak, or listening to tales.  Different acquaintances from the neighborhood would stop by and tell us stories about the goddess of the sea, about Bouki a brainless boy, about a girl who falls in love with a dog, or about talking animals.  Most of the stories were about intelligent, resourceful animals, like a bee who bakes a cake, a chicken who outsmarts a cat, a donkey who does tricks, a cockroach who dresses finely, an ant who struggles to survive, etc... you name it, we'd  had a tale about it.
Often the storyteller would sing and mimic the voices of characters in the story.  Dogs always spoke in a low tone and cats had squeaky voices.

I had a jar labeled "koukouy" that I would bring out at night to catch fireflies.  I was fascinated by them!  Trapping a firefly was like capturing magic in my jar.  The fireflies didn't last long in the jar, but it was a delight walking around with a illuminated jar.

When you have no electricity in your home and no TV to watch, there's no need to be cooped up in a little hut at night. Everyone on our street was out on their porch at night.  I knew they were there because I could hear them chatting.  My ears were especially tuned to the neighbors who were courting.
Everyone in this tiny town was there. 
Bòs Pasètin, the shoemaker, lived right across the street from us.  He made our shoes. 
Rinya, the baker, brought us fresh pastries every morning.
The milkman brought us a jug of milk straight from the cow every morning.  We sterilized the milk by boiling it with a pinch of salt, some lemon zest, a couple of cinnamon sticks and sometimes a piece of ginger root.
Bèbète, the dressmaker, made our school clothes every year.
The Hertelous sold sugar, butter, candles, and oil for our lamps.
We got our school supplies from Emilia.
Bòs Marcel had the only bus service that took us to Port-Au-Prince.  He'd pick us up right at our front gate.
Julienne and Solange were the school teachers, etc...
And then there was Pierre who sometimes played the church organ.  He's the first boy I had kissed. One night he playfully handed me a note requesting a kiss.  So I kissed him, and that was the beginning and also the end of the affair.

A lot of people bathed at night. With no running water or faucets - there were no indoor showers.  In our neighborhood everyone had their own water well.  We bathed in the open with the water from our well.  So the boys just loved spying on the "night bathers" in the moon light.  They just followed the aroma of the bath soap. I don't know why they were always chuckling, it was hard to see much in the dark anyway, except for the shapely blue silhouettes of the bathers.

My Sunday afternoons were spent on the Dessalines Plaza with friends, eating ice cream, fresco (Italian ice), and pistach griye (roasted peanuts).

A few days ago, I saw a 2004 photo of the Arcahaie's plaza on Google.  The Jean-Jacques Dessalines monument seemed to be in good shape.  I could see the steps where I had sat hundreds of times while gazing at  that monument.  How nostalgic I felt!  Looking at the image on my screen, It felt as if
I were a little girl again back in Haiti.  As I looked at the photo,  I remembered a part of me from so long ago I had almost lost it forever. If I could ever travel back in time, I would go back to the Arcahaie of so many years past.
Multiple choice questions

1. What does the Haitian Creole word koukouy mean?
a. catch
c. light

2. You are gathering a group of kids for story telling time in Haiti.  You would say:
a. nou pral jwe kay.
b. nou pral sote kòd.
c. nou pral tire kont.

3. The kids of Arcahaie were sad because they were missing out on TV.
a. True, they were apparently miserable.
b. False, they seemed to have fun.

4. How would you say, "I'd rather dance." in Haitian Creole.
a. M vle danse.
b. M pito danse.
c. M pral danse.

5.  You're walking down the streets in a Haitian city.  You see a merchant with a straw basket on her arms.  She's yelling out, "Pistach griye! Pistach griye!".  You know she's selling:
a. soap
b. oil
c. roasted peanuts

6. Arcahaie is a little town
a. on the south side of Haiti
b. on the west side of Haiti
c. on the east side of Haiti

7. Port-Au-Prince is
a. the capital of Haiti
b. on the rural side of Arcahaie
c. some walks away from Arcahaie

8. The very first president of Haiti was
a. Toussaint Louverture
b. Jean-Jacques Dessalines
c. King Henri Christophe

9.  Haitian tales were mostly about
a. Knights in shining armor
b. Prince and Princesses
c. talking animals

10.  Most Haitian kids would play a game of "kay" by
a. digging holes in the ground
b. jumping rope
c. hiding inside a house

Answers: 1.b,  2.c,  3.b,  4.b,  5.c, 6.b, 7.a, 8. b, 9. c, 10.a