Have you followed me and seen pictures from Rodney, a boy (the only boy) I trust with my phone when he asks to take pictures? Best smile in Bercy, an extremely sweet but also extremely fun attitude, and the tendency to run up to me and grab my hand to join me when I have tasks to do around the community. I had something I wanted to ask his school something today and asked if I could go with him in the morning – he said of course!
Rodney: Will you wait for me to get out and I’ll walk you home?
Me: Rodney, what? Wait for you? Until when?
Rodney: School is over at noon
Me: Um….buddy, I have a lot of other stuff to do. I’m just gonna walk with you then go back home.
Rodney: Will Mickens come get you on the moto?
Me: No…I can walk
Rodney: (does the Haitian double gasp that shows surprise)
I was a little confused…Rodney, I can walk! He was half wanting to be the one to take me home (he walks me home daily, barely taller than my waist with a pair of shorts and no shoes on that tiny body full of joy) but also seemed surprised as if it’d be far….but come on, he walks there every day on foot at seven in the morning! And when she isn’t sick, his smaller sister Tasha is right beside him! I knew it wouldn’t be too far.
So this morning, I’ve got my coffee down and my head up looking for my friend to come knocking on our gate. I invited Cory & his wife Abby, who are visiting this week, to come with us. They ask where we’re going, I honestly reply I have no clue but that my guess is ten minutes.
Rodney shows up with that grin, no food in his belly but you’d never know as he takes my hand and he’s ready to go. With a ‘Bonjou!’ to Cory and Abby, we get on our way with his brother in tow.
He asks for my phone and starts taking some pictures as we walk, most of them with his finger blocking half the view. The smile never leaves his face and he greets each farmer and neighbor we pass by name as they fondly smile back and do the same – men with machetes, women going to market, guys leading their donkeys and cows to….wherever you take your donkeys and cows. One man stops to give a spare 5 gourd coin to each boy to buy some food (aka, the “one dollar” cookies sold all over). Every minute, I’m sure we’re about to have the school pointed out to us.
Then we turn from flat, rocky paths to a little incline/decline action and some
more trees. This is probably ten minutes in, possibly more.
I’m sure you get where I’m going here…the answer, even though he said “almost”, was not almost. You know the whole ‘When I was your age I walked 3 miles uphill both ways to a one room schoolhouse….’? Well. That’s where this story goes. We passed a home where Rodney used one of the two dollar coins to buy a pack of ‘bon-bons’, offering them to all of us. Students in different colored uniforms pass is heading towards Bercy (I asked, we were outside Bercy by this point). More cows. Up, down, over a dried up riverbed.
We get to the longest incline of all, and Rodney says “After this hill, the school is after we go down” (at least, that what I understood from it in my limited Creole). He’s been asking “are you tired?” to all three of us Americans, taking my hand or Abby’s to be reassuring or help. I love this kid.
We get to the top of the hill, I’m expecting to look down and see the school.
Do you see that tiny white thing? “That’s the school”, Rodney points it out to me.
We’ve been walking for who knows how long now. I really don’t know if I can get to that building that looks so tiny at this point. I keep thinking….he walks this every day. I look down, thankful shoes are a requirement for school since he doesn’t wear shoes any other time (he can’t afford $2.50 sandals for everyday use). I suck it up as Rodney continues in with his smile, getting to school a little slower than usual because of us I’m sure.
I can’t help but think, especially with a great friend like Rodney who has his share of responsibility that I see him own up to each day: these kids are like adults in their little bodies, in all they do. Walking alone for what has to be miles. Greeting adults by name, guiding a 23-year-old girl by the hand. His responsibilities as an older brother at home, despite how young he still is (under ten years old, I’m pretty sure). But it’s balanced with a boy who is clearly still just that – a boy, a child, continually full of joy and constantly running at me full speed as he tells my name. Seen as he takes a tire all over Bercy with him, pretending it’s a car or racing it, balancing on it when everyone is sitting in the shade. Heard when at the very last corner he finally gets tired and expresses it (but conversationally, not complaining)…and then also lights up at a simple tiny snack bag of pretzels to re-energize after the walk to school. Eyes lighting up, “These are good! Mesi Stephanie!” And that giant smile, again.
We finally arrive at the school and he runs to line up for the flag song (sang with all the students lined up as the flag is raised) – showing that little boy side off again as he jumps into place a few minutes late. I love this kid.
We arrive, the view is ridiculous, the school looks like a tent home doubled in size. 70 students go here, many kids as old as, or older than, Rodney are attending school for the first time and learning how to write – I see the joy and pride in the director’s eye as he talks about this. I realize why we walked this far…this man in charge has a heart for the kids, for education, and for building a better Haiti. The last part, he said himself. The rest, was said for him in the way he talked about the school. This is the school that will work with Rodney’s mother, who has barely paid for any of her four children who are attending (I know 2 walked today – the other two didn’t come because of sickness). I see a man that we are always looking for but is so hard to find, with a sustainable mindset, a heart for people instead of money, and real motivation and belief in building for Haiti’s future. We literally pray for this here at CPR-3, all of the time. So thankful to have met this man today.
We start to walk back and we’re exhausted, Cory and Abby and myself. We still have to walk back…and we’ve walked a while. I keep thinking “20 minutes, at least!”…..Abby says, “it’s been over an hour”.
In the end, we were out for two hours, to the school and back.
We walk back and as we talk I just keep thinking, every day. He walks this, every day.
*Cory is here as Director of CPR-3’s developing #STOPdoingWRONG campaign. Social justice, child slavery, education and awareness….keep your eyes out.