Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pa Lwen

"Pa lwen" is Creole for "not far."

"Not far" in English means "10-20 minutes," perhaps "down the road," "Only a few blocks," generally a distance short enough that you won't think it's far.

In Creole "Pa lwen" is a straight-up lie.
It should mean, "You're about to climb up a mountain, back down, go through a few rivers, then back up another mountain. And I literally mean 'mountain,' not that one Centennial Hill you have back in your town - we'll be traveling on donkey paths that provide a 5-inch margin between your foot and the edge of the cliff. I hope you have enough water - oh, you shared it all with the group already? -because it will be two hours with no shade (remember how Haiti has lost over 80% of its tree cover). We're in a very rural part, so don't get your hopes up when you finally see signs of life, for we will still have to travel one mountain over.
And as a general rule of thumb, when there is a fork in the road, we are taking the road that looks the scariest and is the most vertical."

That's what "pa lwen" meant Saturday as I traveled with Darline, the coordinator of Mercy Beyond Borders, to visit the families of 4 scholars.

Some highlights:
1. Having to push our moto up a river bank
Obviously I was doing a lot of pushing.
2. We tried to take the moto as far as we could before walking, but we eventually ran into a problem when a donkey was coming towards us. There wasn't enough room for us to pass each other.
Turning the donkey around
3. Hiking up a mountain.
Can you spot the people?
4. Hiking up another mountain
pretty views
5. Yams
6. The hospitality of the families
A very joyful mother of 12
7. Hiking up another mountain
No really, I don't see a single house.
8. Following a great guide
                       To the left,                                                                 to the right,                                              or just...over... that way... generally...

9. Riding back with a chicken
The chicken got shotgun in the basket.
At one point the only house I could see was at the top of our mountain, so I asked our guide if that was where we were going. He said, "No, it's on the mountain behind that house, but don't worry, its 'pa lwen'."
Silly Jen, why would you think we're going to that house?

I got frustrated, for if I couldn't even see where we were going then it IS far. And it was hot, and we were out of water, and my knees were shaking, and my feet were covered in mud, and I just wanted to have been more prepared to walk ten hours in one day, for someone to say "yes, it is far!"

At that moment Darline said, "You have to understand that for them, it isn't far." They walk the two hours to the water source, or to school, or to the market to set up their stall, or to the clinic in town. She said, "you can't ask them how far it is, because they do it every day and forget about the time it takes."

And so even after 9 months living here I have these striking moments that make me embarrassed of my privilege, in awe of these people, and grateful for the days that I can peak into their lives and, quite literally, walk with them.


  1. I don't know if it should have, but this made me cry. I'm constantly astounded at the people here in my city who think it is too far for me to bike 3 miles on flat, paved roads to school or church or the Farmers Market. "You should just drive. It's quicker and safer. Plus, I'd never be able to do that...it's too far" they say.

    You will love being able to say "It's not far" when you're saving oodles of cash from taking what you consider to be a short walk or bike ride on our fancy schmancy roads at home.

    Thanks for sharing. Puts my laziness into perspective for when I choose to take the car instead of biking because I'm tired, cold, running late, busy, etc. The 12-minute bike ride would be a better choice for the world, my body, and my pocketbook. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jennifer,
    I am just now reading your posts. They are all great reads with fun photos! Thanks for giving us a slice of your time in Haiti. Really cool and real. Here is hoping the last six weeks are filled with joy and laughter and insights that will invite us all to create a better, more just world. You have definitely shown me the power of relationship. Peace and All Good. Roy