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Local family strengthens Haitian connection

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POLSON — “Pr rile” or suckers are the perfect treat for Peterson and Adlerson Watkins, but they also like “fromage” or string cheese sticks. 

Since Peterson, 5, and Adlerson, 3, are from Haiti, they speak Haitian Creole, which is where the words “pr rile” and ”fromage” come from. Haitian Creole is a mix of French, African dialects and Spanish. 

Tifanni and Mike Watkins want to keep the two boys bilingual, so the Watkins speak Haitian Creole at home, although the boys are fluent in English. The Watkins welcomed the two boys into their family when Adlerson and Peterson were adopted on June 26, 2009.

Montana is far from Haiti, which is really beautiful, with mountains “like our mountains,” and the ocean. The Watkins visited Haiti twice before bringing Peterson and Adlerson home, and Aurrora, 8, joined her parents when they went to retrieve her brothers. 

“It took two years to bring them home,” Tifanni said, describing how long the adoption process dragged on. 

Home to the Watkins was Seeley Lake, where they had lived for six years. The family arrived back in Seeley Lake on June 30, 2009.

Peterson and Adlerson didn’t have much trouble adapting, Tifanni said, although the boys were worried about the family pets. In Haiti, dogs, for instance, are big scary animals.

“No one has animals in Haiti,” Tifanni said, “and we have a fair amount of critters.”

The boys have gotten used to the Watkins’ two dogs, two cats, bunnies and horses.

American food also posed no issues for Adlerson and Peterson, especially Pizza Hut pizza that the boys love. They did eat lots of bananas when they first got to Seeley, Tifanni said. She thinks bananas were comfort food for the two boys. Now they eat rice, ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese and other kid foods. 

Soon after Peterson and Adlerson arrived in Seeley Lake, they informed Tifanni and Mike that they didn’t want to eat any more beans. Beans and rice were about the only foods the orphanage served, and the boys were sick of them. 

Tifanni said the ultimate insult the boys use is “mange pwa” or eat beans. 

Cars don’t “mange pwa;” cars are still a thrill for Adlerson and Peterson. In Haiti the boys maybe rode in a car two or three times in their lives, Tifanni said. Here it’s a daily occurrence to ride in a “machine” and an almost daily occurrence to have snow in winter. 

Snowy weather doesn’t seem to bother the boys, although “keeping gloves on was tough at first,”Tifanni said. 

Peterson and Adlerson would pick up snow and cry because their hands were cold. The boys did not understand they had to put their coats on each time they went outside either. Tifanni said she thinks the boys thought coats were like pajamas, “you put them on once and you were done.” 

Coats and gloves weren’t the only changes for the small boys from Haiti. The Watkins family relocated to Polson in August. 

“We came home (to Seeley Lake), we moved (to Polson), I went back to work,” Tifanni said, listing all the life changes in the Watkins family. 

Tifanni works as a paraprofessional at Cherry Valley School, and Mike works at Health Care Plus. Aurrora has settled into Mrs. Farnstrom’s third grade classroom at Linderman School, and Adlerson and Peterson attend Doodlebugs Preschool with teacher Anna Golden.

Life was getting calmer when news of the earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12 hit the news. Naturally the Watkins family was concerned. 

“We were glued to the TV and the Internet,” Tifanni said.

Landmarks such as the Presidential Palace and the cathedral were obliterated Tifanni said. The Haitians were so proud to show these beautiful buildings. 

“It made us physically sick,” Tifanni said. “We’d see places and say, 'we’ve been there.'”

The earthquake did not damage the Chances for Children orphanage where Peterson and Alderson lived although the offices were destroyed. Occupancy is up since the orphanage usually is home to 60 children and now is houses 100 kids.  

“But the staff is okay, the kids are okay,” Tifanni explained.

The Watkins have teamed with Cherry Valley School to do a fundraising breakfast for Chances for Children orphanage. (See sidebar story.)

The Watkins had many friends, some of whom are missionaries, so Tifanni and Mike would check to see if friends had updated their blogs. People were connecting via the Internet, getting on FaceBook.

FaceBook also keeps the Watkins’ in touch with other families who have adopted Haitian children. 

Kobe, Peterson’s best friend at Chances for Children, lives in Kalispell. Other families live in Billings, Great Falls, North Dakota, and Washington. 

For now, life goes on busily at the Watkins house with coloring, drawing, puzzles, toys, pets, and books for Adlerson, Aurrora and Peterson.

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