Reality hit me hard tonight, and I can’t even walk past the gate yet.
I went down to the gate tonight to look for Brooke, figuring she would be coming home anytime now if she wasn’t already waiting for me. With a breeze starting to blow and the sun finally less harsh, 6:00 is a beautiful time at night. Still a few hours of light, people start walking again instead of staying in the shade away from the brutal heat. Neighbors are coming back from market, boys are running excitedly to a soccer match near the school, and girls are walking down the street holding hands and singing together.
As I open the gate to look out for Brooke, I open it to neighbors walking by and get the beautiful sound of “Bonswa!”, “Estephanie!”, and “Como ou ye?” every few minutes as someone new walks by with a big smile and wave. We’re all relieved from the heat letting up and we’re happy to have the chance for casual greetings after a season of every neighbor only seeing me passing by in a tap-tap with no more time than 2 seconds to wave a “Bonjou!” their way.
In the middle of all the people that I know passing by, someone passes holding the hand of her daughter who isn’t old enough to speak much more than babble yet. She walks slower and hangs back as others pass by, watching me. I smile and wave and she waves back, then hangs back and watches me. I’m used to this, people who don’t know me watch me sometimes, and I stay aware but don’t really pay attention to her after that. After a few more friends pass by, and I go in with one of them to pick some of our flowers with her to make a tea. I turn around and the little one who was toddling along with her mom is behind me, trying to follow me in! When I walked back to the gate she started saying “mama, mama”….then refused to take her mother’s hand once we reached the gate. So a conversation started up as we laughed about her daughter being a typical 1 1/2 year old.
“Li vle rete avek ou paske li grangou…”
“She’s doing that because she’s hungry, she wants to stay with you,” she then went on, “She’s mad at me because I don’t have food to give her.”
I hear the word “grangou” a lot, some say it with a laugh even. But this was not with a laugh, neither a guilt trip. Just a mom explaining her daughter with a half smile & a voice that sounded resigned with the words coming out of them. My heart twisted as I thought of our pantry upstairs and I did mental calculations for any food I could send that was real food of sustenance. Then there was the mental debate on it being a good idea to hand over a grocery bag the first time I meet someone.
Sabrina and Zobwam stand on either side of me now, they just walked up and they’re holding their green “Nuevo Testaman”s in their hands. Zobwam looks up with me with his always present grin and Sabrina greets me with a hug then turns to say hello to the mother I’m talking to.
As Sabrina talks, I notice the details. The hair tie in this woman’s hair is a “sachet” – a cheap plastic baggie that you may get buying something in market or that you could find on the ground. She is not old, but her body tells the story of many more years than a birth certificate can account for. Her clothes are just a little less than someone would be okay with walking around in as they trek across Bercy. Her eyes are red, I’m not sure why. But she is beautiful, and she smiles gently through conversation. She turns back to me and talks. Just talks, spills her life out. Have you ever met someone who just shows off that human need that we all have, the one of just wanting to be known?
Her daughter was kicked out by the dad, and they have no support from him. The mom has no food, but someone gave her some bananas today, she’s carrying them with her. Although she has nothing to go with them she is going to go see what she can do with them to feed her little one. Sabrina comments, “You only have one cooking pot, don’t you?” – the answer is yes. In Bercy, no one has just one cooking pot. The poor among the impoverished. I hear more and more of her story, pouring out. When I ask her name and introduce myself, she pronounces her whole name with a proud smile. She looks me in the eye and says it twice. She tells me the church she goes to, and about the pastor of the church. Because we all want to be known. Her daughter’s name is just one letter off from her own, as many families name their children after someone else. She also told me at one point, “Do you see how my eyes are red? It’s because I get beat in the head so often.”
This is all with me at the gate, one foot inside the property. This is reality. This woman lives in Bercy with me. This is my neighbor. In the poverty I am surrounded by, she is poor among even the poverty I have become frustratingly accustomed to – even apathetic to some days. I am not even outside the gate completely, and I am so hit with reality as I stare into her sweet eyes full of depth.
When we say goodbye, she hugs me. I hug her back tightly, and she repeats her name in my ear – like a simple ask, the whispered name says so much more. Remember Me. My name is Christina Pierre, and I ask that you remember me. We all want to be known.
She leaves and Sabrina, a typical 11 year old, starts talking. About her day, why I haven’t seen her, and about Christina. She knows where Christina lives, she tells me, and I am happy to hear that as it means I’ll be able to pay a surprise visit another day. I ask where and Sabrina goes, “It’s not a house, Stephanie.”
A tin roof. On sticks. No walls, no covering. (It’s rainy season, by the way, and there’s been a storm every night). In a country where people don’t like to walk around a night, a single mom is going to spread out a sheet that is full of holes and sleep on the bad part while she saves the one clean area for her daughter – who isn’t yet two. I remember something Christina said to Sabrina as they talked now, “it’s where people put their donkeys or their goats, and I’m staying because I’m not going to leave my daughter to sleep alone”. The wind will blow, the bugs will bite, every sound will be heard. Sabrina has seen her sleep because she usually sleeps “in the road” (which means, she has been homeless and just slept anywhere outside with that simple sheet). It’s how Sabrina knew this mother only had one pot – it was Sabrina’s mom who gave it to her. They have seen Christina and how harsh life has been to her.
Oh, my heart. I don’t want to share because the knowledge hurts. I didn’t like hearing it. Because I am sleeping one street away, with security and plenty of sheets and pillows on my bed. With lots of walls, with a door, with a bathroom for myself. With fans and lights. This reality check hurts.
I can physically feel the tightened stomach at the thought.
Sabrina, talking away, tells me about how Christina sold charcoal to her mother once.
The father of her child, the man they don’t even live with, came out of nowhere and started to beat Christina. Sabrina and her family saw it all. He took and ripped up the gourde she had just been given for her sale. He kicked charcoal everywhere, and started to beat the daughter as well before Christina stood in the way and was hit for it.
This is the day Sabrina’s mom gave Christina a pot. Christina was scared to take it, and Sabrina’s mom packed it tight so it was hard to see what she had. Why was Christina scared? The reason that the man beats her is, in Sabrina’s words, because “he doesn’t want to see her around”.
I was confused. “Does she need to move out of Bercy?”
Sabrina responded, “No, it’s not like that. He wants her to stay where she’s at, he wants her to stay in poverty. He doesn’t want to see good things happen to her.”
I think my mouth just stayed dropped open for a beat before I could collect myself. I don’t understand. And that Sabrina, at 11, witnessed this and speaks about life and facts like this, explaining Bercy to me. I don’t know what to do with these facts.
This reality check is a heavy one. This is not “poverty” or a story to me. This is the poor single mom, who I hugged today. The one who whispered her name in my ear like an ask to be remembered and known. This is tearing my heart as I type, on a computer, at a table, on a bench, under a roof, with clothes I will not wear again for a week – or even two! I know where she is and it hurts to think about.
I can’t not share this. I shared a blog today from Kayla, who said it perfectly. There’s not a solution at the end of this blog. Americans like solutions, and they like them clean cut. This has neither.
What we can do is remember Christina, because she is known.
Christina Pierre, I promise to be your newest prayer warrior. I promise to tell your story in my corner of the world, because I believe in prayer warriors being a key to making all things new. You are known. I will not fall into distraction and the comfort of a new internet tab and a new story as my stomach turns typing this one. I will close my computer and pray for you tonight.
Christina is being schemed for by Sabrina and I, because we don’t know what the big picture looks like. Tomorrow is not known, the house we want for her is a dream (Zobwam exclaimed, “Let’s build a house in the soccer field for her!” – Zobwam is 6), the man who fathered her child for some reason has problems with her. We don’t know the big picture, but we know what is in front of us. And what is in front of us is scheming to find one more pot and two spoons to eat with, and surprising Christina with a gift we will send with no explanation but God sending it.
Please pray for Christina. Please pray for an open heart and sensitive ears to absolutely anything that the Holy Spirit wants to prod me for in her story.
Sabrina went on to more reality checks, like the “tonton” down the street who only owned that one set of clothes.
“He bathes, and puts the same clothes back on. See how he holds the shorts? They aren’t the right size. He found them in the street and picked them up.”
From a simple trip to the gate to let Brooke in, and being still to sit down on the dusty ground with Zobram leaning on my lap and Sabrina talking non-stop about her day and the life of Bercy going on around her – God gave me a hard reality check. Let it not go to waste.