In Haiti they speak Creole, a language that sounds very similar to French and looks entirely different written out. I was operating on two years of middle school (formal European) French in Haiti and managed to get along fine most of the time. Some of the older boys spoke some English and we could communicate fairly easily, but the little kids spoke no English (with the exception of “What is your name?” and “beautiful”). So I came to find and rely on universal languages.
Dance. This is the language I speak most fluently. Everyone dances, everywhere in the world. It’s joyful, it’s fun, kids can do it, adults can do it and this was one of the first languages I spoke in Haiti. After being pulled into the girls’ house I asked, “Vous aimez danser?” To which they responded by dancing. In the small concrete room we stood in they taught me Haitian dance moves and a short dance that was taught to them by another group of volunteers who had visited a few months before.
Throughout the week the girl’s taught me Haitian dance and when they asked if I knew ballet I taught them some basic ballet steps to practice. At the end of the week all of the kids put on a show called the Spectac, filled with gymnastics, singing and dancing.
Music. In Haiti everyone sings. The kids would ask us to sing for them and when some members of the trip would reply “I don’t sing” they would receive a puzzled look from the children. Everyone sings. How could you not sing? When the kids would come over to the guest house they would sing and Erika, my roommate for the week, would play guitar for them. They asked us to sing every time we went to play with them. It’s funny what songs you think of when you’re asked to sing on the spot. I never would have imagined I would be singing “Hey, Soul Sister” to a group of Haitian girls a month ago.
The church service we went to on Sunday was also filled with music. I’ve never been to a service where music is incorporated so thoroughly into worship. They sang in rounds and the large room was filled with the sound of drums and singing.
Play time. Kids have energy–universally. The kids at Espwa knew how to play “Red Hands,” jump rope, and soccer (or futball). I never personally got into soccer with them because, to be honest, I think the 2-year-olds would have kicked my butt, but we had plenty of other things to play with. We played with parachutes one day and water balloons another. And I learned to never underestimate how far a goofy face and a playful nature will go with children.
So even though my broken French wasn’t the most effective for communication, we got along just fine using some of my favorite universal languages.