“She did WHAT?!”
“She tried to give herself a tattoo with pikan.”
I grabbed the arm of the teenage girl in front of me and looked at the freshly opened skin with the English word “Love” written out. Yup. She had just told Tiffany, and now she was showing me with a big grin – she tattooed herself with a thorn from the dusty ground. She then showed me her other arm, turns out she did it on both sides. But the opposite side wasn’t as clear (I guess you can’t write great when you’re using a thorn as a pen on your flesh)…”What’s this side say?” “That’s the name of my child”
Why am I surprised? Here I am worried about a do-it-yourself tattoo, and you’ve already had a child.
“Your child?! How old?” “Two months.”
“And how old are you?” “17.”
I controlled my face, sucked in a deep breath, and looked sideways at Tiffany. This must be one of the girls that Pastor Pierre told us about, who dropped out of school this year because she was pregnant. I was only coming over because Tiffany had wanted to show me the arms of the two friends who had somehow skipped infections, but I dropped to the ground, crossed my legs and got ready to spend some time with Nadia. I talked with her as her friend (with a matching ‘Love’ tattoo) listened and occasionally piped in. We talked about school, the father (not around, happened to work down the street a while ago), where she lives (literally a 60 second walk from the Sant Mouvman – without knowing it, I’ve met her family and daughter before), why I think she deserves a man who will stay with her and the baby, her own father (absent), my empathy for her. I got just a little vulnerable for her, opening up where I had similar walks in life to her. And in there, she asked the question that pulled me in for good. The conversation along with it cemented her into my heart. “Do you need a baby? Can I give you mine?”
I sat back and exclaimed that I couldn’t take a baby! I live in a work site, the baby isn’t mine, I’m working and wouldn’t be able to be with it. (These are all reasons that go along with the obvious “it’s your child!”) As we talked about this, she started to joke about throwing the baby in the toilet.
That’s when I had to check myself again and really control my face.
I’ve said it before, I don’t cry a lot here. But this conversation, the fact that most children are ‘accidents’, byproducts of physical relationships instead of intentionally planned in a family, the mindset that two teenage girls could laugh after what was said – I felt tears coming. I controlled myself and continued to feel drawn to keep the conversation going, and I did. I let her know that I wasn’t okay with what she said, we talked about our opinions of why it was or wasn’t funny. We went on and kept talking about other things, from how we could trade hair to what her mother sells by the road each morning. And you know what? When I was about to leave, it clicked. I looked Nadia in the eyes and said “You don’t want to give me your baby. You love her. You just tried to carve her name into your arm.”
She was caught. With her tough exterior she laughed it off, but without using words she let the guard down in her eyes and I could see that she knew what I did. She may be guarded, life may be hard, she may not have support in her life that represents a full, loving family – but she loves that little girl.
She still asks me every day if I need her baby, if I’m going to take it yet. I still respond no. Her daughter is beautiful, and her family is learning what to do with the white girl that keeps stopping by to say hello. I’m going to do life beside her, and we’re going to learn together. We’re going to invest in that baby together, and I’m going to remind her about the father with perfect love whenever I can as we talk about life. There’s a reason my new home happens to be a simple sixty second walk from hers.