I learn a lot when I walk with Mèt Anténor. He is the principal of the elementary school nearest where I life. It’s in Mariaman, a half-hour’s walk down the mountain from Ka Glo, where we live. I say “we,” because I live with Mèt Anténor . I live with him, his wife, and three children in a small house a few feet from the house he grew up in. They have been my family here ever since I began visiting Haiti two summers ago.
” Mèt ” has nothing to do with his name. It’s his title as the local principal, and almost everybody on the mountain, short of his wife and children, uses it.
Every once in a while, he and I walk down the mountain together. He doesn’t go down often. He’s asthmatic, and walking back up is a real struggle for him. But as the October beginning of the school year approaches he goes to school more and more often and to the various offices in Pòtoprens itself where one gets through whatever red tape there is for a public school principal at the beginning of the school year.
Running a school in Mariaman is challenging. The school is about 30 feet by 50 or 60. He has three small rooms, 300 students, and six teachers. Six, that is, when they all can come. There’s an outhouse for teachers. The school is public, which means that the government pays the teachers’ meager salaries and for some copy books for the children-whenever Mèt Anténor can get the various bureaucrats he deals with to cough up the dough.
That leaves him to finesse issues like school maintenance and supplies. What he’s forced to do is charge the parents who send their children to his school a few dollars a month. That’s not much, but it’s already prohibitive for some. If it were only a matter of those few dollars, more students would be able to attend, but Haitian schoolchildren wear uniforms and decent-looking shoes. If their parents can’t buy shoes, the children stay home. There are plenty of children on the mountain who can’t go, even when Mèt Anténor discounts his fees for many who can not pay.
When we walk along the mountain road together, he has a word for everyone and everyone has a word for him. When he passes a local mason, he chats about how repair work might get done. When he passes teenage boys, he asks them to remove some rocks from the middle of the narrow path that is our road. And they do. When he passes a roadside stand, he chats about business and farming and other community issues. He himself does subsistence farming on the land his father left him.
All his conversations are filled with his broad, deep laughter. He laughs whether the news is good or bad, and people generally laugh with him. Everyone knows him, and, as far as I can tell, they love him too.
I am always learning from him. He has taught me much of the Creole I know, and what he hasn’t taught me himself, I know because he put me into the hands of my great teachers, the neighborhood teens. He’s taught me about the community he lives in, a community he knows very well indeed. And he’s also teaching me much larger things: about the importance of hope, the irrelevance of doubt. He’s a very good and devoted teacher, and a wonderful friend.