Cell phones, chess, children’s games. All of these things seem to be indicative of some sort of global shared culture. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Port au Prince my mind began subconsciously looking for connections between the familiar and the unfamiliar. It’s only natural for the mind to compare and contrast surroundings when you are exposed to an alien environment. Similarities give us a sense of comfort in a sea of new tastes, smells, and sights.
Which brings me back to cell phones, chess, and children’s games. As I remarked on earlier, cell phone use in Haiti reminds me a lot of (what use?) use in the United States. It seems as if everyone has a cell phone and is frequently using it. Chess is a delight to see worldwide, from Haitian teenagers playing it during a raucous fet (festival) to my fellow interns and I playing game after game on our porch. I am in no way qualified to discuss the history and provide dissemination of the game of chess, but the mindful intensity of a simple wooden pieces creates an understanding that blurs the lines between language and culture.
And, as cliché as it sounds, I have found that regardless of the language difference, playing with games with children does not seem to need translation. Whether it is futbol, leap frog, or fake karate, very little explanation is needed for the children to join in to well understood games. Miscommunication, due to language and ever-reliable physical humor, always makes for hilarious interactions with children of all ages.
Dog-pile [photo: Mansell Ambrose]
At first I was searching out these similarities in an attempt to find my footing in a foreign place. Over the course of the past few weeks, I have slowly been able to partly let go of this feeble attempt at security. This has allowed me the peace of mind to fully engage with the new experiences around me. And now that I have developed a sense of (limited) knowledge, I find myself coming full circle and taking reassurance once again from the noted cultural similarities. No longer do I use them as a crutch, but now I find myself appreciating that regardless of the attention-grabbing differences there is a common human appreciation for communication, thought exercises, and fun, all encapsulated in cell phones, chess, and children’s games.