Day one of the Spanish class for the Haitian radio journalists in Costa Rica
September 11, 2011
By Margie Thompson
“Aba” “ebe” “ibi”….”asa” “ese” “isi”….the Spanish class with the Haitian women has begun…the first two days include brief explanations in French but then no more…only Spanish…
Two feminist radio journalists from Haiti arrived in Playa Cocles on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica yesterday to spend a month learning Spanish and to participate in intercultural exchange activities organized by ESCRIBANA. Marie-Guyrleine Justin and Alcéna Sainte-Heléne are leaders of REFRAKA (Women’s Network of Community Radios in Haiti). They are highly motivated and their interest is political.
According to recent estimates, Spanish is the language spoken most often in Haiti after Creole, followed by French. Justin knows some Spanish, with a pronunciation more like that of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, because many people from those countries are living or working in Haiti.
Ste. Heléne studied Spanish as part of her training to become a teacher many years ago. Both traveled recently to Argentina to participate in the international conference of AMARC (World Association of Community Radios) last November, but struggled to communicate the situation of women in Haiti and their experiences in community radio using some translation, a few Spanish phrases and sign language.
“We want to learn Spanish to be able to communicate with women in the rest of Latin America & the Caribbean and be able to respond to the solidarity we have received from that region,” said Justin. “We also want to be able to produce radio programs in Spanish for Latin American & Caribbean radio and also to translate radio productions from Spanish into Creole for Haitian radio.”
The Spanish teacher, Frederick Wilkie, almost dances as he emphasizes words that have an accent that mark the intonations in Spanish. He’s quite a character – he arrives via bicycle every day, wearing a tie and formal suit vest, and he appears to be very serious. But with bare feet and his constant moving and swooping to make a point, it’s quite a paradox.
Wilkie has 30 years of experience teaching Spanish and English in several countries, and earned his Master’s degree in Vancouver in teaching second languages. “He is the best teacher in this area,” declared Sonia Rodriguez, a leader in the Association of Afro Women of Cocles (ASO Mujeres).
Wilkie also has a long history of activism, starting with his participation in protests against the Viet Nam War in the 1960s at Harvard and later the University of California at Berkeley. In 1969 he worked with Jelly Roll Press, printing materials for the Black Panthers. Later in 1987 he supported the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua by participating in a campaign entitled “Bikes, not Bombs.”
”Buenas dias compañeras…Como les va?”(Good morning friends, how are you?) As radio women they are obviously very skilled at listening and repeating the sounds, taking notes at every step. They spent the first two days of class focusing on the differences and similarities between Spanish, Creole and French. The most different isCreole, which requires conjugating verbs into present tense only, and including in the sentence a referral to yesterday or tomorrow to clarify the time context.
Classes are five hours daily, and take place at a large wooden table on the big outside porch of the little blue house, where the Haitian women are also living. The lush green jungle surrounds the house, with the sound of the ocean waves in the surf just 50 meters away…this is their peaceful classroom for the next 20 days. It’s raining outside, but no matter, the sounds of “tres bien”…”muy bien” continue in a smooth musical rhythm as the women repeat after their teacher to learn the sounds of the letters and the intonation. Ironically, the news on the radio and Internet describe threats of new tropical storms and hurricanes in the islands of the Caribbean.
The Haitian women live in a country that lies directly in a main path of many Caribbean hurricanes. Although neither women live in Puerto-au-Prince, Justin lives in the south in Grand Goave, west of the capital city, and Ste. Heléne lives in the north in Mare-Rouge in the district Mole Ste. Nicholas.
The women are learning that in some ways Spanish is much easier than French or English because Spanish is said how it sounds, unlike the other languages…which have so many “exceptions” to the rule. French has three types of accents, whereas Spanish and also Creole require just one.
But by nighttime the first evening the women were already interacting in Spanish as well as a local version of Creole called Mekatelyu with basic but lively conversations with neighbors who arrived to welcome the visitors with Caribbean chicken, rice and beans, and patacones (fried plantain). Laughter rang through the forest as Justin, Ste. Heléne and the rest shared stories of Haiti and Costa rica in a mixture of Spanish, French and Creole. They also talked about the upcoming intercultural exchanges planned with the ASO Mujeres, REFRAKA and ESCRIBANA to take place on Saturday, September 17 at a local restaurant. “We are preparing our presentations in Spanish in the class,” said Justin with a melodious laugh.
“Hasta mañana y muchas gracias, me voy a estudiar.” (Until tomorrow, and thank you very much, I am going to study now.)