When I eat breakfast with the kids, i sit with Diana, Jenny, and Hannah, an intern at Ms. Sue’s Children’s Home, an hour’s drive from Port Au Prince, Haiti, in the countryside.
This morning the girls want to see pictures on my I phone and flip through the camera roll. Kids really like to see pictures ,and really really like to see pictures of themselves.
Jenny holds up my I Phone and snaps a selfie.
When you take a selfie it says ” See me “, as well as ” love me. ”
I don’t know when I’m coming back to Haiti, but, as Jenny reminds me, ” God knows. ”
She is a natural.
Maybe she will be a photographer, or an engineer, or a mathematician, or a mom, or a teacher, or all of them?
I would like to see that and have breakfast again, just one of the kid’s, at our table on the back porch in the early morning..
For now,my chores are done and I’m flying home tomorrow. It will be a long and tortuous taxi ride back to the National airport and Ms. Sue and Hannah will go too, drop me off, and then have the driver take them to pick up diapers, food staples, baby formula and used clothes in Port Au Prince for the kid’s that need them. Ms. Sue doesn’t drive anymore and a taxi ride to buy stores in Port Au Prince is not only expensive, but sometimes futile because items are often not in stock in the stores to buy..
These kid’s futures are scary.
Haiti is a place where Darwin’s theory about the Survival of the Fittest is playing out in the worst way.
If the fittest in a society don’t have compassion, suffering is compounded to the point of revolution.
The washer and dryer at Ms. Sue’s Children’s Home/Orphanage starts early in the morning and ends late at night.
With forty two kids, clothes get dirty and, even with throw away diapers, there is hardly time to wash dry,fold, and hang. Some of the clothes are hand washed in buckets in the front yard and the girls are most often saddled with this task, though Peter was scrubbing his white sneakers yesterday morning in a sink in the laundry room..
Ms. Sue wants the outside laundry location changed, because, near the house, the soil gets wet and makes mud that gets tracked into the house by almost a hundred little feet..
The new outside laundry area is in the shade, pebbles bordered by a square perimeter of heavy rocks borrowed from a collapsed retaining wall next to the guest house where I bivouac during my volunteer visit here.
The girls are washing in the new place today, but, mostly, they laugh, talk, learn what it is to be a woman in Haiti from one of the staff adults supervising them in their chores.
Clean clothes are a treasure, especially when you have no treasure chest to put them in.
Making do doesn’t mean you can’t have fun doing,and kids, even in rough times, always find ways to have fun.
One of the kid’s lifts the slow running hose and sprays the others till the hose is wrestled away and staff gets them all quiet again.
Having to do your laundry is a lifetime chore and having a little fun fun, when you do it, makes you like it more than you should.
In a hallway to the tv room, on a wall in front of the boy’s dorm, is a tree with kid’s photos hanging like fruit.
These photo’s were taken some years back and the children have long since outgrown their photos, each day becoming something new, their emotions taking them on minute by minute roller coasters.
For businessman, kids are future buying customers or part of a future labor force.
For schools, kids are society’s future mom’s and dad’s and bring money.
For politicians, kids are future voters who will have to pay for current policy mistakes.
For Jesus, children are to be nurtured.
At Ms. Sue’s, children give this children’s home its life. They run down halls, swing on swings on the playground, sharpen pencils at school, recite devotionals, watch Disney movies before bedtime, do their chores with only a little complaining.
It takes a long time for human fruit to ripen.
Yesterday’s photo’s don’t do justice to today’s faces.
It is, I’m observing, time for some new portraits.
Kid’s grow so fast that if you blink an eye they are already two steps ahead of you.
Haiti Made is a local countryside Cafe and Gift Shop.
If you walk outside the Christianville front gate, past the security man sitting in a chair with an automatic fully loaded weapon by his side, you make a quick right and follow a single winding lane road into the countryside until you get to their front door.
Less than a quarter mile, past the Old Well, you can drop by Haiti Made, grab a smoothie and visit with locals and foreign tourists in the heat of the day.
Displayed on tables,walls and pallets are handmade items made by local men and women who are part of the Haiti Made’s craft co-operative.
Jan is in court today and works the register, takes orders, meets friends who come in with pitches for various community projects. There are Americans living full time in Haiti and many have Christian intentions and charitable goals.
Love and Grace are operative words today and the smoothies are truly smooth. My favorite is banana cherry, but some of the kids like banana peanut butter, or cherry lime. They are all made with real fruit and thick enough you can use a spoon to scoop them out of the glass..
On this hot afternoon, with heat rising and the feel of rain in the air, going to Haiti Made makes a good comma in another long drawn out Faulkner sentence about hope and fear in a desolate Garden of Eden.
If a smoothie isn’t your cup of tea, you can choose a cup of coffee and have a muffin.
On a hot afternoon, it feels good to sit under the shade trees on the patio and swing in an old tire swing that hangs down from a tall sturdy branch above it by a thick thick rope that only a hangman would love.
There is the portrayal, in its art, that Haiti is a rural place of simplicity, order, old ways, peaceful, a collage of beautiful colors, shapes, and sounds. This is the Haiti that Gauguin would have painted had he sailed to Haiti instead of Tahiti.
There is the reality of Haiti, in a drive thru Port Au Prince, of collapsed concrete buildings, lingering fires in the street, pigs eating garbage as people sift through it next to them, street shops made from sheets of tin and plywood, hands shoved in your car window selling bottles of water.
The difference between the imagined Haitian paradise and the real fallen city is stark.
Would we rather accept a sentimental vision, or adjust to gritty reality?
Is our glass half full, or half empty?
Haiti is a pot of spicy soup with ingredients we savor, and ingredients we spit out.
Haiti shares its island with the Dominican Republic. Haiti speaks French and the Dominican Republic speaks Spanish. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere while the Dominican Republic is a tourist mecca with white beaches, all inclusive resorts, stunning landscapes.
Haiti was discovered by Columbus, claimed for Spain, ceded by Spain to the French, and became an independent country when Toussaint L’Overture, in 1804, led half a million slaves in revolt.
In 2003, Voodoo became an official Haitian religion.
There have been 70 dictators here since Independence Day.
Unemployment is around 80% .
The 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti was a 7.0 magnitude with over 300,000 Haitians killed and property damage that has never been rectified.
There is too much Africa and Europe here, and not enough opportunity and freedom..
Being kept a slave, by your own countrymen, is hard to fathom.
Where all the money donated to Haiti went, after the earthquake, is in someone else’s Swiss bank account.
Outside the front gate of Christianville, you take an immediate right to go to Haiti Made, a local cafe, coffee and smoothie shop run by Americans.
An eighth of a mile down the rock strewn, bumpy, water puddled lane, that barely makes a foot path, is the landmark Old Well.
It is called old because it is a deep well drilled in the 1950’s when the Christianville Bible University occupied the hillside above the well. The University was taken out by one of Mother Nature’s hurricanes some years ago and all that is left of it is a concrete shell of a building at the top of the ridge, obscured by battered trees and beat down vegetation.
Often, at this well, there are vehicles, motorcycles pulled off the road while men and women fill yellow five gallon plastic jugs with water to take home for cooking, drinking, and bathing.
I splash water on my face, direct from the spigot, stopping my walk to Haiti Made for a moment.
A hurricane, taking out this Bible University on the hill, is ironic.
If the well had been taken out too, the tragedy would have been exponentially worse.
While having a God helps us survive, not having water is a death sentence.
A phone call has been made to get this work started.
This workman uses a ladder to climb up into the tree branches,and, with deft strikes, his machete becomes an ax and tree limbs come down with a crash.
This crew of four has spent half a day trimming trees and another half loading debris into the back of their old pickup to be hauled off. The hood of the truck is left open to cool the engine.
Contrary to popular myth, Haitians work hard when there is work to be done that someone will pay you to do.
My apartment, after this tree amputation, will be fifteen degrees hotter because there are no longer branches to shade me, but I won’t have to listen to mango’s hit the tin roof day and night, with a noisy crash.
In the famous words of some long forgotten philosopher, written on some bathroom wall, ” The longer you wait before doing something,the better the chances you will decide it doesn’t need to be done. ”
I wish I hadn’t said anything about the noisy falling mango’s on my roof to the East Indian scientists who live upstairs, who then called Elizabeth, who then called the Christianville Public Works Department.
Shade in Haiti is more important than quiet.
Sometimes, it is best to keep your complaint to yourself, hold your tongue, and let things be as they have been a long tikme before you arrived.
The kid meter is shaped like a stop signal with green,yellow, and red lights.
When the green light is on there are bursts of positive energy. Kids seek like minded playmates and act out dramas the length of the dining room. They stay out of each others way and, like water, seek paths of least resistance. There are yells of pleasure, shouts, rising and falling voices harmonizing like a well tuned college choir.
With the yellow light there are the beginnings of malfunction. Small groups disintegrate, individuals grab for the same toy, sharing is a foreign concept. Someone is pushed down by someone bigger or someone is reprimanded by staff for doing a behavior out of bounds even by a child care workers loosest standards.
At the red light, there is loud and persistent crying, by one, several, or many.
At this breakfast, there are 42 children and staff being served, getting books ready for school, visiting, doing dishes, wiping down tables, sweeping the floor and finishing chores. It is not a well oiled machine, but there are good things happening that are reinforced each day over time.