Meet My Translator Peterson

 Allow me to introduce you to Peterson. Well, not really. I don’t have a picture of him or anything because I haven’t asked for one yet, and he’d probably razz me about it if I did. That’s just the kind of relationship we have.

Peterson is my translator and I’d be lost here without him. I’m pretty sure he’d razz me about that too, or maybe just look at me like I’ve grown another head and we’d both share an uncomfortable moment. It wouldn’t be our first. We started out yesterday awkwardly. I was all thumbs and anxiety and uncertainty, a new nurse with no experience whatsoever, with only a theoretical knowledge of how the clinic is run. I was scared of saying or doing the wrong thing and, in my ignorance, offending one of the people at the clinic, or worse, missing something important on assessment leading to poor quality care. I wanted badly to connect with each person, and the only thing I could think to use was my barely passable French, knowing I was certain to look like a fool. Peterson encouraged me, assuring me that the Haitian people appreciate the effort. With some gentle nudging and a great deal of assistance, I started speaking French, picking up Creole words here and there. You know, connecting.

In another life (the one I take for granted, where I can come and go as I please, can rely on the city to pick up my trash every Friday morning, and, with the exception of the disaster in Flint, generally don’t worry about safe drinking water while I plug away on my cell phone, drive my big SUV, and routinely throw away unused produce), I study population health from a nursing perspective. The most important piece of developing a successful intervention at the population level is finding an “in” with the community – someone who will vouch for the project and champion the vision. I think a lot about how to make those connections in my work at home, and I coddle them once they’re made because they are irreplaceable when trying to get something done at the community level.

Peterson is my “in” in the most personal way. FOTCOH is also my “in” in a broader sense, but Peterson is Haitian. His countrymen and women look to him, literally, in our moments of interaction, to see if they can trust me on a personal level. It’s very subtle. It’s in his facial expressions and the way he teases me about starting a sentence in French and ending it in English. It’s in the way he chuckles under his breath as I try to say for the thousandth time, “Kommo – s’eye – yay” to someone sitting down at my table and, for the thousandth time, say something more like “Kommo – say… uh – eye?”.  The people coming to the clinic recognize our easy banter, our natural rhythm as we communicate, and the way he makes sure to tell me when I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth in the kindest way possible.

I hope he knows how much I appreciate his gentle guidance, his never-ending patience and good humor, how he makes me laugh, how he’s right there when I need him, how he tries to distract the crying babies with his keys as I do my best to count a respiratory rate, and a gazillion other moments when I’ve looked at him with HELP ME PLEASE written on my face and he’s reacted without missing a beat. I think I’ll tell him tomorrow and ask for that photograph. I’ve taken a lot for granted in my life, and I know I’ll make that mistake again in the future. But today, I feel awake in a way I haven’t felt in a long while, and motivated to tell the people I appreciate that they are appreciated. It’s okay if he razzes me.

Danielle Roach