Piti piti

The title of this blog is my favorite Haitian proverb.  It means “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”  It was one of the first proverbs we learned in my Haitian Creole class this summer; the professors seemed to understand just how overwhelming beginning to learn a new language can feel.  But that’s how we went through the three weeks – little by little, until we all left the class with a feeling that yeah, maybe we could begin to understand this new language we’d set out to master.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much of a chance to practice my Creole living in Boston, so now I’m dusting off those words and phrases that I learned in July and trying to apply them to life here.  The basic greetings came back pretty quickly, so I’m at least not actively rude to the friendly Haitians who greet me on my way to breakfast every morning, but my medical Creole is a bit more rusty.  I’ve been shadowing Dr. R, one of the pediatricians here in Cange.  He is very knowledgeable, and a good teacher.  There is a medical student, A, on our team who speaks very good English, so she has been very helpful to me as well.  I’ve been mostly just observing, but today in clinic they encouraged me to take the plunge and start interviewing patients in Creole.  I made it through a handful, with some help from A and some patience from the children’s parents.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to get the diagnoses correct each time – nothing exotic, just your typical URI, fever, etc.

One thing that complicates the language issue around the hospital/clinic is that all of the notes and orders are written in French!  People here seem surprised that I don’t know French (doesn’t everyone?) though they’re often amused when I offer the explanation that since I have a Spanish last name I always had chosen to study Español.  It seems less than fruitful to explain to them how much more utility I’d thought I would get out of Spanish, and indeed, I have had Spanish-speaking patients during residency and even during my time in Boston.  I don’t think I’ve had any Creole-speaking patients.

The bottom line is that I’m working on both my Creole and my medical French.  It will be an interesting 6 months!

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