I went to visit a girl and check on her foot, which had a big cut that was so close to infection that I just prayed out loud as I cleaned her up on Friday, knowing that her healing wouldn’t be just from medicine.
On the way I waved to Janine, crossed a field, and then didn’t pass more than one house before getting called from Cassensia as she bathed behind her house. She asked where I was going, I promised to walk the same way on my way back home.
Next house I passed, I waved in greeting – to be called over. In all honesty, I sigh to myself when this happens. When I get called over, 9 times out of 10 it’s for an ask. Half of those times it’s a complete stranger doing it, and only about 2 of the 10 times do I actually have a way to help them right then. And if they don’t call me over, it’s mid-conversation. Everyone has an ask. I don’t always have a great attitude about it.
I put on a smile for this family, their relationship with me is one of my newest in Bercy, and walk over to the grandmother who has been wondering how I can help her every time I pass. The conversation was about a child enrolled in school that isn’t going right now – I talked to the mom about how I wished I could do something right now, but I couldn’t. As I talked, a woman who talks “Jargon” with me all the time (see: she talked it AT me until I started to catch on. Think Pig Latin.) started to ‘translate’ for me – this happens sometimes. As I talk Creole as a beginner in the language, someone who knows me will repeat what I said to another person that is not used to talking to me.
But she didn’t translate it how I said it.
Instead, she listened with an empathetic face that I am not used to from her, and translated what I said sandwiched in between her own comments of how I wanted to help, my intention was to do what I could, and everyone asked me this same question. She translated my heart, that I wished I could do something and I understand that it’s hard to put a kid through school in Haiti. With a surprised smile I thanked her for “translating” and offered a final “I’m sorry” to the mother (by the way, that doesn’t translate in the culture, saying you’re sorry when there’s no way that it’s your fault – but I can’t let go of this phrase!). The mom nodded, much more understanding than I’m used to, and said “Thank you for listening to me.”
Thank you for listening to me.
Not only do I never hear that here, but God has been drilling the idea of “You don’t have to solve it all, sometimes people just need you to listen” in me for the past few weeks. And the way she said it. Wow.
I told them that I was happy to see them, but I had to find the “foot” girl. They had seen me with her on Friday and they nodded, accepting my reason for leaving so quickly with a respect for the excuse and an understanding for my purpose.
Okay, passing the next house. One full of strong women, a few that have done their fair share of mean mugging me, and a crowd of young boys who are a crazy active bunch. This is where Ti’Yuyu lives, and I’d been using a burn on his arm as an excuse to visit this home and build relationships all week. I yelled my “Bonswa” at the gate and walked in, waving to the boys as they all lugged a truck bed around (…? Boys.) and going to greet the women with kisses on the cheek. They greeted me with smiles and “How are you?”s, and when I saw the young woman that’s been the most wary of me and sought her out for a kiss, she not only accepted it – she gave me a big smile and offered her cheek before I had even reached her. I apologized that I didn’t have time to sit and asked where the girl with the “sick foot” was (I had seen her first while visiting their home), and they pointed to where she lived for me. With a smile I waved and thanked them and headed over to the neighbor’s house they had pointed to.
I walked right into one of the women from the house I was just at, she smiled as she asked “You visited when I wasn’t home?!”, I kissed her on the cheek as I smiled and let her know my “mission”. She understood my reasoning “the sun is almost done and school is tomorrow!” and let me pass to find the girl. About 8 kids rushed over to me, none taller than my waist, and dear little Ti’Yuyu (he’s the cutest, most socially awkward little three year old) decided to try and lift my skirt up in the middle of the craziness. The woman I had just talked to had my back before I was even able to catch up mentally to the crowd, helping me out and stopping Ti-Yuyu with a bewildered but humored look on her face at what he’d done. I just laughed and thanked her as we went back to the opposite directions we’d been walking.
I tried to break through the wave of kids as I greeted the mother of the house I was at (really, not just one house – instead, a group of homes where this mother was the top authority, her children and her children’s children were in the homes surrounding hers) with a kiss on the cheek. She scolded the kids who used to be too nervous to approach me and smiled in greeting, asking if I had medicine for bumps all over her body she recently received. I sadly responded no, but she accepted it as I asked how she was otherwise.
The kids started to tug on me again and, nodding at the mother, I walked over to where Daneya was washing an infant’s face that she had just fed. Since Daneya is no more than nine years old, and tiny as most girls are here, she was suddenly overwhelmed as she tried to wash the baby’s face while holding it as well as not fall over in her chair from the swarm of kids following me. We asked the kids to back off (which they did, for two seconds. Imagine the rest of this story with me just inserting “and then we asked the kids to back up again” between each sentence) and I pulled up a child size wicker chair and asked her to put her foot in my lap, assuring her that it was okay even though it wasn’t clean. (You DON’T put your dusty feet on someone’s lap, especially someone in a skirt)
I heard my name and looked over to see a young woman waving at me in her towel (doesn’t faze me anymore), and we greeted each other with smiles. I set to cleaning Daneya’s foot and others passed to greet me as well, joking that they “weren’t good with me” because I hadn’t asked for them. (They accepted the crowd of kids that was on top of our drop in clinic as an excuse) The men passed and greeted me as well, interrupting the kids who were asking for Neosporin for last months scars. I turned and smiled, saying I’d love to shake their hand if I wasn’t covered in medicine. They laughed good naturedly and said it was okay and we passed usual greetings, everyone saying that they were good. It was a genuinely respectful greeting on both sides, something I don’t usually get from guys in their twenties here (whether they’re married or not).
Daneya was much more timid than she had been on Friday or Saturday, but quietly asked before each item “if it’d burn”. I assured her through it and in the end she gave me a gentle smile and an adorable “Mesi”. The girl in her towel had gotten her clothes on (aka, shorts and a bra) and asked me to look at some pictures as she walked over with a photo album, her mother joining as I said yes to pull out a framed picture that she had kept wrapped in an envelope. I looked and told them how pretty the pictures were, smiling with them as they told me details and ages of the different photos. I realized that towel girl was Daneya’s mom as she was pointed out in one of the pictures shown to me.
We talked a little longer, but the kids were crazy and the sun was setting, so it was time for me to go. The mothers smiled and understood, asking when they’d see me again as I promised Daneya I’d check on her again. They turned to make sure she’d thanked me and said they’d see me tomorrow. The kids weren’t the best listeners, but eventually broke away. I started the walk home and waved at the houses I had stopped at on the way, wishing everyone a good night as they yelled back “you too!”
I stopped with Cassensia, who had finished bathing and was undoing her hair for fresh braids for school, and helped her de-braid her hair as we talked about her day. I love this strong-hearted (is that a word? I’m making it one) little girl and reminded her that she was beautiful after she responded “no” to me asking if she knows she’s beautiful. I joked with her mother and sympathetically talked to her aunt, who is sick with what pretty much everyone gets in the dry season (allergy symptoms) and headed out. Cassensia wanted to walk me home, but I asked her to sit so she coul
d finish her hair in the light since I wanted to give Janine some time anyway.
I sat next to Janine and her boyfriend for a few minutes in front of her house and headed in, going through thoughts and memories tumbling all over in my head in relation to all I’d just experienced.
- The grandmothers serious voice as she mentioned “Yes, his arm looks so much better” in reference to Ti’Yuyu.
- The “translator” who not only actually saw, but communicated my side.
- “Thank you for listening”
- A seriously rude dude who now greets me with just a pleasant “Good afternoon, cherie”. (I could do without the ‘cherie’, but I’ll take any improvemet)
- Cassensia’s serious and heartfelt thank you for a very small gift of food I’d left for her while her mom had to suddenly leave for a death in the family. She used to ask (with attitude) for toys and candy, and is now overly thankful over basics she needs.
- No more mean mugging from three more houses in the community.
- The real change that happens from helping one illness, from people seeing the time put in for something that may not even help keep another malady from coming next week – but they see the heart and intentions. They welcome me with a chair, they hush the visitor who asks for money to “test the blanc”.
I mean, this describes just two months ago at Daneya’s house:
“Aren’t I a little old to feel thirteen again? I felt like I was in junior high, awkward as I was judged from the top of my head to the tips of my toes (and the color of nail polish on them). Except in junior high, you can understand what everyone around you is saying. And no one is assaulting you with demands for money, food, games, the nail polish you used, the shirt you’re wearing, and medicine. No one is asking, “why aren’t you dancing to the music?”, as they laugh hysterically (because they don’t know that you know it’s vodou music playing).
I had no idea why Nadine insisted to bring me here and have me sit while she picked up Westhalineda and then visited with friends, but it took everything in me to stay. Especially as she kept walking away! No exaggeration, I was surrounded by women my age and none of them were mu number one fan. Most talked to Nadine about me, asking her what they could get from me or random questions about me. I was only five minutes from home and wanted to stand up and leave – but that would cause attention, laughing, questions, and who knows what as well…PLUS I’d offend everyone if I didn’t have a good answer for why I was leaving.”
I was sure I was wasting my time and I honestly went home exhausted, sure I’d thrown away an hour for no reason. Multiple times, I felt this way.
But God doesn’t waste a thing.
I wish I could have shown you that tonight, I wish you could have walked with me tonight. To sit down with you afterwards, hold your hand, and let you know that every ounce that you’ve spent of yourself has not been in vain. Every conversation, every act for someone, every wave in passing – God doesn’t waste a thing.