Islande is a mom on a mission, gentle yet bold in a way that leaves you asking yourself what just happened after you agree to what she has said and she leaves. Interacting with her you just know that even if you say no, she doesn’t hear that as an option of responding. To her, it comes of more as a “not yet”.
Since the day that I met her, she has reminded me of the persistent widow. She saw me walking along the road in Bercy one day, engaging a friend who was walking the other way, and immediately took a stance to let me know she was ‘in queue’. From her face I knew that she was planning on figuring out who I was. After my friend went on her way I looked at this tall woman, with eyes I had to look up into but a body that perfectly fits the popular term “skinny as a rail”. Her eyes are alive, and every sentence is long-winded with a lot of words that I don’t know but I can see the emotion and passion behind her eyes that speak without language barriers. They go back and forth, searching my own eyes to gauge my own response. She wears clunky black wedges that remind me of myself as an awkward pre-teen living in the fashion of the 90’s & she walks alone but constantly mentions the children back at her house.
She told me about her four-year-old son, who has not been able to walk since birth.
Fast-forward to a surprise run in with Islande on another day, ending with her leading me to her home. The small path to get to it is in between two other homes on a main road that has a small pond as a result of last night’s rain. Across from a field in the back of Bercy, the path is blocked by sticks wedged on top of one another and two tires to get around. She takes down half of the wood to let us through and leads me down the small path, a walk that reminds me of a little cottage tucked away with a small path lined by greenery and refreshing shade. Turning to the left, this trail opens to a yard with a small home for the two of them. A dry garden to the side and a matt out front to sit out in the fresh air, she welcomes me to her home. We walk through the door of the room of tarp walls to walk in and meet a boy laying on his stomach on the ground, looking up at us with eyes that are clearly not sure what’s going on. I bend down next to him and introduce myself, letting him know in Creole that his mother talks about him so much because she loves him & I wanted to meet this boy that she loved so much! He just kept looking at me, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I’m sure I was invading his space, and many four year olds get shy around me – so we just sat with each other for a minute while his mother talked passionately in the background.
I gave him the snack I had packed in my purse as I stood back up and asked the mother more questions about Estiven as she showed me a receipt from Port-au-Prince, where a special needs doctor had explained that he could walk one day with leg braces now. A purchase equivalent to $75 dollars that she could not imagine being able to afford, not including money for traveling and follow up appointments. He didn’t say a word and I wondered about his ability to speak – especially after a life of being so limited in mobility in crucial developmental years. She assured me that he is quite the talker when no one is around, laughing as a knowing mother at how he was fooling me being so timid.
Before leaving I leaned down to pray with Estiven after asking his mother’s permission, as God already had a plan in motion that I did not know about.
On my next visit to their home, Islande said something that stuck out to me – something that I told her I was going to remember and tell people about. I couldn’t wait, knowing I had to share it. She says a lot, it’s true, but this wasn’t like the passionate talking about the highs and lows of life.
Islande, more than many people I have interacted with, goes on describing her life. Usually the hard parts, she will keep going as long as you let her. With her inserting “ou la?” (You with me?) every few sentences, I enter into a conversation with her like I hop into a loaded tap-tap: just hold on and get through a loaded ride. Missing half the words but not having a way to slow her down to explain everything, I still hear more about her in a half hour spent together than I may hear in a few hours with another friend in the shade tucked away from the afternoon sun. That being said, I want to communicate two things: She’s got quite the life, cause I’ve heard about it. And secondly, this phrase, one of the few times with her that was just one sentence in the air, left to hang longer than the others – was so powerful. And I want to emphasize that of all the many, many words I hear from this dear mother – it is somehow less than ten that are burned in my mind to stay. I want to emphasize the weight of this phrase before you hear it, you with me?
The last time I was at her house we had been talking for a few minutes, reflecting on life, talking about how Estivan was, and she said in Creole what I can only attempt to translate for you: “Every day (at all times) I suffer, I have hope”.
This is not a typo, but it how it was literally phrased. Not “but” I have hope, not “however” I have hope.
Suffering is constant. Suffering is life. If it isn’t a son who was born with more needs, it is the constant search for the next meal. If it isn’t about food, the recent storm did damage to the tarp that makes the walls of her home. And it goes on.
Hope is just as constant. Hope is life. (Mirroring the Haitian Proverb, ‘Lespwa se lavi’). They are intertwined like the handmade ropes sold in market, facts of this woman’s life that cannot be separated from each other or from her day to day. But you see, this is where you miss out. This is where I cannot communicate what I experience standing in the doorway of Islande’s home as she speaks to me, those eyes full of life looking into mine as she says it and communicates so much more than the words.
Hope is just as constant, but more. Hope is ever-constant, just as suffering, but it gets the last word in. You see, there was no “but I have hope”. There was no “and as we all say in a cliché fashion, I have hope in my circumstances”. “I suffer, I have hope”. As Islande stood beside me she said in so much more than her words; suffering happens to her, she herself HAS hope. And the hope, no matter how prevalent the suffering is, comes on top. That’s what happen when you have Jesus instead of the world’s cute “use it in a instagram quote” hope.
Friends, that is beautiful.
And humbling – as we who are sitting on computers in the middle of a ‘busy’ day full of so many blessings that we miss – will never truly know what it’s like to spend a day waking up to slip on Islande’s oversized black wedges.
And here’s the beauty: She had no idea that I was at her house to talk one-on-one with her about a blessing that someone left specifically to take her little boy to the hospital and get those braces. A blessing that would cover more than the braces and transportation.
It puts a smile on my face again just thinking about it, the small reflection of God’s perspective as we talk about our lives or can’t imagine getting through to tomorrow and he listens as the patient Father he is, thinking “if only you knew what I have for you…I just haven’t told you yet”.
We have hope, indeed. At all times.