Back to School Shopping…Like You’ve Never Seen it Before

I know right around this time of year a lot of parents reading this have recently experienced back to school shopping with your children. New items from clothing, to new shoes, to school supplies are purchased in order to get your child ready for school. I remember doing this as a child and loving getting all of my new school supplies. Then I became a teacher and the day Target set up their school supply section was always very exciting…..only other teachers will know what I am talking about. Even now after I haven’t been teaching for two years I find myself wondering around the school supply section of Target just seeing what they have and wishing for a school supply section here in Haiti!

We are in the midst of the Haiti version of back to school shopping and I can assure you it is extremely different. The good news is that as each year goes on, I am getting better and better at it and I know more and more what the kids need but it is never simple (nothing here ever is).     I’d like to try my best to describe what it is like here. We have been back in Haiti since August 3 and pretty much started working on school supplies on August 4. School is set to start September 7 (this is very tentative because the government often times pushes the start day back) and when we got here August 3, I knew I would need the whole time to gather all the necessary supplies.

Let me start by talking about what each girl needs. Right now we have 9 girls in 1 school, 3 girls in another, 1 girl in another, and 1 girl in another. These are not all girls that live with us but girls we continue to support for school and other things thanks to wonderful sponsors. This means that we have to purchase supplies for each girl for 4 different schools. This may not seem like a big deal but I assure you it is. Each girl needs hair barrettes, ribbon, go-gos (the kind of hair tie that wraps around the hair and has a ball on the end), socks, skirts, and blouses in colors specific to their school. All of these items are non-negotiable and our girls will not be admitted to school without them. We also get each girl a new big jar of hair grease and some shoe polish.

For the boys, we have 9 in 1 school, 4 in another, and 1 in another. Their supplies are easier but still not simple. They each need socks in a specific color (1 boy actually is required to wear light pink), belts, pants, and shirts. We also get them hair grease and shoe polish.  Reading about all of these supplies may already seem exhausting but wait until I tell you how we buy them.

For everything I just named, we go into a big outdoor market where merchants rent a small space and set up their goods they are selling. It is impossible to find everything we need at one place so we walk through the market asking different merchants what they have and trying to find everything we need in each color we need (not in english by the way). It is hot, smells bad, muddy, and generally a very filthy place to be. Trying to gather all of these supplies takes about 4 weeks and at least 5 trips back and forth to the market.

I haven’t even mentioned the uniforms. Each school requires a specific color for the shirt and a different color for the skirt or pants….or shorts….depends on the grade of the child. We have to pick out each fabric, have it cut to the right size and gender, hire a seamstress and tailor to come and measure each child, then send the fabric home with them and pay them to sew each uniform.

I haven’t even mentioned books!! Each child is given a list from the school with titles of the books they will need for that school year. Most lists have around 10 to 15 books on them. There is a local book store that we have already gone to 3 times and so far they have not had any books in…none! Inevitably we will end up back in the outdoor market searching for specific book titles going from merchant to merchant.

Add to all of this that local elections are going on here in Haiti for the first time in 5 years and results will be announced tonight around midnight on the radio. We have already been told by many Haitians that once results are announced people will be very very angry. Everyone has told us to expect things to get bad and to not even attempt to go out on the roads. We have even given a couple of employees we know travel to get to work tomorrow off because it will be too dangerous for them to try to come into work. So this makes getting school supplies much more challenging!

Hopefully this is not being read as me complaining. I am only trying to paint a picture of what life is like here. I love my life here and while getting ready for school can be hard, there is no place else I would rather be….unless there was a Target here in Haiti where I could get all of my kids school supplies.

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